West Indies A v England A February 23, 2006

The changing face of A teams

Haydn Gill

Tino Best: his third stint in the A team © AFP
Once upon a time A teams used to serve as a feeder for international squads. The trends these days, however, show a reverse. Be that as it may, the forthcoming series of two unofficial Tests and three ODIs between West Indies A and England A is of major significance for everyone involved.

When these two teams first met in a series of this kind in 1992, both squads comprised a seasoned professional as captain, a few others with international experience and mainly young, promising players on the verge of international recognition.

Fourteen years later, the teams that have assembled in Antigua include familiar faces that have already played for the senior West Indies and England teams, but are now out of favour and are given a chance to re-establish their credentials.

The West Indies A of 1992 included Courtney Walsh, a seasoned Test player as captain and three others with international experience - Carlisle Best, Clayton Lambert and Tony Gray. Nine of the 13 had not yet played Test cricket and seven of them - Jimmy Adams, Roland Holder, Junior Murray, Kenny Benjamin, Ottis Gibson, Robert Samuels and Nehemiah Perry - would later graduate to the international ranks.

It's the opposite this time around. Eight of the 13 - captain Sylvester Joseph, Narsingh Deonarine, Ryan Hinds, Marlon Samuels, Carlton Baugh, Dave Mohammed, Tino Best and Jermaine Lawson - have had more than one crack at the higher level. Of the remaining five, three - Lendl Simmons, Sewnarine Chattergoon and Richard Kelly - have already worn West Indies A shirts, and only two - Dale Richards and Andrew Richardson, are newcomers to this level. It's a similar comparison for their opponents.

The visitors' 14-man squad here includes nine players with international experience - captain Vikram Solanki, Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Rikki Clarke, Sajid Mahmood, Chris Read, Owais Shah, Alax Wharf - and there would have been a tenth had Ian Blackwell not been summoned to join the seniors in India.

In 1992, the England A contained nine who had no international experience, six of whom went on to play Test cricket, while six had come to the Caribbean with senior England caps.

The West Indies A team that toured Sri Lanka last summer also included 13 players who had the "benefit" of international exposure.

The reasons for the reversal of trends are obvious. The quality of talent these days is hardly much to shout about, and perhaps there isn't a lot of difference between those here and those in New Zealand with the senior West Indies team. Players hardly perform to maintain a settled place in the West Indies team and the end result is a rotation of personnel in what can be summed up as musical chairs.

Case in point. Tino Best, who was a member of West Indies A teams of 2002 and 2005, graduated into the senior team in 2003 on the back of his outstanding regional season the same year. Dropped after a solitary Test, he gained few more opportunities and once more found himself in the A team ranks last July.

The dispute between the leading players and the administrators led him being drafted in for the senior tour of Sri Lanka and he retained his place to Australia later in the year. Dropped by Barbados, the West Indies selectors ignored him for New Zealand, but he has another chance to show his mettle.

Given the trends, it won't be surprising if Best is back in the reckoning for the home series against India in June, and someone in New Zealand now, maybe Jerome Taylor, finds himself in the A team for the series against Sri Lanka A that coincides with India's visit to the Caribbean.

Best's case is almost mirrored by fellow fast bowler Jermaine Lawson, who will also be embarking on a third stint with the A team. It is also a third chance for Lendl Simmons, who is still only 21, but has not exactly fulfilled the promise selectors saw in him when they sent him on the 2002 tour to England as a 17-year-old.

In the circumstances where we've merely reshuffled the pack, the selectors have not been afforded a chance to introduce new young talent. Hence, no room for someone like Alcindo Holder, who expertly hit three half-centuries in his first first-class outing for Barbados or someone like 20-year-old Kittitian Steve Liburd, who made two half-centuries in his first two matches. Ryan Austin, whose 22 wickets were the joint third highest in this season's Carib Beer Cup - has also been unrewarded.

Having said that, the 13 in the West Indies A and their England rivals, have everything to play for in the coming weeks.