COZIER ON CRICKET: Some prospects waiting in the wings
ENGLAND spent their first day in the West Indies on Friday in their luxury accommodation in St Kitts, an island of 35 square miles populated by 45 000 easy-going inhabitants in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
There is no more relaxing venue to be found anywhere, ideal perhaps for temporarily blanking the persistent distraction of Kevin Pietersen from their thoughts, if a little too laid-back to get ready for three back-to-back Tests in the space of three weeks.
England are restricted to a couple of two-day matches against St Kitts and Nevis, a team without first-class status. Alistair Cook and his men can anticipate an effortless workout before making the short hop of 65 miles to Antigua for the first Test at the Vivian Richards Stadium, starting a week from tomorrow. Their groundwork would have been better served by tougher opposition first up.
At a time when chief selector Clive Lloyd speaks of building a West Indies team for the future, a four-day match would also have allowed some of the emerging players exposure to a somewhat higher level than the domestic Professional Cricket League (CPL).
The training squad of 20 is presently in Antigua, new coach Phil Simmons’ first assignment. The seven under-25s on the list all have prospects for lengthy careers, as Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Marlon Samuels and Sulieman Benn near the end of theirs and as Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Darren Sammy and Sunil Narine concentrate on global Twenty20 tournaments.
A few wait in the wings for the turn they might have had against England in St Kitts. There is, as yet, no hint when that would be as nothing has yet been scheduled for the “A” team.
None of the young contenders is as intriguing as Rahkeem Cornwall, the 22-year-old Leeward Islander from Antigua. He is a massive 300-pounder, cricket’s most identifiable man mountain since the similarly immense Bermudian Dwayne Leverock, a popular star of the 2007 World Cup. Like Leverock, he is not to be discounted because of his size.
Viv Richards, Andy Roberts, Richie Richardson, Ridley Jacobs, Curtly Ambrose, the Benjamins, Winston and Kenny, all Antiguans, made the Leewards as powerful as any in regional cricket through the 1970s and 1980s. As with the West Indies, they suddenly and inexplicably plummeted to the bottom of the pile; they ended the 2014-15 CPL season with their first wins in four seasons, over Jamaica and Trinidad.
Cornwall was prominent in both – seven Jamaican wickets with his deceptive off-spin, delivered after a casual shuffle to delivery, and an explosive unbeaten 101 off 84 balls with 11 fours and six sixes chasing 245 against Trinidad and Tobago. Earlier in the season, he returned his best figures, seven for 97, in Guyana’s first innings.
His overall numbers from seven matches were a batting average of 27.26 along with 29 wickets at 26.93.
Ridley Jacobs, the Leewards coach, described him as “very talented, up there with any of the players of his age and limited experience”. But he recognised the obvious problem he has with his weight.
“We can give him all the help he needs but, in the end, it’s up to him to deal with that,” he said.
The setback of the season was the damage to ankle and knee from a car crash that eliminated another exciting young hope, 19-year-old Nicholas Pooran, after the third match.
The slim left-handed batsman and keeper revealed his precocious ability and attitude with 143, with 14 fours and six sixes, out of an all out 208 against Australia in the quarter-final of the Under-19 World Cup in Dubai in 2014. He had little cricket since then; this was to have been his time.
There are others who encourage optimism that coach Simmons will have genuinely gifted material with which to work as he gets into the role in which he thrived with Ireland.
Benn’s absence in South Africa and at the World Cup opened up the position for 22-year-old left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican for Barbados; he ended the season with 63 wickets at 15.74 each.
Lloyd is impressed with Jamaican fast bowler Marquino Mindley, 20. While Shivnarine is near the end of 20 illustrious years propping up the West Indies middle order, another left-handed Chanderpaul, Shiv’s 18-year-old son Tagenarine, showed his worth at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup.
Simmons’ challenge is to ensure that they and others of a similar vintage and skill are disciplined and committed to a career for West Indies.
His adversaries are the lure of Twenty20 fortune and the pressures of international sport that have already accounted for several top players.