Now that the West Indies’ ‘Fab Four’, the ‘Real McCoy’ and Fabian ‘Bucket Hands’ Allen are out of the way, let us take a close look at the composition of the rest of the WI T20I squad.
Unlike in the Test arena, where WI seem to be on a never-ending search for an opener to pair with recently appointed captain Kraig Brathwaite, I think the T20 opening pair are on solid ground.
Both Evin Lewis and Lendl Simmons can be destructive at the top and, more often than not, they get us off to rapid starts. If I were to offer some advice on strategy, I’d say that one of the two openers should take on the responsibility of batting as deep into the innings as possible—provided he survives the Powerplay.
As evidenced by the chopping and changing in the middle order in the previous two series, it’s clear that coach Phil Simmons and skipper Kieron Pollard are still looking for the right formula to navigate those tricky middle overs. In my humble view, the openers should not have that responsibility taken off their plates completely.
Whether he bats at number three or he opens, I think Chris Gayle is—barring injury—headed to the T20 World Cup. You simply don’t leave a man with 14,000 T20 runs, 22 T20 hundreds and Jamaican bad mind at home.
Just look at what Marlon Samuels was able to do in the 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cup finals with his languid style and arguably less bad mind.
On a serious note, I think the batting combination in the WI T20 set-up is actually crying out for a player in the Samuels mould, one who can absorb pressure and consolidate through difficult periods and then accelerate with devastating effect at the back end.
And let me say categorically that Andre ‘Spice Man’ Fletcher is not the man for that job!
Both Jason Holder and Dwayne Bravo were recently tried in the middle order, with differing results. And though Bravo did once turn back the clock with a knock of 47 not out in the T20 series versus Australia, surely the pair of Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer must be the ones to shoulder the responsibility of holding up the regional team’s middle order.
In a team already packed with powerful hitters such as Gayle, Lewis, Pollard, Russell and Allen, I think it would be a shame for Pooran and Hetmyer to simply be assigned the roles of dashers, sloggers.
At the T20 World Cup, the WI batsmen will have to contend with the likes of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali, Adam Zampa, Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde and possibly the Sri Lankan pair of Wanindu Hasaranga and Akila Dananjaya in bidding to progress out of a tough Group 1.
Being two of the better players of spin within the WI set-up, Hetmyer and Pooran may well have their roles enlarged to ensure they take care of this battery of spinners.
On this basis, I think there could be a place in the final squad for another left-hander in the form of Darren Bravo. However, DM Bravo wouldn’t be sliding into my initial starting XI.
With the top order settled, then, we can now look at the middle-to-lower order. This is an area where I think that, with their hitting prowess in the latter stages of the innings, the Caribbean Cavaliers would best most teams.
In Pollard and Andre Russell, the reigning T20 World Champs have the luxury of having two of the best finishers in the game in their ranks; their track records attest to their credentials.
With Allen in the mix as well, WI have the option of utilising Russell as a floater, depending on the game situation.
So to round off my personal team selection, these are the specialist bowlers I’d choose to go along with Allen, DJ Bravo and Obed McCoy: Sheldon Cottrell, Jason Holder, Akeal Hosein and Hayden Walsh Jr.
At present, Cottrell gets the nod as one of the pace options as I have not been thrilled with what I’ve seen from Fidel Edwards and Oshane Thomas recently. Lord knows that when he burst onto the scene a few CPLs back, I was one of the persons singing Thomas’ praises. However, I fear that the wickets he may get with his pace and hostility are likely to come at a price that’s too high to pay.
As regards the spin department, the need for a genuine wicket-taker is paramount, particularly as off-spinner Sunil Narine has not made himself available for selection in recent times. One suspects that Narine is wary of the re-focused gaze on his bowling action over the course of the last year or so.
Indeed, Cricket West Indies (CWI) chief selector Roger Harper reports that Narine ‘isn’t quite ready’ to return to international cricket.
In Narine’s absence, Hayden Walsh Jr put his hand up to be counted in the T20I series versus Australia, grabbing an impressive 12 wickets. Walsh, who was the CPL Player of the Tournament in 2019, followed that up with career-best figures of 5 for 39 in the ODI series.
WI fans can only hope that’s a sign of things to come from a man who represented both the USA and the West Indies in what turned out to be a life-changing 2019.
The other spot among the spinners goes to Akeal Hosein, who plucks it out of the air with his slow left-arm orthodox bowling. Since making his debut earlier this year in Bangladesh, Hosein has played 14 international matches for WI. And with Narine’s West Indies future still undecided, the 28-year-old Trinidadian could well spin his way into the slot vacated by his countryman.
These days, Narine and 2016 T20 World Cup hero Carlos Brathwaite are rubbing shoulders in the inaugural ‘Hundred’ tournament, and it remains to be seen if either player will be in the selection pool as we draw closer to the World Cup. With the CPL and IPL tournaments to take place in the coming months, a lot may yet change.
One thing is for certain, though: the ‘Fab Four’ are untouchable. When the die is cast at the end of the T20 World Cup, it will be Kieron Pollard who will have added yet another T20 trophy to his already stacked cabinet.
So, remember the name. What a moment! What a team!
Don’t wake me up from this dream.
And rally round the West Indies!
Starting XI: Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran (wicketkeeper), Kieron Pollard (captain), Andre Russell, Fabian Allen, Dwayne Bravo, Jason Holder, Obed McCoy.
Squad #12-15: Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Akeal Hosein, Hayden Walsh Jr.
Reserves: Carlos Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Roneil Walcott explains why his dream West Indies XI will be built around the ‘Fab Four’ of Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and the Jamaican pair of Andre ‘Dre Russ’ Russell and Christopher ‘Universe Boss’ Gayle.