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George Dobell at Grace Road
June 2, 2012
West Indians 150 for 3 (Bravo 66, Barath 53*) v Leicestershire
Sometimes a person's absence is more notable than their attendance. So, just as Kate Middleton might have provoked even more column inches had she not shown up to her wedding, so Sunil Narine's absence from the first day of the tour match at Grace Road was arguably more surprising than anything he might have achieved on the pitch.
Narine, the 24-year-old spinner, was called up on Wednesday to replace the injured Kemar Roach in West Indies' squad for the third Test at Edgbaston which begins on Thursday. But Narine, it turns out, has not even arrived in the UK yet. Instead he spent Friday playing club cricket in Trinidad - T20 club cricket at that - and is expected to arrive in England on Sunday. He will not, therefore, have the benefit of any match practice or even an extended period of acclimatisation before the Test. Ottis Gibson, West Indies' coach, admitted that he did not know if Narine had ever played in England.
But it appears that will not prevent Gibson selecting him on Thursday. Nor will the fact that Narine has only played six first-class games, or that the last of them was in February. Indeed, Gibson expressed the belief that Narine's lack of exposure was a significant bonus for West Indies.
"He's just come back from playing a hell of a lot of cricket, so I'm sure he's been bowling a lot," Gibson said. "I think it's his first time playing international cricket in England and there's a disadvantage playing for the first time in these conditions but it's an advantage because the opposition haven't seen him yet.
"If he were to play this two-day game then there would be some footage of him for them to go and have a look at. He isn't playing and it means that if he plays [at Edgbaston] it will be something completely new to them so that could be a bit of an advantage for us.
"It is an interesting replacement. He's somebody we've identified from the shorter version of the game but the selectors also believe he can play the longer version and this is an opportunity to put that to the test."
The one major flaw in Gibson's argument is that Narine has just finished playing in the IPL; the most high-profile domestic tournament in world cricket. Still, the spinner's record is exceptional: his last three first-class games have brought 31 wickets at an average of 9.61, while he could also claim with some justification - he was the second-highest wicket-taker and had the second-best economy-rate - to have been the best bowler at this year's IPL. Bearing in mind England's recent struggles against high-quality 'mystery' spin and there is the possibility that Narine may prove something of a game-changer. It is, however, asking a great deal of a young man with so little experience to adapt to new conditions and a different format so quickly.
Narine is also unlikely to solve West Indies' problems with their top-order batting. There were, however, some welcome signs of improvement on the weather-shortened first day of the game against Leicestershire. With Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo both recording half-centuries and adding 111 for the third-wicket, two of West Indies' top four will arrive at Edgbaston with renewed confidence and the benefit of having spent time in the middle.
Both played very well. Barath, who has shown glimpses of his ability in the Test series, again left the ball well and demonstrated his pleasing cover drive without the moments of lost concentration that have dogged him of late. Bravo, having survived some loose shots early on, calmed down to play some delightful strokes including a six over long-on off rookie left-arm spinner, James Sykes.
It was a less happy day for Kirk Edwards, despite being promoted to lead the side, and Kieran Powell. Powell - who has scored 47 in four Test innings on this tour - was drawn into an edge as he pushed at one he might have left before Edwards, with the footwork of a statue, was bamboozled by swing. Both wickets were claimed by Nadeem Malik who, aged 29 and nine years into his first-class career, will be out of contract at the end of the season.
Edwards' failure means he has scored just 20 runs in eight innings on this tour. While he can take comfort of sorts from the fact that this game against Leicestershire does not have first-class status, he will also know that his travails over the last month have left his international future in jeopardy. When he arrived in the UK he had a Test average in excess of 50, two Test centuries to his name and he had recently been elevated to the vice-captaincy.
With English conditions - and English bowlers - exposing some obvious technical flaws, however, Edwards currently looks bereft of form and confidence. His third-ball duck here begged the question as to whether he was enduing the most miserable tour of England in history by a specialist batsman. The Maharaja of Porbandar - who scored only two first-class runs on the All-India side's 1932 tour of England - has strong claims to that title but, as he was selected more due to his wealth and perceived social standing than any ability with the bat, it is probably unfair to consider him a specialist batsman. It may be relevant that West Indies also used this game as an opportunity for Assad Fudadin and Narsingh Deonarine to apply pressure on their under-performing top order.
This Leicestershire attack is perfectly respectable. Robbie Joseph generated pace even on a sluggish surface, Malik bowled some dangerous deliveries and Sykes, while raw, could go a long way in the game. Suffice it to say, however, that whoever England select at Edgbaston will provide a substantially sterner test.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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