Stuck on Powell
Twice in the past few weeks, West Indian selectors have opened a fast-bowling cupboard once packed to overflowing with quality items, left on the shelf the few fresh goods now available, and chosen instead to recycle some old ones long past their use-by dates.
In Barbados, once the most prolific assembly lines for high-class fast bowlers anywhere, Pedro Collins and Corey Collymore, both the wrong side of 30 and committed to English counties under Kolpak contracts, were picked for the regional first-class season. So was Tino Best, whose 12 Tests for the West Indies brought 26 wickets at 45 runs apiece.
On Friday, the West Indies panel ignored the statistics on the label (32 Tests, 79 wickets, average 46.22; last 12 Tests - 32 wickets, average 51.43) and retained Daren Powell on their list for the first Test against England, starting February 4.
Collins, Collymore and Best have all served Barbados well over the years. Powell is an enthusiastic, indeed over-enthusiastic, cricketer not flattered by his record. But with Collins tied to Surrey and Collymore to Sussex by their Kolpak signatures, Best's spasmodic Test career almost certainly at an end and Powell now 30 and unlikely to get any better, it was time for the respective selectors to move on.
Repeatedly and justifiably accused of favouring pace over spin, their reluctance to change is now sending the wrong signals to emerging fast bowlers. Powell's case is compounded by a problem of indiscipline that has been one of the main reasons for the decline of West Indies cricket over the past decade.
If the potential successors to Wes Hall, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and other exemplars of the past cannot be trusted to take the places of those with such unfavourable numbers against their names, when will they ever be? In addition, they see, in Powell's case, the retention of a player whose performance is clearly affected by his inability to control his emotions.
It was evident during the recent series in New Zealand, especially in the second Test in Napier when, riled by an advancing Brendon McCullum, he ran through the crease and deliberately threw the ball past the batsman. In the last ODI, the adrenalin rush of a short-pitched attack against McCullum and Jesse Ryder cost him 43 runs from his opening four overs. He is a better batsman than his Test average of seven indicates but time and again he has been out to inappropriate slogs and hooks.
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori's gesture of shaking his head and pointing to his temple after one such dismissal in the Wellington ODI was disrespectful to a fellow sportsman but it told a story.
Clyde Butts, the chief West Indies selector, described the Napier incident as "bad for the team, for West Indies cricket, for the player and for the people of the Caribbean", adding that he was "surprised that no action was taken in the matter". Although Powell did go to the New Zealand dressing room next day to apologise, it surely merited sterner measures, if not from the ICC match referee, certainly from the team manager who is entrusted with the maintenance of discipline and the upholding of the reputation of West Indies cricket.
According to Butts, Powell "needs to be spoken to and spoken to strongly about his attitude". Perhaps he needs to be spoken to about his bowling record as well. If no one else has done so, Butts might point out the relationship between the two - to Powell and everyone else.
There is little doubt that captain Chris Gayle and coach John Dyson swayed Powell's selection. Dyson actually previewed it on the WICB website; Gayle's trust is a legacy of years together in the Jamaica team. Powell's five wickets against New Zealand in Dunedin last month, out of the 12 that fell, would still be clear in their memories. More than that would have been his rousing opening burst in the second innings of the second Test last May, when he and Fidel Edwards left Australia reeling at 12 for 4 at the end of the third day.
The venue then, as now, was Sabina Park, his home ground. At Friday's media conference announcing the team, Robert Haynes, the former Jamaica allrounder who is one of the three selectors, confirmed the Sabina advantage but indicated that it would be Powell's last chance. Noting that the team had been named only for the first Test, he said: "There will have to come a time when we decide that this bowler has had enough and we need to look at someone new."
It is an overdue option.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years