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FAZEER MOHAMMED: Looking for signs of real progress


FAZEER MOHAMMED

FAZEER MOHAMMED: Looking for signs of real progress

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OKAY, SO LET’S gloat while it’s still valid: West Indies go into the upcoming Test series having achieved a hard-fought victory in their last match in Sharjah while the Pakistanis are reeling from six Tests match defeats in a row, a streak initiated by the Caribbean side.

What does it portend for the start of this three-match contest on Friday at Sabina Park?

Not much, given that it’s been five and a half months since the Kraigg Brathwaite-inspired consolation success at the end of an otherwise disastrous campaign in the United Arab Emirates.

And although they haven’t played a Test in the intervening period while the Pakistanis went on to be swept, first in New Zealand and then Australia, there have been enough potentially disruptive developments, the Darren Bravo matter among them, to have even the most optimistic concerned about the home side’s prospects.

Yet for all the trials and travails of the past 22 years – itself an indictment of our inability to properly address deep-seated ills – the Caribbean side are yet to lose a Test series at home to Pakistan.

Don’t say that too loudly around Pakistani supporters, though, because they will quickly refer to the last-day umpiring controversies and general bacchanal at Kensington Oval in 1988 and similar incidents at the Antigua Recreation Ground in 2000 to support their claims of injustice in these islands.

Still, for all that, the facts remain, and it will be up to Jason Holder’s side, however it is constituted, to again leave the Pakistanis frustrated even as they seek a grand farewell to their two departing veterans, captain Misbah-ul-Haq and their most prolific Test batsman ever, Younis Khan.

Even if the visitors are the ones carrying a winning momentum into the Tests, the traditional format is such a different game that limited-over success doesn’t automatically translate into continued dominance in the longer format, not least for the fact that there are invariably key changes in personnel.

At the time of writing, the West Indies squad for the first Test has yet to be announced, but it can’t be a coincidence that only last Wednesday Jerome Taylor declared that he is once again available for Test selection after announcing his retirement a year earlier following a lean spell of five matches (in Sri Lanka and Australia at the end of 2015) when he picked up just eight wickets at over 50 runs apiece.

He hasn’t done anything spectacular so far in the regional first-class season, and unless his own observation of the situation has led him to believe that he can make a significant contribution once more, it is only reasonable to think that someone of influence in West Indies cricket has quietly suggested that he should come in from the cold.

Shannon Gabriel, Holder (with five for 30, his first handful in a Test innings) and Devendra Bishoo were effective match-winners in that Sharjah Test last November, assisted by Alzarri Joseph and Roston Chase.

However, as we saw in the One-Day Internationals (ODI) last week in Guyana, the young fast bowler still has some learning to do, so there might be a case for including Taylor at the Antiguan’s expense at the venue where he produced his best Test innings figures, six for 47 against Australia in 2015 and five for 11 in the innings victory over England in 2009.

If the West Indies can coerce as much disconcerting bounce from Sabina next weekend as they did in Sharjah, then they could again be a handful, although the Pakistanis are likely to be far more focused than they were in that end-of-series match.

So while the bowling department should have a familiar look to it, the top order batting, with the notable exception of Brathwaite after his historic unbeaten 162 and 60, will be different for differing reasons.

Leon Johnson struggled as opener, so Kieran Powell is likely to get a chance at the top now that he appears interested in playing for the West Indies again. With Bravo off to the Indian Premier League and no prospect of a public apology to the West Indies Cricket Board president for his Twitter rant, Shai Hope looks set to slot in. And now that Marlon Samuels’ Test career is over by dint of four consecutive series’ worth of low scores, there is an opening for someone like Jason Mohammed to claim if he can replicate his ODI form.

None of these players’ stats are particularly impressive. In fact they are mediocre, like most of the others likely to be in the final XI on Friday morning. But they have talent, have shown promise and, we are told, this is another work in progress.

Well, after more than two decades presumably in transition, let’s see if there is any progress made in this series ahead.

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.

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