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Five questions for West Indies before the 2019 World Cup

Chris Gayle on the sidelines of West Indies' training session AFP

Is there even a race for the opening spots?

Chris Gayle played in the World Cup Qualifier but has since been jetting around the world to play various T20 leagues. He has been told he won't be an automatic pick for the 2019 World Cup, though the management indicated he would be invaluable if he made the team.

West Indies have maintained that the absence of key players has opened doors for others, but they haven't had a problem of plenty so far. Because Evin Lewis withdrew from the India tour, West Indies had two vacancies at the top of the order. Kieran Powell and Chandrapaul Hemraj had the most time there, and Rovman Powell got a shot as opener in the last game. Neither of them did enough to push either Gayle or Lewis, who, remain West Indies' most successful opening pair in recent times. Does this mean they come back in even if they don't have match time before the World Cup? Or will the series against Bangladesh and England throw up other contenders?

What do you do with Marlon Samuels?

West Indies coach Stuart Law said Samuels' role on the India tour was a new one: to negotiate spin in the middle overs, and to mentor the youngsters. While the second responsibility is impossible to assess from the outside, it is easy to say he failed in fulfilling his first role in this series. Samuels made only 64 runs in five innings and was out to spinners in three out of five innings.

His lack of runs stood out in a middle order that was carried by Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, whose runs could have tilted more games in West Indies' favour if they were complemented by Samuels' contributions.

The year of the last World Cup - 2015 - was among Samuels' best; he made 601 runs in 15 innings. He had a good 2016 as well, but since the start of 2017, Samuels has made only two fifties in 17 innings. Both of those came fairly recently - at the World Cup Qualifier - but what does West Indies do with someone who has played four World Cups but averages less than 25 in the last two years?

Will Andre Russell be picked if he can't bowl?

There is little doubt that a fit Andre Russell walks into West Indies' XI, whether he has had match practice or not. Russell played regularly in the Caribbean Premier League this year and contributed with bat and ball; he took a hat-trick and made a 40-ball hundred in one match, what will probably be the greatest all-round performance in T20s for a long time. But Russell is not yet fit enough to play as an allrounder in 50-over games.

Should that be the case in May, will West Indies still pick him? At the moment, if West Indies choose to go that way, Rovman Powell would lose his place in the middle order. Ironically, that would be almost a like-for-like replacement, considering Powell is also an allrounder who now plays as a batsman in ODIs. He was also described recently by their coach as West Indies' most improved limited-overs player. Will he lose his place if Russell is fit enough to play as a batsman? And what happens if Darren Bravo is back in the scheme of things by then?

Who are West Indies' fourth and fifth bowlers?

West Indies will be a little worried about their recent bowling performances. Both against India and Bangladesh, they struggled to settle into a bowling combination.

Jason Holder, of course, is a constant. Without being phenomenal, Ashley Nurse has done a reasonable enough holding job for him to be the main spinner, and Kemar Roach is the best active ODI bowler they have. Apart from these three, West Indies have tried Alzarri Joseph, Devendra Bishoo, Sheldon Cottrell, Keemo Paul, Oshane Thomas, Obed McCoy, and Fabian Allen. And that is across eight ODIs. Is there still time for experiments?

The leadership question

West Indies are used to players backing out or being unavailable for series, but the one thing they have managed to keep constant is their captain. Jason Holder is now about four years into the role. Off the field, they have come close, with Law holding the head coach position for close to two years.

However, Law has resigned and his tenure will end after the tour of Bangladesh. It will mark the end of a stint during which West Indies not only broke their freefall, but also managed to nudge upwards again. Law admitted the timing of his exit was harsh in the lead-up to such a big tournament.

It will be a challenge for both the players and the new coach, particularly if the coach isn't one who has been promoted internally. The board will have to give serious thought to how they go about the transition, which will not be easy considering all the other questions they have to ponder with just over half-a-year remaining.