Young Windies have no choice but to move on from Shiv
Shivnarine Chanderpaul's absence from the West Indies Test squad in Dominica could be felt even before arriving on the island. An in-flight magazine article discussing this year's Caribbean Tests was emblazoned with an image of none other than the 40-year-old Guyanese, as though he was the one item of furniture the editor could be sure of lasting through the edition's April to June time span.
But much to the shock of many, Chanderpaul was unable to go the distance, jettisoned by the convenor of selectors Clive Lloyd and the coach Phil Simmons ahead of the Australia series. Their call sparked numerous spot fires of discontent, none brighter than that lit by Brian Lara, who spoke not in terms of averages and statistics but of respect and history.
Caught in the middle of all this is the West Indies team now compelled to go on without Chanderpaul. As a young team they will miss his experience and knowledge, and there is a sense among the players that they would have preferred a less messy conclusion to arguably the most dogged of all Caribbean cricket careers. The articulate Jason Holder tried to walk this line at the team's first Windsor Park training session, conceding that events had not gone unnoticed by the team but resolving not to let it distract beyond a reasonable level of regret.
"The exclusion of Shiv has caused a lot of talk," Holder said, without specifying whether that talk had taken place within or away from the West Indies dressing room. "That's beyond me at this present time, my focus right now is on cricket. It's quite important we put cricket first and try to perform well against Australia."
Chanderpaul's omission has cast something of a shadow over a team that was otherwise most satisfied to have drawn the recent series against England, a result that placed Australia's next two opponents closer together than the schedule - a terrible two Tests for West Indies, a gluttonous five for England - would indicate. Holder suggested that the hosts were trying to keep their eyes on progress rather than pettiness.
"We've taken a lot from it," Holder said. "Obviously we did pretty well to come back in the series. We drew the series and we're just looking to keep that momentum going in this series. We did a lot of good things in that last series and we're just looking to continue on in that rich vein and compete very well in that Test.
"Australia are ranked No. 2 in the world and that says a lot. We're currently down at eight and we need to work our way up. We have to give them the respect they're due. Obviously we're coming to compete and win this series. We're coming in quite hard at them. Looking to be aggressive and at least continue the rich vein of form we had in the England series."
There is another reason for the young team personified by Holder to look as far forward as possible without too much rancour over Chanderpaul. It is well known that Simmons has re-opened lines of communication with the region's bevy of IPL players, meaning the West Indies team may soon be as competitively stacked for places in the Test XI as at any time since the first Indian Twenty20 tournament in 2008.
The likes of Kraigg Brathwaite, Veerasammy Permaul and Holder himself may soon be competing for places with Lendl Simmons, Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo - notably for positions on the tour to Australia later this year - meaning that every Test match from here on in must be both savoured and exploited.
"He's been doing a very good job so far," Holder said of Phil Simmons. "A few guys have bought into what he's brought. Hopefully going into the future we'll have some very good times. We're taking it day by day and just trying to put in as much hard work as possible to this important series.
"This is actually my first time in Dominica so I'm really looking forward to it. Heard a lot of things before and obviously seeing the last Test match Australia played against West Indies here. Hopefully it's a little better than last time in terms of the pitch and we get a good game."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig