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August 19, 2007
It is inevitable. Selectors will, to put it kindly, occasionally make obvious errors of judgment and confusing decisions, no matter how experienced, discerning and objective they might be. It is less common for them to openly acknowledge the former or explain the latter.
By including Pedro Collins, the left-arm seamer, in the 15-member squad for the forthcoming Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa, the West Indies panel has effectively conceded, without saying it in so many words, that he should have been on the tour of England in May and June and that he is again part of their future strategy.
At the same time, the continuing exclusion of Ryan Hinds and Jermaine Lawson, even from provisional squads, raises questions that need answering more directly. It is clear that Collins' choice for a mini tournament which limits bowlers to four overs a match - and a maximum of five matches - is simply a signal that the selectors have reassessed their position. They have set their sights more on the successive Test series against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia between late December and next June when he can add variety to bowling that was lacking in England, rather than on the Twenty20 bash.
Since he has had no meaningful cricket since his last first-class match (the final against Trinidad and Tobago in late February in which his returns were 8 for 83), Collins' recall has certainly been based on the recent success of left-arm seamers in England's home series - Zaheer Khan and RP Singh from India, and England's Ryan Sidebottom.
Even before that, there was a strong case for Collins. He had taken 28 wickets in the 2007 Carib Beer Series at the miserly cost of 12.85 runs each and was swerving the ball late back into right-handers. What's more, he had turned out in all six matches, easing the concerns about fitness that were mainly responsible for his spasmodic appearances in 32 Tests over eight years of international cricket. Now 31, he still has a lot to offer and the selectors have given him the opportunity. The rest is up to him.
However, both Hinds and Lawson have similarly strong claims as Collins, but their continued exclusions have been for reasons other than statistics and experience. On the basis of his recent form, Lawson, the tall, strapping Jamaican fast bowler, would surely be back in the Test team by now after an absence of nearly two years.
Lawson's 29 wickets, at 20 runs apiece, made him the leading fast bowler in last season's Carib Beer Series as did his 13 wickets in the one-day KFC Cup. He is fast and, still only 25, has the experience of 13 Tests in India, Bangladesh, Australia, England, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.
But he also has the significant blemish of a bowling action that has twice been reported as illegal and twice required remedial work under the ICC's guidance. It is a flaw that was allowed to develop since he was a teenager although, according to the ICC, it had been corrected under the new law that allows up to 15 degrees flex of the elbow. The impression, given his regional record, is that it is his action that is still keeping him out.
If it is a case that the selectors are still not convinced that he can pass the scrutiny of the ICC's elite panel of umpires, it is unfair on him, and on opponents, to allow him to bowl in Carib Beer and KFC games where local officials have made no unfavourable reports.
After all, there are several prominent international bowlers whose actions have gone through the same process as his and are back taking wickets at international level with no discernible change. England have now recalled one, James Kirtley, to their Twenty20 squad. Another is inching closer to becoming the highest wicket-taker in Test history.
Hinds' problem seems to stem from an action of a different kind. The Barbados captain was, by all accounts, one of those on a disciplinary charge arising out of the contentious Carib Beer Challenge final last season. As such, the selectors' recommendation for him to named be vice-captain of the aborted A team tour of Zimbabwe last month was rejected by the West Indies Cricket Board.
In a farce so typical of West Indies cricket at present, the Barbados Cricket Association claimed it had no knowledge of any such accusation. Yet Hinds, one of the most consistent allrounders in regional cricket, was not only denied the A team vice-captaincy but could not even make the original provisional squad of 30 for the Twenty20 championship.
As a player who has managed only nine Tests since a composed 62 on debut against Pakistan in Sharjah in 2002, Hinds is an obvious underachiever. His attitude has reportedly upset some selectors. But at 26 and with such ability, he is not beyond salvation.
If he is ineligible for selection, for whatever reason, he needs to know, just as Lawson does. If he is not, he is certainly among the top 30 players in the West Indies.
Graeme Smith was the last of South Africa's old guard. The roots of the new one need to grow deeper