Hitting Out

All hail WI success


By now the pessimists would have hopefully settled down and given West Indies credit for a well-deserved 4-1 beating of New Zealand in the just concluded five-match One-Day International series in the Caribbean.

It was a very significant outcome for a number of reasons including the fact that West Indies won four ODIs in a series against a major team (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) for the first time since their 4-1 triumph over India in 2006.

And it was the 13th time overall that West Indies had won four or more matches in a bilateral series.

Critics, who hammered the team and started all sorts of weird talk about bookies having their way following the 88-run defeat in the third match at Warner Park in St. Kitts on the heels of two comprehensive wins at Sabina Park in Jamaica, should now reflect in a meaningful way. Simply give praise where praise is due.

The attention now turns to the two-match Test series which starts next Wednesday in Antigua at the Sir Vivian Richards in Antigua before moving to Jamaica. In the circumstances, the likely West Indies team has become a big talking point.

Sunil Narine, the so-called mystery spinner who was named Player of the Series against New Zealand in the ODIs for 13 wickets with an economy rate of 2.92, is sure to be under the microscope in a big way, ignited by very strong words from West Indies captain Darren Sammy that he will be “unplayable” in home conditions.

Test cricket is what it says. It is the ultimate test. We all know that Narine struggled in his debut Test against England at Edgbaston last month where the match was badly hit by rain as he failed to take a wicket while conceding 70 runs off 15 overs. But based on what we saw in the limited overs series against the Black Caps, he certainly looks like he would be a handful in the Test rubber. In addition, he has been talking about certain innovations after working with West Indies Head coach Ottis Gibson.

“I spoke to the coach and we looked at a few new ideas about how to attack the batsmen,” Narine said. “He suggested that I could look at some more variety and I went into the nets and worked hard at how I could come from around the wicket and look to get the ball to ‘pitch on’.

Narine went further in reference to the final ODI against the Black Caps at Warner Park when he took a career-best five for 27 – also the best ODI figures by a West Indies spinner surpassing Jimmy Adams’ five for 37 in Adelaide in 1996.

“As you saw today, it worked wonders as I got wickets from around the wicket. That is something I will definitely work on the coming weeks.”

With Narine’s presence, the dilemma now facing the West Indies selectors is whether to play two specialist spinners in the opening Test. On the basis of his showing in the last Test against Australia on home turf at Windsor Park on Dominica in April this year when he had a match haul of ten for 219, Shane Shillingford, who is also an off-spinner, would be the other choice.

Two years ago against South Africa in the Caribbean, the West Indies played two specialist spinners – Shillingford on debut and left-armer Sulieman Benn of Barbados – in all three Tests with South Africa winning the series 2-0. And they were the leading wicket-takers for West Indies with Benn picking up 15 scalps and Shillingford nine.

It can be argued that Benn and Shillingford would have presented a variety, while a combination of Narine and Shillingford is basically the same.

With the return of Chris Gayle, it is likely that his partner at the top will either be Adrian Barath or Kieran Powell. The former is tipped to get the nod but one must bear in mind that significant performances by both for the West Indies President’s XI against New Zealand at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in the three-day match this weekend could have an impact.

Since Darren Bravo is still sidelined by a groin injury, Kirk Edwards is expected to slot in at No. 3 despite his disastrous tour of England when he was dropped after the first two matches of the three-Test series. Edwards has played only nine Tests and with 665 runs including two centuries and four fifties at an average of 39.11, he deserves to get another opportunity at this time.

Edwards is also playing for the President’s XI this weekend and is smart enough to know that he can put the issue beyond doubt with a solid innings.

Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul pick themselves, leaving one more batting place available in the middle, if the selectors are intent on going the safe route. It could come from either Dwayne Bravo or Narsingh Deonarine – both of whom also offer variety to the bowling attack with Bravo’s medium-pace and Deonarine’s off-spin.

Denesh Ramdin takes No. 7 as the wicket-keeper/batsman, followed by Sammy.

So who should complete the starting XI? Again based on the selection so far, there would be no room for both Narine and Shillingford as specialist spinners since it is expected that two genuine fast bowlers in Kemar Roach and either Tino Best or Ravi Rampaul, will play.

For both Narine and Shillingford to play along with two fast bowlers, the batting would have to be shortened, thus elevating Ramdin to No. 6 with Sammy and the rest to follow.

Now one would realise that picking teams can sometimes really present headaches for selectors. When Benn and Shillingford were the specialist spinners against South Africa in 2010 under the captaincy of Gayle, Dwayne Bravo batted at No. 6 and formed part of the pace attack which included two genuine quickies.

Then, there was no room for Sammy. That is why it has been consistently argued in many quarters that for Sammy and Dwayne Bravo to play in the same Test side would create a problem since both do basically the same thing from a bowling perspective with Bravo having the edge as a batsman.

Ultimately, the nature of the pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium is expected to weigh in the thinking of the West Indies selectors. It does present some intrigue.

Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association Division 1 championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).

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