Narine's absence raises questions over future
As West Indies and Australia commence battle in the first Test in Bridgetown, Sunil Narine will be some 14,405km away, readying himself to play for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. Narine sat out Knight Riders' first engagement of the tournament as he had not been long in arriving from the Caribbean, but his absence from a Test series in which he might have made a considerable impact has fuelled plenty of questions about his future.
The West Indies camp has largely downplayed Narine's absence, citing his lack of any previous Test-match experience. There is also the matter of whether or not the surfaces for the three matches to come would have favoured him quite so much as the three spiteful turners of St Vincent at the start of the ODI series. However, the touring Australians are delighted that they will not have to contend with an array of variations that had a mesmerising effect on even a player as well-versed against slow bowling as Michael Hussey.
"Personally I was pretty happy that he's gone over to the IPL," Hussey said on Good Friday. "I, and all the guys, found him a huge challenge in the one-day series, particularly in St Vincent where the conditions were obviously very spin-friendly. It did take me a good two or three games to get used to his action, his deliveries and what he was trying to do with the ball. I think it's a bit of a win for our team that he's not here."
Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, spoke frankly and at some length during his team's preparatory stint at Kensington Oval on a range of topics, but was quite clipped by comparison when it came to Narine. The matter of IPL absentees is a source of some contention, questions about uncontracted players pushed to one side by the hosts' otherwise cordial media minders.
"He hasn't played Test cricket yet so it's difficult to say how he will hurt us," Gibson said. "He had a fantastic one-day series and he came to the fore in that format of the game. We haven't seen him in a lot of first-class or Test cricket yet so it's difficult to say he'll come and have the same impact. Obviously he's gone off to the IPL and we have to see past that right now."
Other missing men, including Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels, have been replaced by younger talent, and in the case of Samuels it is possible that the determined contributions of Narsingh Deonarine will prove capable of overshadowing the man he is substituted for. Mitigating Bravo's departure is the fact that the captain Darren Sammy has a mortgage on the nominal allrounder's spot, though the option of another would lengthen the local batting and bowling line-up.
Narine's place - were he to be given one - will be taken by Devendra Bishoo, an eminently crafty young legspinner with a serviceable record against Indian batsmen in 2011. Ironically for a wrist spinner, Bishoo's deliveries will be shrouded in less mystery than Narine's, but his accuracy and tenacious attitude will serve him well.
How Bishoo might have fared in tandem with Narine is another question that must be placed on hold, for Test matches that do not clash with the IPL. They will not take place in this series, nor during West Indies' next assignment in England, and the duo will most likely be united when Sammy takes his team to Sri Lanka for three Tests in November.
By then the West Indies side will know a lot more about its capabilities, having fought against two of the world's top four teams. However each time Narine is absent from a West Indies engagement he loses a chance to be part of what Gibson and Sammy are trying to turn into a robust and fighting team culture. It is the kind that exists best in teams like Australia, whose IPL players are, to a man, staying in the West Indies until the Tests run to their conclusion.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here