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Stop-gap West Indies highlight pandemic dilemma

More teams will be faced with first-choice players pulling out, and it could result in further lopsided contests

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
West Indies' second string was no match for the well-oiled Bangladesh machine  •  AFP via Getty Images

West Indies' second string was no match for the well-oiled Bangladesh machine  •  AFP via Getty Images

If any part of Jason Mohammed really hoped that his West Indies side would follow what India did to Australia on their own tour of Bangladesh, it's all gone now. They are 0-2 in a three-match ODI series, never once posing a threat to the opposition.
Their batting in both games was almost identically poor, with the middle-order were forced to rebuild after the top-order fell cheaply. They couldn't quite balance between caution and aggression. And while their bowlers impressed in patches, they were never equipped to defend totals of 122 and 148.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh hardly put a foot wrong, in either game. The spinners dominated proceedings after the pace attack gave them early breakthroughs. The batsmen were understandably watchful even though they were chasing small targets. There was professionalism and consistency on display, the least you could expect from a team that has targeted direct entry to the 2023 World Cup.
West Indies have now lost their last seven ODIs to Bangladesh. Things may have been different had their first-choice picks made themselves available for this series. But that doesn't change the fact that they have just given up 30 points in the race to World Cup qualification.
Still, coach Phil Simmons had urged the newcomers to put up performances that make it hard for the regular players to replace them in the next series. Covid-19 basically gave them opportunities that were becoming hard to come by. But now it is more than likely that many of those missing seniors will ever so smoothly regain their place in the ODI team.
Whether teams and boards like it or not, this is going to be a feature of international cricket until the pandemic ends. West Indies are just the first among the international teams to suffer the consequences of traveling regularly during these times. It is natural to for players to feel so mentally drained that they choose to skip tours. Other teams will be faced with this dilemma soon enough.
West Indies had a couple of pull-outs for their visits to England and New Zealand last year, but for this Bangladesh trip, several of their top players decided to stay away. Add to that, Romario Shepherd testing Covid-19 positive before departure, and Hayden Walsh Jr testing positive after landing in Bangladesh. They haven't replaced him in the ODI squad officially, which leaves them with only 14 men to choose from, and no lead spinner.
To go back to January 19 for a minute, the touring West Indies side couldn't be faulted for feeling inspired by India, who broke Australia's incredible stronghold in Brisbane, and won the Test series 2-1. They are an inexperienced bunch too, trying to beat an opponent with a formidable home record. But that's where the comparisons end.
India's domestic circuit includes a tournament like the IPL and they have an A-team system that gives its cricketers an almost international level-like platform. Mohammed Siraj, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini and T Natarajan may have only dreamt of forming a bowling attack together in a crucial Test in Australia, but when the chance came, they played like they belonged.
India's selectors and team management now know that even if Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav are injured, they have four more to take their place. There will be the initial nerves and perhaps bit of struggle, but they wouldn't have many teething problems, even at the highest level.
West Indies' second string has given very little evidence of such promise. Their lack of overall experience and first-hand knowledge of Bangladeshi pitches, and a short lead-up into the ODI series, have worked against them. But performing out of their comfort zone, especially in overseas conditions, is how top-class cricketers are made.
So far however, Mohammed's West Indies are a stop-gap team, one that is fulfilling their board's commitment to the BCB to tour Bangladesh. There hasn't been much to write home about their performance. However, there is a very important message for every international team: keep up your standards. A small group of top cricketers won't do in this pandemic. Widen your talent pool. Otherwise, you'll have to face the consequences.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84