Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Darren Bravo have opted to skip the World Cup Qualifiers in March to play in the Pakistan Super League. The development was revealed by Cricket West Indies, which released the 15-man squad for the qualifiers scheduled to be played in Zimbabwe from March 4 to 25.
Ten teams will contest the qualifiers with two going through to join the top eight-ranked nations for the 2019 World Cup, to be played in England from May 30 to July 14.
Jason Holder will lead the West Indies squad which, chairman of selectors Courtney Browne said had the right mix of "experience and youth." Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels are two senior-most members of the 15-man squad, which also sees the return of allrounder Carlos Brathwaite, fast bowler Kemar Roach and legspinner Devendra Bishoo from the group that played in the ODI series in New Zealand, which West Indies lost 3-0.
Holder had said recently that West Indies would treat every match as a "must-win" game, keeping in mind the "magnitude" of what was at stake for them. Critics then are bound to question if this is the best ODI squad to represent West Indies solely because some of the best limited-overs players - Narine, Pollard and Russell - are not part of the squad.
Browne stated all four players said their "priority" was to play in the PSL, which runs parallel to and beyond the qualifiers. The PSL, in its third year, will be played from February 22 to March 25. "We contacted some of our well-known senior cricketers to ascertain their availability for the tournament and we are pleased that Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels have indicated their full support and commitment to the cause," Browne said in a media release. "Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Darren Bravo and Andre Russell, however, indicated that they were unavailable to help us qualify as their priority was playing in the Pakistan Super League."
The West Indies squad will depart for Zimbabwe on February 16, about 10 days before playing two warm-up matches before the league phase of the qualifiers commences. According to Johnny Grave, the CWI chief executive officer, between Browne, Jimmy Adams, West Indies' director of cricket, and himself, the three had discussions with the four players in the recent weeks.
"Their positions were clear that they were unable to help us qualify and they are all committed to participate in the PSL," Grave told ESPNcricinfo. "We understand and respect the players' decisions. We are hugely disappointed that they have not made themselves available to help the West Indies qualify for the World Cup."
All four players are part of the set of high-profile players who were not offered contracts by CWI. The set includes Gayle, Narine, Russell, Pollard, Bravo, Samuels, Samuel Badree and Darren Sammy. Grave had recently pointed out that these players were not being offered the white-ball contracts which were meant for players featuring in both ODI and T20 teams. He also said that the players would need to play some 50-over games in the domestic Super50 Cup, which begins soon, in order to warrant selection to the ODI side.
Whether the implication of not having a contract was a reason behind the four players opting out could not be ascertained. It is, however, understood that during the conversations with CWI, Russell and Narine stated that they just wanted some time to work on their individual games before returning to play for West Indies. Both players are understood to have committed to play in the limited-overs formats soon.
Grave confirmed that Russell, whose one-year doping ban ends on January 31, will feature in the league phase of Super50 after he was picked in the Jamaica squad this week. Also playing the group stages of the Super50 would be Gayle, Samuels and Narine.
Russell has not played an ODI since November 2015. His last international match was a T20 against India in August 2016. In his time away from West Indies and, before the ban, Russell was busy playing various T20 leagues overseas, where he is one of the most sought-after players. In his discussions with the CWI officials, Russell expressed his desire to return to play ODIs, but wanted to regain his confidence playing in the 50-over format. The selectors and CWI accepted his reasoning and supported his move to play the Super50.
Recently, Russell and Narine were two players retained by Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of the IPL auction. Russell is expected to be part of the West Indies A tour to England, which follows the IPL, where he is expected to test himself as well as allow the selectors to assess his performances before the series against Bangladesh in the summer.
Narine, who has not played ODIs since October 2016, informed CWI that he is not yet confident about his bowling action completely. Narine has been working with a specialist coach, Carl Crowe, on his bowling action over the past few years and has asked for a bit more time, which Grave said he could understand.
The case of Pollard and Bravo is not so straightforward, though. Pollard, who is currently playing the Big Bash League and became the first to play 400 T20s, has also not played ODIs since October 2016. In December, Pollard pulled out on the eve of the T20 series in New Zealand, citing "personal reasons". When the selectors checked with him about his availability for the World Cup Qualifiers, he said he was not available.
The Bravo case is intriguing along similar lines. Despite agreeing to a truce with CWI last year, Bravo has not played for West Indies recently. He opted out of the England tour last year, saying he wanted to play in the CPL. He then declined to be part of the New Zealand tour wanting to play in the Bangladesh Premier League. And now, he has picked the PSL over the qualifiers. "It is his decision. It is his career, but I am disappointed," Grave said.