Few surprises in West Indies squad of 13 for First Test
There are no real surprises in the 13 selected for the West Indies for the First Test to be played at the Bourda Oval starting this Friday.
While there was no place for Jamaican opener Leon Garrick, who has impressed all this season, his Jamaican counterparts Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle are guaranteed to open the innings, both being in fine form after making centuries against Guyana in the ongoing Busta Shield final.
West Indies batting trio - Lara, Hinds and Gayle
Carl Hooper, Brian Lara and a now healthy Shivnarine Chanderpaul are sure to play, with the final batting place going to either Marlon Samuels or Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Samuels has the advantage of being both the incumbent and impressing all in Australia, while Sarwan, if he does play, will be in his first Test on home soil.
Ridley Jacobs will be expected to be his normal competent self as both wicket-keeper and batsman.
Four fast bowlers are selected in Courtney Walsh, who will be trying to extend his 494 Test wickets to 500, Reon King, Merve Dillon, also fully recovered from his Australian injury, and Nixon McLean. However, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the lone spinner selected, right arm leg-spinner Dininath Ramnarine, the most successful bowler in the Caribbean this year, will play.
It is a relatively young team, with a new captain. Come Friday, their immediate cohesion will be tested to the fullest.
The 13 selected are: Carl Hooper (Capt, Guyana), Wavell Hinds (Jamaica), Chris Gayle (Jamaica), Brian Lara (Trinidad & Tobago), Shiv Chanderpaul (Guyana), Ramnaresh Sarwan (Guyana), Marlon Samuels (Jamaica), Ridley Jacobs (Leeward Islands), Dininath Ramnarine (Trinidad & Tobago), Reon King (Guyana), Courtney Walsh (Jamaica), Mervyn Dillon (Trinidad & Tobago), Nixon McLean (Windward Islands).
From my reliable and credible sources in both Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana, the final vote tally for the captain of the West Indies to be Carl Hooper apparently came down to a very close count: 8-6.
Each of the representative units - Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands and Jamaica - has two votes, plus, by the West Indies Cricket Board's constitution, the single votes of the West Indies Cricket Board's President and his deputy, making a total of 14 votes. As was suggested by the WICB's new Chief Executive Officer, Gregory Shillingford, and this is probably unknown by many people in the Caribbean, the captain has to be ratified by the WICB, and anyone suggested by the selectors can be rejected. It has actually happened in the past.
That scenario was not a surprise to me since I could sense from travelling the Caribbean that the feeling was that the delegates of the WICB were not even in a majority, much less unanimous, for the captaincy of Hooper. Hence, the WICB issued that statement 24 hours after suggesting that a "new" West Indies captain would be named and, despite all of the evidence that Hooper was back and performing mightily, perhaps some parties might have thought that Jimmy Adams, the "safe bet" in some quarters, could have stood a chance.
Whatever transpires now, the entire situation was badly handled by the WICB, and again one wonders, as journalist Keith Holder asked: "Who indeed owns West Indies cricket? Is it the people or the WICB?"
Even before commenting on the chosen West Indies players for the First Test, South Africa must be considered as different to Australia. While Australia depend on three really world-class bowlers in Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie, sometimes aided by Colin Miller or Damien Fleming, South Africa are a bit different. South Africa's main bowlers are Shaun Pollock, Alan Donald, Makaya Ntini and perhaps Nicky Boje, but they can be helped considerably by Jaques Kallis and Lance Klusener. So South Africa's attack, while it might be just, man for man, less threatening than Australia's, at least they can field five, maybe six proper bowlers. That is worrying for the West Indies.
Actually, my first look at the West Indies "squad", the original 16, selected to prepare for the Test, brought a great smile to my face. Of the sixteen, I had selected (article of February 18) all of the players except Garrick, Chanderpaul, King, Cuffy and Stuart. Chanderpaul, King and Cuffy were injured when I wrote that article, which I did note, so really I was only two short of perfection; Stuart and Garrick. Not so bad!
King and Chanderpaul have now proved their fitness against England A and Jamaica, and have been selected for the Test. King has had a fair run recently, getting 7/91 against England A and, more importantly, bowling 21 overs. Against Jamaica, he also bowled 22 overs in getting 3/67, so, all things being equal, King's selection to the Test team is acceptable. Fitness is the vital key here.
Chanderpaul, while he did not score heavily against Jamaica, at least looked much more mobile in the second innings of the England A game. It is imperative that he remains fit, as his batting was sorely missed in Australia when he was ruled out of the tour after the First Test with a foot injury.
Garrick, with 25 against Guyana two days ago, failed, by his standards, and just missed out to Gayle and Hinds for the First Test. The pressures will be on the selected openers, though, to produce, as Garrick has played so well this year that he must be a very strong contender for future opening spots. At least, Gayle and Hinds, getting great hundreds against Guyana on Saturday last, are in superb form. It is so very pleasing to see so many young men - Garrick, Sarwan, Gayle, Hinds, Samuels, Ramnarine and Mahendra Nagamootoo - vying for positions in the "senior" squad.
Of the last two, Ramnarine has been preferred to Nagamootoo for the Test. Ramnarine has the best aggregate of wickets, 48, in the Busta Cup, while Nagamootoo was the incumbent, having played in the last Test in Australia, batting especially well while bowling adequately. He also did well, bowling against England A and Jamaica. Having seen the Bourda Oval pitch over the past two weeks, for the Windward Islands and England A games against Guyana, I do not think that those two spinners would have been misplaced, especially since Hooper and Samuels will provide the off-spin.
Brian Lara should be very relaxed, having enjoyed a good rest, perhaps even enjoying a bit of the Trinidad & Tobago carnival. Of all of the batsmen selected, Lara is the only one who has not played any cricket at all since coming back from Australia. In 1999, the same was true of Lara after the debacle of South Africa, and he made 214, 153 not out and 100 in consecutive innings. Watch out! Lightning could strike twice.
Of course, with the original omission of Adams, the race for the captaincy was largely a one-man affair, since Hooper, with runs like rain and wickets by the dozens, has enjoyed almost total success this year (Guyana lost only one game, on first innings, to England A in Grenada in the Busta Cup). In the original list, only Lara, Jacobs and Hooper were experienced and capable enough to hold the position. Lara had categorically said he did not want it, while Jacobs, as the wicket-keeper/batsman, may already have had too much to do. Unfortunately for Hooper, even though he made 65 against Jamaica, he could not get the additional 46 for 1,000 runs and US$50,000. He though, with his 24 wickets, plus leading Guyana to the final, seemed the only reasonable choice.
There has been such an obvious lack of proper planning, continuing communication problems and lack of foresight by the WICB for this two-week period that it will take much more time and space than I have now to explain this. One would have thought that with the new millennium and the new CEO, the WICB would have actually changed. So far, that is not evident.
Jacobs - behind the stumps
So, with only Lara, Jacobs, Ramnarine, McLean and Cuffy actually going to the pre-Test camp, questions remain about bonding, and psychological, physical and emotional development, especially psychological, which Australia's captain Steve Waugh suggested was very much lacking in the West Indies team touring Australia last year?
The South Africans are nearly as ready as Australia, some say just as ready, to blow the West Indies away. All must, however, remember that in the past 25 years, the West Indies have only lost one series, against Australia in 1995, at home. This too will be another tough series, for both teams. I even believe that if the West Indies bat well, they could win, but it will not be easy.