Having sent the Irish home with the taste of defeat fresh in their mouths, Kieron Pollard’s victorious West Indies troops are preparing to fly out to Sri Lanka this weekend.
After Afghanistan, India and Ireland, the resurgent Caribbean cavaliers must feel fairly confident of their chances of yet another victory on the road to November’s T20 World Cup defence.
There are very likely broad smiles on their faces as well as on the faces of new bosses on the block, Ricky Skerritt and Kishore Shallow. The no-nonsense policies the pair have implemented in West Indies cricket since their election are clearly paying dividends.
In addition to the new and returning faces that we have seen on the field of play, there has been change in several off-the-field areas as well, including coaching and selection. Not all of it, in my view, has been sure-handed.
Dr Rudi Webster, a former team psychologist with Clive Lloyd’s and Vivian Richards’ all-conquering teams, argued for years in favour of appointing a sports psychologist. And, as I recalled HERE, former Trinidad and Tobago Review columnist Romain Pitt added his eloquent voice to the chorus almost a decade ago:
What happens emotionally to a batsman when he reaches a milestone? What happens emotionally during a partnership when the partners feel secure but are still far short of the required score? What is the best frame of mind for a tail-ender trying to get a small number of runs to win or draw? What happens to a batsman during a series after he has had phenomenal success? What happens to a fielding team when the opposition is building up a big score?
What happens to a bowler when he has been hit for several boundaries in a single over or in fairly quick succession? What happens to a batsman going out to the middle with three overs left in the day’s play and his team behind on the scoreboard and sometimes behind the eight ball? How can a team get into the right mental frame to knock out opponents who are on the ropes?
Finally, belatedly, CWI last year announced without fanfare the addition of Stephen Sylvester to the then 12-member Team Management Unit…
…and unceremoniously, quietly omitted him again for the most recent six-match outing against Ireland. Maybe I am wrong and Sylvester’s name was accidentally omitted from the list released to the media. Maybe the view is that the team does not need a psychologist for home engagements. Maybe Sylvester was indisposed or otherwise unavailable and will be reinstated in the Unit for Sri Lanka. Maybe Sylvester just was not… Well, maybe we should not go there.
Let us be content to await the release of the list of the full touring party.
The playing squad shows that Jason Holder, his batteries presumably recharged, is back. So, one hopes, is his complete commitment to the cause. Sunil Ambris, Brandon King, Romario Shepherd and Hayden Walsh jr have all, sensibly, been retained despite none having covered himself in glory.
One also notes the return to the fold of Fabian Allen, Rovman Powell and Darren Bravo.
Just under 90 runs in 10 innings and four wickets in 11, that is Allen’s proud ODI record with bat and ball. So someone will have to get a microscope and show me his potential contribution to a 50-over effort if not as an emergency fieldsman; I fear it is hardly visible to the naked eye.
Maybe we need to invite Lead Selector Roger Harper to that session as well since, in the CWI release, he offered no explanation/justification for the inclusion of “the spin-bowling all-rounder, who has recovered from the leg injury he sustained in India late last year.”
Bravo and Powell, the release quotes Harper as saying: “owe their recall to their outstanding performance in the Colonial Medical Super50 tournament. Bravo brings good form, a renewed appetite for runs and lots of experience which will benefit the team tremendously. Powell, who is back from injury, will add batting firepower to the line-up, increase the team’s bowling options and strengthen the fielding unit.”
Bravo’s best format, it is true, remains the five-day game. And his production has never been quite the same since his unfortunate battle of words with former CWI ‘big idiot’ president Dave Cameron led to his protracted sidelining. But he has soldiered on and earned, with his performances captaining the Red Force this season, another chance to prove himself the best batsman in the West Indies, as once publicly claimed by his elder brother, the recently-returned-to-regional-duty Dwayne Bravo.
Bravo the Younger, 31 yesterday, would once have been expected to contend for the captaincy of the regional team; his moment, however, may have passed. So it’s no real surprise that, for the upcoming sub-continent junket, Shai Hope has been named vice-captain.
Barring the very disappointing Ireland series, the 26-year-old Barbadian wicketkeeper/batsman has proven to be a model of consistency at the top of the WI order and a player who does not give his hand away. Despite his lack of captaincy experience, he is clearly not short on leadership skills and his promotion is a development to be celebrated.
Not to be celebrated is the putative demotion of 23-year-old Shimron Hetmyer. Along with hard-hitting, off-again-on-again Evin Lewis, the talented Guyanese left-hander, so impressive when on song, has been omitted, in Harper’s words: “after failing to attain the new minimum standard fitness requirements in recent fitness assessments.”
I find it significant that Harper did not leave it there. Hetmyer has repeatedly got out with going-for-glory shots and was eventually omitted from the team for the Third ODI against Ireland. So heavy with solemn undertones are, I suggest, his seven italicised words:
“Hetmyer appeared to be getting his act together,” the selection boss went on, “and was an integral part of the team’s batting group.” (emphasis added)
What I find really ominous, however, is his ‘was’. Is that past tense a Freudian slip? Sit out Sri Lanka and shape up, seems to me to be its implicit, indirect threat targeting the former WI Under19 skipper, or be prepared to ship out into recent cricket history.
I hope Hetmyer harkens to Harper’s half-hidden warning, hears a wholehearted honking of the horn and heeds it.
Because, as a wise, old cricketing head has already alerted us, you can have a run of luck but you cannot have a run of character.