Strange selection choices ahead of Australia Tests May 9, 2008

More baffling decisions

Fazeer Mohammed on the squad chosen to train for West Indies ahead of their first Test against Australia

Brendan Nash finished third in the domestic first-class averages this season but was not picked in the training squad for the Test series against Australia © Trinidad & Tobago Express

This is really an unreadable googly. Selecting any sporting team is usually a thankless task. When you have different territories pulled together for what should be a common cricketing cause, as it is here in the West Indies, choosing any combination of players is a recipe for strident, emotion-laden condemnation. Many times, the objection and outrage are groundless, insular stupidness.

Still, criticism of any type stings. Why anyone would choose to be in the firing line so regularly, I do not know. So Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts and Clyde Butts perform what is essentially a thankless task. But nobody forced them to take the job, and as former players themselves who would be eminently aware of the volatility of the Caribbean public, they knew what they were getting themselves into.

So, with all of that in mind, and an appreciation of their having seen more regional cricket than most of us, and of the need to look beyond just the runs, wickets and averages column, I still have to ask the question: what is the logic, what is the rationale behind some of the selections and omissions in the training squad that assembles next week in Antigua in the lead-up to the Test series against Australia?

And this is one of the points that has to be emphasised. We are preparing first for Test cricket. The Twenty20 vupping thing and the five One-Day Internationals will follow. So it should be reasonably safe to assume that the 17 named are all seen as viable options in the event that injury or loss of form rules one of the regular players out of consideration, if only for the short term.

On that assumption, it is bewildering that Kieron Pollard and William Perkins are included. Surely these two young players are nowhere near being ready for the highest level of international cricket. Their respective first-class averages this season (27.36 and 24.30) suggest that these two batsmen need to establish themselves at regional level before they are thrown in at the deep end against anyone, to say nothing of the enormity of the challenge expected from the top team in the world.

If the first assumption is wrong and the training squad encompasses players for all forms of the game, don't we have enough evidence of how detrimental it is to the development of a young cricketer to identify him as a "one-day specialist"?

Pollard and Perkins might have been top-notch performers for Trinidad and Tobago in the two editions so far of the Stanford 20/20 tournament, but the big right-hander will only turn 21 on Monday, while the diminutive opener, although already 21, has less regional experience than Pollard and no senior international exposure at all.

You just have to look at the WIPA 20/20 competition, which reaches its conclusion on Sunday at Guaracara Park, to recognise how much the quality aspect of cricket is being sacrificed for the sake of quantity and instantaneous entertainment.

Nobody will reasonably argue with any cricketer being well paid, but until the day arrives when we concede that Test cricket is no longer a priority (that may be sooner rather than later), exposing players, especially young players, to more and more of the Twenty20 version will stunt their technical and temperamental development, reducing us to the level of flamboyant, spectacular impotence on the world stage.

On the other side of the coin, what are the reasons for not selecting Nikita Miller and Brendan Nash? The left-arm spinner finished as the leading wicket-taker in the regional first-class season with 42 victims, while the Australian-born batsman of Jamaican parentage finished third in the averages (422 runs at 46.88) with two hundreds against Trinidad and Tobago.

To say picking Nash will confirm our lowly status assumes we didn't know that already, and actually betrays a deep-seated insecurity that consoles us with the unsubstantiated belief that things aren't really all that bad

Now, there are many, including fellow Jamaicans, who are not convinced that Miller has what it takes to be a quality bowler at Test level. There are many, especially Jamaicans who consider Nash to be an opportunistic outsider, recoiling from the notion that a 30-year-old player not good enough to retain his state contract at Queensland would wear the burgundy cap against the land of his birth mere months after coming to the region for the first time.

In the 25-year-old bowler's situation, if Miller can't make it into a training squad, even if it is only to confirm that he won't cut it at international level, what is the point of being motivated by any hopes of West Indian representation?

To say picking Nash will confirm our lowly status assumes we didn't know that already, and actually betrays a deep-seated insecurity that consoles us with the unsubstantiated belief that things aren't really all that bad.

It is the same insecurity that precludes a public explanation as a matter of course from the convenor of selectors whenever any team or squad is announced. No sir, such information has to be hunted down, ferreted out and celebrated as a major scoop because it is not our place to know why.

In the absence of what should be a straightforward rationale (whether or not we agree with it) for their decisions, speculation will be rampant, spawning criticism that may be way off the mark. But that's what you get when the truth that should set you free from such encumbrances is kept a closely-guarded secret.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad