February 10, 2014

England and West Indies focus on youth

Both have lost their previous series and key players ahead of their limited-overs clash in the Caribbean. It's time to blood emerging talent

Things haven't gone to plan for either West Indies or England as they prepare to contest the strange combination of three ODIs in Antigua and three T20s in Barbados from February 28 to March 15.

One way or another, their soul-destroying tour of Australia has taken a heavy toll on England. Missing from their squad for the West Indies tour are five of the stalwarts who carried them, if briefly, to the top of the ICC's Test charts and near the top in ODIs just over a year ago. Their places have been taken by younger rising stars.

West Indies also have five prominent players on their absentee list; others with once-settled places have been worryingly out of sorts in the regional Nagico Super50, presently into its final week in Trinidad. Another was withdrawn from the tournament by his association for declining to sign for his team outfit, as all their players are required to do.

West Indies warm up for England's challenge with a couple of T20s and one ODI against Ireland in Kingston on February 19, 21 and 23. The Irish were so disappointing in the Trinidad tournament over the past ten days that it presents an ideal opportunity for West Indies to introduce the most promising newcomers.

It's all the more reason to expect the England matches to feature those of the coming generation. That alone heightens expectations.

For West Indies, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Darren Sammy, Kieron Pollard and Kemar Roach are still carrying injuries of varying degrees. Pollard (knee strain) and Roach (damaged right shoulder) haven't appeared in West Indies colours since the home series against Pakistan last July. Gayle has played no cricket since November 21, when he tore a hamstring in the first ODI in Kochi on the back-to-back tours of India and New Zealand that were every bit as ill-starred as England's in Australia.

Sammy, also with a hamstring problem, and Samuels, recovering from an operation to correct a chronic wrist injury, haven't had a match since Boxing Day.

Normally, selectors would not hurry them back against international opposition. The West Indies panel's conservatism in favouring the tried and trusted over the young and untested is clear from those players contracted for 2014.

At the top level, worth US$120,000 each, are Gayle, 34, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 39, both with strong records but clearly in the twilight of their careers.

Also there are Samuels, 33, who followed his outstanding 2012 with an inconsistent 2013, Sammy, the Test and T20 captain, whose position, by his own admission, is "on the line", and Dwayne Bravo, 30, the last of whose 40 Tests was more than three years ago. The only under-30 in that group, at 25, is Sunil Narine, the mystery spinner.

Among those two levels below (at US$60,000) are Darren Bravo and Denesh Ramdin, along with Johnson Charles, Kirk Edwards, Kieran Powell, Ravi Rampaul and Shane Shillingford.

"Lil Bravo", as he's called in his native Trinidad, is 25 and the team's finest young batsman, averaging 44.68 in 27 Tests, and the highest of his five hundreds, 218 against New Zealand, was just three matches ago.

Ramdin has finally cemented himself as wicketkeeper-batsman after a period of inconsistency that cost him his place. In 14 Tests over the past two years, he averages 44.29 with three hundreds, a favourable comparison with Australia's Brad Haddin (42.26 in 12 Tests) and even MS Dhoni (41.52).

Surely contracts should be either reward for performance or incentives for emerging players. It is patently not so with West Indies.

Of those on show in the Super50, Charles and the left-handed Powell, the opening pair in the New Zealand ODIs, have been worryingly short of runs, as they were on tour. Darren Bravo seems still distracted by the "personal" problems that caused his premature exit after a solitary ODI in New Zealand. Ravi Rampaul's bowling has lacked its usual zip and control. Shillingford can't even bowl as he's under an ICC suspension for an illegal action.

To add to the predicament, Kirk Edwards was dismissed from Barbados' Super50 team for reasons being challenged on his behalf by the West Indies Players Association (WIPA). According to the board president, Dave Cameron, he is still eligible for selection to the regional teams but is now under a dark, unwanted cloud.

For England, Alastair Cook has remained at home to consider his previously unquestioned position as captain. Jonathan Trott, the established No. 3, left Australia after the first Test through "a stress related condition"; his future as an England player is in doubt.

Offspinner Graeme Swann declared his retirement after the third Ashes Test and departed for no other reason than that he wasn't satisfied with his performances. Matt Prior, the long-serving batsman-wicketkeeper, was dropped at the same time, after his form deteriorated sharply; at 31, he is unlikely to be back.

The biggest setback of all was last week's controversial rejection of Kevin Pietersen, unquestionably England's best and most dynamic batsman but deemed by management to be a disruptive influence.

The upshot is that Stuart Broad takes over as captain and that three of those under him are new to international cricket and four others 25 and under. The beginners are Moeen Ali, a batting allrounder who has been outstanding for Worcestershire in the County Championship, and two left-armers, Harry Gurney of Nottinghamshire (fast-medium swing) and Lancashire's Stephen Parry (conventional spin).

Ben Stokes, an aggressive allrounder, England's only century-maker in the Ashes Tests and a bowler capable of high-80s mph pace, was one distinct positive from Australia.

Jos Buttler, a similarly belligerent batsman, has the makings of Prior's successor. Joe Root, the diminutive right-hander capable of playing in any position in the order, from No. 1 down, didn't flourish in Australia but his potential had already been confirmed.

Stokes is 22, Buttler and Root 23. They and others of similar age who didn't make it - batsman Gary Ballance, batsman-keeper Jonny Bairstow - are the future of English cricket.

If West Indies lack such depth at present, the two upcoming series, brief as they are, offer a chance to introduce those previously confined to the A team and others who staked their claims in the Super50.

Batsmen such as the left-handers Jonathan Carter and Leon Johnson, both 26, with A team credentials, and Carter with the further boost of a Super 50 hundred against Trinidad and Tobago; the slim, distinctly rapid 21-year-old Ronsford Beaton; and the big Vincentian left-armer Delorn Johnson, another A team graduate.

If such players are not given their chance and the customary recycling continues, West Indies will remain just where they are, near the bottom of the pile.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CRIC on February 15, 2014, 11:44 GMT

    To make a marked difference in West Indies cricket, listen to the words of Clive Lloyd. The great man, who, let us never forget, forged THE strongest team EVER, often speaks well regarding the state and future of our game. His recent interview with Ian Bishop was full of the right attitude and approach. Lloyd spoke of the problems: 1) attitude, 2) fitness, 3) exposure, 4) pitches and 5)utilising the past greats from the region. The components are there - but the men who sit around the desks need to wake up and make the correct calls. Ask the greats such as Haynes, Greenidge, Richards, Dujon, Holding, Ambrose, Walsh and Bishop to formally také part in the development of the younger players, find another Dennis Waight to improve the shocking condition of these guys, insist on the top players returning to the region to play all formats of regional cricket, send the top groundsman to all corners of the Caribbean to improve the pitches and then, in time, the West Indies will rise again.

  • ty on February 13, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    I think some of you are very unfair in selections,marlon samuels was out of the team for ages and they took him back and he played well.sarwan is trying to make a comeback and is doing a good job with the bat at present,but, no one is saying give him a chance. i agree with darren ganga .Sarwan is still the best captain for West Indies.

  • CRIC on February 12, 2014, 17:05 GMT

    Good comment Randy Wilson. How fine it would be to see great men like Holding and Richards involved too.

    If anybody disagrees with your statement regarding "we have the talent", they patently fail to see the promise and skilll of K Powell, DB Bravo, R Beaton, M Cummins, D Johnson, J Holder, K Roach etc

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 1:47 GMT

    WI biggest problem is the Selection Panel, sammy himself knows his Test position is at stake. Selector wake up. Sammy is no Test player. pick him in a role which suit him. T20/ODI. WI can pick a Test Team, ODI Team and a T20, with 3-4 players playing all format. Which can stop Players from getting break down with a Long season of Cricket. We got de player, but Poor Management and Selector is ta blame got to pick de best and not de worst 11.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 0:17 GMT

    LOL. Comparing Ramdin to Dhoni... what a joke.

    This series represents the best chance that the West Indies has against a team that is mentally broken at the moment. But still, they will find a way to lose. That's the story of the West Indies. I remember growing up in the Caribbean when losing was abnormal. Now, it's the opposite. We're delighted whenever the team can squeeze out a win. Even against a Zimbabwe or Bangladesh... The side is suffering from the effects of mismanagement and improper development. How sad, these times. Long live the West Indies.

  • o on February 11, 2014, 21:31 GMT

    T20 side for England /World Cup

    1.Gayle 2.Smith 3.Samuels/Simmons 4.Carter/LIL B 5.Big Bravo 6.Pollard 7.Barnwell/Russell 8.Sammy 9.Narine 10.Badree 11.Santokie

  • o on February 11, 2014, 21:17 GMT

    Kirk Edwards just scored an impeccable 123* in the second Odi game he was selected in of the 5 to help square the series against the same strong Kiwi side that just whitewashed India !It will be ridiculous if he's not included. With Gayle out it's vital Dwayne Smith is given another shot so there is some fire-power at the top.

    Team for Ireland 1.Smith 2.Powell/Chanderpaul 3.Edwards 4.LIL B 5.Bravo 6.Carter 7.Ramdin 8.Holder 9.Narine 10/11 Rampaul/Beaton/Johnson or another spinner depending on track.

  • CRIC on February 11, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    VivGilchrist, as I stated earlier, good that I am not the only one to have remarked upon Rampaul's extra baggage. Merv Hughes-esque the body may be, but Hughes was also a very good bowler. Rampaul is quite good, at best. Never had that extra yard of pace but always took that extra plate of curry.

  • Basil on February 11, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    I think WI need a healthy mix of youth and experience. If you chuck guys in because they are young, you risk destroying them. 1 DRSmith 2 Charles 3 Simmons 4 Bravo 5 Carter 6 Bravo 7 Russell 8 Ramdin 9 Taylor 10 Rampaul 11 Narine. I wish Rampaul could cut down on the Roti and Jerk Chicken, get himself fit and reach his true potential. He's starting to remind me of Merv Hughes.

  • Joe on February 11, 2014, 0:58 GMT

    It is amazing that persons with one good score in 3 games are being touted as international players. Lets be serious.

  • No featured comments at the moment.