Is it just a dream or can West Indies win?

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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IDIOCY led to the absence of Darren Bravo from the West Indies team for more than two years.

I am among those giving thanks that he is back in the batting line-up to face England in the Test series starting tomorrow in Barbados.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Bravo's inclusion will automatically resolve the West Indies batting woes. However his record — 49 Tests, 3,400 runs for an average of 40 — makes him the top batsman in the West Indies Test squad. Cricket watchers will also recall that Bravo's batting was pivotal as the West Indies won the last Test in Barbados to square the series against England in 2015.

At Sabina Park recently for Trinidad and Tobago against Jamaica in four-day franchise cricket, Bravo looked comfortable in only his first first-class game in over two years, batting for substantial periods even though he did not make big scores. In the first innings he fell LBW — unwisely playing no shot to swing bowler Rovman Powell — for 17 and in the second he edged to slip for 38, undone by the pace and bounce of Oshane Thomas.

Time at the crease apart, a couple of sharp catches in the slips at Sabina would have done Bravo's confidence no harm at all.

Bravo, who turns 30 next month, had batted at number three up to his untimely departure from the West Indies team. For me, he should now be asked to bat at number four behind openers Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell and Shai Hope at three, with Shimron Hetmyer and Roston Chase to follow at five and six. Wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich and Captain Jason Holder — back after opting out of the Bangladesh tour — will bat at seven and eight.

The 25-year-old Campbell may not have kicked down the door in order to replace Kieran Powell as Brathwaite's opening partner for the first Test. But there is no doubt that he was the lead contender, especially after a decent 2017-18 season.

The current selection panel has shown a tendency to be patient. However both Brathwaite — who had a horrible tour of India and Bangladesh late last year — and Campbell will know that the experienced Montcin Hodge and the youthful Tagenarine Chanderpaul have had strong performances in the opening position thus far this season. For those of us looking on from the outside it's a refreshing feeling to see batsmen knocking at the West Indies selectors' door.

In the bowling department, Keemo Paul's exclusion from the squad of 13 took me a little off guard, especially after his rich wicket-taking exploits early in the 2019 season. Then again, once the selectors decided 22-year-old Alzarri Joseph was fully fit and ready to provide extra pace alongside Shannon Gabriel, they probably felt they had no choice but to leave out Paul. The latter is not yet 21, though it feels like he has been around forever.

I suspect the decision to name 21-year-old Oshane Thomas ahead of Paul as cover for Joseph, is entirely because of Thomas's extra pace.

Against a backdrop of talk that pitches will favour pace bowlers, the West Indies selectors have opted for just one spin specialist, the 26-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner Jomel Warrican, in their 13-man squad which means no place for wrist spinner Devendra Bishoo. In my view it would have been difficult to find reason to include the 33-year-old Bishoo. He has had a long run in recent years with not a lot to show.

The selectors will be carefully weighing whether to include Warrican for this first Test in Barbados or go with a four-pronged pace attack of Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Holder. In that scenario, Chase with his underrated off spin, supported by part-time off-spinners Brathwaite and Campbell will give Holder the slow option. I suspect a lot will depend on how the Kensington Oval pitch looks just before the start of play.

Can this West Indies team stay focused, keep efficiency levels high and beat England in the Caribbean over the next few weeks? It's easy to dismiss the chances of the home team after their disastrous run in Asia just recently. And of course there is the uncertainty surrounding the impact of yet another coach at the helm. This time it's Richard Pybus who has more than his fair share of critics.

Yet, I am optimistic. Call me a dreamer if you like, but I feel that provided the West Indies get the basics right and play to their potential they can beat England.

Squad – Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican, Shannon Gabriel.

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