It is time, some say, for Romario Shepherd to be on the side.
Some suggest that he should have got the nod over Ravi Rampaul, a soon-to-be-37-year-old seamer whose once-blossoming international career nose-dived in the wake of injury and weight issues.
That was then. Now he is back, in a new and irresistible incarnation.
In the most recent Super-50 regional championship, the new and improved Rampaul was truly impressive. Now, by topping the CPL with his 19-wicket haul, he has fairly and squarely earned his first WI call-up in six years.
Lead selector Roger Harper’s critics argue that Rampaul took just one scalp more than Shepherd. However, I submit that here the selectors got their priorities right. A fact conveniently overlooked by the naysayers is that almost half of those 19 were taken during the critical Powerplay.
We are dealing, remember, with a former Test and ODI bowler whose ability in the T20 format, before injury, was exceptional. Sure age must be considered. But, Rampaul has shed several pounds, unlike Gayle, has delivered in the CPL, and, given pre-World Cup preparation, will be in even better shape come mid-October.
Who dares dispute that, with his experience and knowledge, once fit, he can create problems for the world’s leading batsmen?
Making even less sense than Jason Holder’s selection is Darren Bravo’s inclusion, even if it is only among the reserves. No reasonable case can be made for him.
His shocking run drought in all formats extends back past 2020. For as much as we have admired his stroke play and past exploits, Lil Bravo requires time and expert analysis to work his way back to form and confidence. The selectors’ decision to place him on the stand-by list is a gamble and a clear indication that they are faced with a predicament they have not been able to resolve.
Sherfane Rutherford’s IPL stint with Sunrisers Hyderabad was tough but he already looks to be better for the experience. Although he indisputably needs to show greater consistency, his two half-centuries in nine outings in the CPL season are encouraging. Batsmen with incredible strike rates are a dime a dozen in the region but far too few of them display the skill, patience and judgement to produce meaningful scores consistently.
Another ultra-aggressive batsman whose returns do not recommend him is opener Andre Fletcher. If his selection has not drawn much, if any, negative public comment, it may be because he serves as back-up wicket-keeper to Nicholas Pooran.
Given the dismal international season he has had—not for the first time—and his solitary CPL 2021 innings of note, his retention appears to be nothing less than an act of desperation.
Additionally, on pitches expected to be helpful to spinners, his glove work would have to improve immensely should Pooran be side-lined for any reason.
Fletcher, 33, gets his spot unfairly because Denesh Ramdin, 36, has been shunned owing to his un-West Indian approach to batting.
It seems not to matter to the selectors that the squad, already chock-full of six-hitters, can use a couple of level-headed players, particularly of spin. Ramdin does not soak up dot balls or sell his wicket cheaply by recklessly swinging for the hills regardless of the quality of the delivery or the game situation.
Thankfully, there can be no doubt that, if performances during his superb 2021 season for St Lucia Kings are any guide, Roston Chase will significantly alleviate the long-running WI dot-ball problem.
The Test batsman’s rapid, seamless adaptation to the shortest format is a godsend; with his level-headedness, he will bring stability to the middle order as well as break up the succession of left-handed batsmen in the top and middle order.
Although Chase’s off-spinners may not strangle opposing batsmen with the same sort of success as a Sunil Narine, they certainly offer a more useful option than, say, Kieron Pollard’s. The critics may fume but Sunil Narine’s long-running absence from international duty predictably—and, in my view, justifiably—cost him a third World Cup appearance.
One suspects, however, that WI could pay the ultimate price for omitting another TKR spinner.
Following in the footsteps of the inimitable right-arm wrist-spinner Samuel Badree, the left-handed Akeal Hosein proved an admirable new-ball partner to Rampaul. While he also often took crucial wickets, it was his confidence and ability to flummox and stifle opposing batsmen intent on taking advantage of the Powerplay that stood out.
The selectors must surely have recognised that it was the Rampaul/Hosein combination that led arguably to the best all-round attack in CPL 2021. It certainly contributed substantially to the defending champions’ getting into the final four in spite of their worst collective batting effort in many years.
While WI supporters will pray that leg-spinner Hayden Walsh reproduces the success he enjoyed in this year’s home series, Hosein’s absence at the top almost certainly means Pollard’s opening attack options will be limited to seam combinations only. Opposing captains will doubtless be grateful.
To be clear, WI will boast several of the world’s leading T20 players at next month’s championship. However, a team is only as strong as its weakest link; given some of its more perplexing choices, the selection panel may well have undermined the team’s chances of an unprecedented third triumph, back-to-back into the bargain.
Pollard’s troops already find themselves in a very challenging preliminary round group that includes Australia, England and South Africa. But, given the expected spin-friendly conditions, India, Pakistan and even the unpredictable Bangladesh are all likely to be serious contenders.
Small in size and with a comparatively small population, our region has a limited pool of players from which to draw and has done admirably well in the sport as a whole and not too badly in the World Cups where we already have four titles.
This writer has often wondered why, if cricket is indeed the most unifying force among the people of the Caribbean, as is often claimed, selecting a West Indies squad is always so divisive an undertaking? Why do opinions on selection, as expressed even by experts and people in authority, so often seem to be based on issues other than certifiable stats, incontrovertible facts, objective reasoning and critical thinking?
Regrettably, the not undaunting challenge awaiting our cricketing troops in the Middle East may well prove less of a mountain to climb than changing attitudes which are essentially counter-productive, not to say obscurantist.
Harper’s panel’s squad: Kieron Pollard (captain), Nicholas Pooran (vice-captain), Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo, Fabian Allen, Hayden Walsh Jr, Obed McCoy, Ravi Rampaul, Oshane Thomas.
Reserves: Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Jason Holder, Akeal Hosein.
My revised starting XI: Dwayne Bravo, Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, Roston Chase, Nicholas Pooran (vice-captain), Kieron Pollard (captain), Andre Russell, Fabian Allen, Hayden Walsh Jr, Ravi Rampaul, Obed McCoy.
Squad #12-15: Sheldon Cottrell, Shimron Hetmyer, Akeal Hosein, Denesh Ramdin.
Reserves: Brandon King, Sherfane Rutherford, Jayden Seales, Odean Smith.