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West Indies search for balance between Tests and T20 league for their players

Interim coach Coley says 'I know the players want to play for the West Indies and we want our best players to play for the West Indies'

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
11-Mar-2023
West Indies won only one of their six Tests against Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa  •  AFP/Getty Images

West Indies won only one of their six Tests against Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa  •  AFP/Getty Images

West Indies will use the next year to map out a management plan for their red and white-ball players to ensure they enjoy a balance between international and franchise cricket. That was the parting shot interim coach Andre Coley offered at the end of a fairly tough three months of Test cricket for his team.
West Indies played in Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa and won one of their six Test matches on the road to finish the 2021-2023 World Test Championship in seventh spot. While the results are not exactly what Coley was after, he hopes these tours have laid the groundwork for West Indies to plan how to approach future Test series, while juggling player availability for T20 leagues.
"There's no doubt that playing international cricket helps to develop your level of the game," Coley said. "White-ball [cricket] may be the big money-earner but if you really look at the players who are very good at both red and white balls, they would have had a good grounding in Test cricket. It's important for us to find that balance. I know the players want to play for the West Indies and we want our best players to play for the West Indies, but the balance is important. It's also their livelihood. If we can, over the next 12 months, plan out with the members of the different squads how we can best manage to keep everyone as fresh as possible, for international and for franchise cricket, we will have a good chance of being more competitive."
The situation is embodied by West Indies' best player: Jason Holder. He became their second after Garry Sobers to take 150 wickets and score 2,500 Test runs, and has played in all six Tests this summer as well as the SA20. Holder is also in West Indies' ODI and T20I squads to play South Africa and will then head to the IPL, where he was signed by Rajasthan Royals. From there, Holder will likely have to feature in the 50-over World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe - West Indies are currently eighth on the points table and could be usurped by South Africa or Sri Lanka in the next few weeks - before a home Test series against India to start the 2023-2025 World Test Championship cycle.
With that schedule in mind, Holder, in particular, needs to be carefully managed. Despite being the squad's premier allrounder, he is unlikely to bat higher than No. 8 because of his bowling loads.
"Jason is always someone who gives his all. This morning, I knew he was on fumes," Coley said. "He always raises his hand up and says, 'Coach I am going to give everything today'. He continues to be a valuable member of our team because of the volume of bowling that he is required to do. So he ends up batting at No. 8 and has to have a heavy workload batting and bowling. I do believe Jason has a lot of value to add in all formats. He is in the three squads. It becomes important for us to manage him not only physically but mentally."
But Holder is one of those who has committed to Test cricket enough that he left the SA20 to play in Zimbabwe, and has reiterated his support for the format throughout this series. Holder questioned the Big Three's dominance on the fixtures list but resigned himself to the lopsided schedule.
South Africa are in a similar position, with no Tests scheduled until December. They are currently exploring the possibility of an 'A' team tour to the West Indies over the winter and, like West Indies, are trying to find a way to fit both international and league cricket into the players' calendar.
"I can say categorically and emphatically that the boys want to play Test cricket, every single one of them," Shukri Conrad, South Africa's Test coach, said. "We've just got to be very smart in the way we do things. We had our meetings with all these players and it's come out that every single one of them wants to play more Test cricket. We have just got to manage them properly throughout the leagues."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket