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TONY COZIER: WI must stick with youth policy


TONY COZIER: WI must stick with youth policy

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EVEN AS THE WEST INDIES fell apart for 148 on the opening day of the first Test against Australia last Wednesday, head selector Clive Lloyd was unlikely to have had any compunction over his announced policy of concentrating on young players in the future, even at the expense of the most experienced, most reliable and, significantly, oldest of modern-day batsmen, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

As Australia completed their victory by nine wickets before the end of the third day on Friday, there was some thinking for Lloyd to do before the second Test at Sabina Park, starting on Thursday, and for the long term.

He can’t abandon his plan after one match in which the West Indies were twice giving Australia a challenge before slipping back into the mental weakness that has long since condemned them to No. 8 among Test teams.

He would be advised to follow the example of Brendon McCullum, who overcame even more dire circumstances in his early series as New Zealand captain to build the Black Caps into the force they have become.

Short of alternatives, Lloyd has no option but to follow the McCullum template. He must depend on coach Phil Simmons, captain Denesh Ramdin and their young players to carry it out on the field.  

Lloyd’s announced aim was to provide the new recruits with early exposure to Test cricket, the most challenging form of the game.

“There is no better exposure than playing against one of the best teams in the world,” he said. “They will be tested and that is what it’s all about.”

And so they were as they had been by Test cricket’s present No. 1, South Africa in South Africa, last December and January. They again came to appreciate what they have to achieve to start the climb back up the ladder.

They were undermined in Dominica by unrelenting Australian bowling and flawless, spectacular catching and ground fielding that exposed carefree batting. 

For a few hours into the second day, Devendra Bishoo brought them back into contention with high-class leg-spin. Among his six middle order victims were such eminent masters of spin as Michael Clarke and Steve Smith.

Another was Brad Haddin, the dangerous wicket-keeper/batsman, who was utterly bamboozled by a fizzing leg-break that pitched leg and hit the top of off. It was immediately compared to Shane Warne’s famed “ball of the century” to Mike Gatting in the Old Trafford Ashes Test in 1989; it has become “the ball of the 21st century”.

At 126 for six, with Adam Voges, a 35-year-old on belated Test debut, and the four bowlers to come, the contest was evenly balanced.

Once more, the West Indies encountered resistance that steadily broke their spirit; it typified Australia’s strength of character.

Voges completed his hundred as the last four wickets added 192. The total mounted to 318, the lead to 170. When both openers were swept aside for 25 by the end of the second day and the ever frustrating Darren Bravo drilled Josh Hazlewood to mid-off in the sixth over on the third morning, another debacle appeared certain.

It was here that Dowrich appreciated the patience necessary to counter the Australians on a slow, if turning, pitch. As his partner, Samuels, 15 years a Test cricketer and the natural successor to Chanderpaul as the leader of the batting, in experience if not toughness, curbed his natural tendency to flamboyance.

For 50 overs, there was hardly an error, but rather a sensible balance between defence and attack. In his first Test, Dowrich was one who vindicated Lloyd’s confidence.

The deficit was erased and the lead pushed to 11 with seven wickets in tact; if a contest appeared to be developing, those mindful of the West Indies’ inclination to inexplicable collapse had to be wary.

Another duly arrived after Dowrich’s long vigil for 70 off 185 balls was ended with a catch tapped to close-in mid-on off Hazlewood. The usual madness immediately set in.

None of Lloyd’s young brigade is more reckless than Jermaine Blackwood. His default shot is a gully cricket slog. Sometimes he gets away with it – now he didn’t.

He was so far down the pitch to Lyon that Haddin could momentarily fumble and still stump him.

On the back of the others, it was another appalling dismissal, worthy of dismissal.

Samuels’ in the following over was equally outrageous. For 184 balls, he played with the restraint befitting a player in his 59th Test in a position of responsibility since Chanderpaul’s omission.

It was a replica of the first innings, a steepling hook into long-leg’s lap. As usual, it was impossible to determine what Samuels was thinking.

That was basically that. Australia were left with the formality to scoring 47 for their victory.  Another promising position had been transformed into despondency.

It has become a recurring theme.

Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.