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Best: Happy with Harper? Emotions high, expectations low as WI head for Bangladesh

As the West Indies second-string cricketers prepare to fly out to Bangladesh for a three-ODI, two-Test tour, expectation levels are way, way down. Unsurprisingly, not too many people seem terribly optimistic about the account this depleted bunch will give of itself. 

And it’s not just the man-in-the-street who’s making little effort to conceal or disguise his dissatisfaction, not to say unhappiness; more and more, there is overt criticism coming from those who used to help to keep the flag flying high in the good old days. 

Photo: West Indies fans cheer during the third T20I against Pakistan at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain on 1 April 2017.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Jewel Samad)

Remember the good old days? The second half of the last century, from the 1960 Tied Test in Brisbane all the way to Brian Lara’s epic 375 not out in Antigua in 1994? 

WI felt on top of the world. Since then, drought—with a few scattered showers. April 2004 with Lara’s reclaimed world record and the Champions Trophy win. Then Daren Sammy’s men’s capture of the ICC T20 title in 2012 and, with the Women’s Team and the Under-19s, the 2016 ICC T20 clean sweep.

Essentially, however, the 21st Century so far has been marked by embarrassment galore. And Bangladesh 2021 promises to be more of the same. At least, that seems to be the view held by several commentators. 

Right here on Wired868, Louis Carrington has complained—unfairly, in my view—about the selectors’ decision to appoint Kraigg Brathwaite as captain of the Test team. 

Having relieved the Bajan opener of the vice-captaincy in New Zealand so that he could concentrate on his batting, he argues, how can you promote him to the captaincy when he failed repeatedly against the Kiwis?

Photo: West Indies batsman Kraigg Brathwaite makes an attacking shot during Day Four of the 2nd Test against England in Manchester on 19 July 2020.
(Copyright Dan Mullan/Getty Images for ECB)

It’s a fair question but it’s the wrong one. The captain has to be the man who is best suited to lead what is likely to be the final XI. That that man is a player with Brathwaite’s unproud current record is nothing but a sobering commentary on the state of the West Indian game. 

We have indeed come a long, long way down.

That view is shared by former pacer Andy Roberts. However, it is neither panel head Roger Harper and his fellow selectors nor the poor quality of the players’ performance that is in Sir Andy’s cross hairs. For him, the issue is the commitment—or lack of it—of the players who went Down Under but declined the invitation to go to Bangladesh. 

How can they have gone to England and New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic but decided to make themselves unavailable to go to the sub-continent now? How did these fellas get, asks the cricketing knight whose 202 Test wickets came at a cost of 25.61 per, so big for their breeches?

For Sir Andy, it seems, there should be some kind of censure for the front-liners who turned down the Bangladesh invitation.

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder (centre) leads his teammates off the field after England declared during the second day of the second Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester on Friday 17 July 2020.
(Copyright Michael Steele/Pool via AP)

That is obviously not a defensible position. Possible restraint of trade issues aside, is Roberts really implicitly recommending that people be forced to risk their lives? Although the science affirms that wearing a mask is tantamount to saving one’s own life, all over the world, governments are wary about even attempting to impose mask restrictions. 

Should the CWI be expected to require its players to put their lives at risk?

Roberts will doubtless find little support for his position anywhere in the English-speaking region. 

Maybe Comrade Fidel would have been sympathetic. Or Papa Doc…

But in their native Antigua, Curtly Ambrose, Roberts’ fellow pacer, has a different beef. It is the non-inclusion of young quickie Chemar Holder in the 15 named for the Tests, an issue also addressed by Carrington. 

How can you omit from a depleted squad, asks the clearly displeased 6’8” former assistant coach with 405 Test wickets to his name, a bowler who was not only good enough to earn a place on the playing XI in New Zealand but who gave a decent account of himself on debut?

Photo: Twenty-two year old pacer Chemar Holder.
(Copyright News.com.au)

Do these selectors know, he echoes Carrington, what they are doing?

It is a fair question. The regional red ball season is short. Thus, selectors are often required almost by definition to extrapolate about possible Test match performance on the basis of short-format evidence. 

Harper’s holding on to Holder at the helm of the Test team has already raised eyebrows if not explicit questions in some quarters. And his recent comments about Nicholas Pooran aren’t likely to inspire confidence. 

He has publicly insisted that the 25-year-old, who already has 25 ODIs and 20 T20Is to his credit, has to prove himself in red ball cricket before he can hope for Test selection. 

According to ESPNcricinfo, the left-handed wicketkeeper/batsman, who debuted for the West Indies T20 side in September 2016, ‘confirmed his status as one of the most exciting young batting talents in the modern game with a sublime innings of 118 off 103 in West Indies’ defeat to Sri Lanka at the 2019 World Cup’.

Photo: West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran plays a shot during a World Cup match against India at Old Trafford, Manchester on 27 June 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Jon Super)

Wikipedia comments that Pooran, debuted for the West Indies Under-19s in a bilateral series against the Bangladesh Under-19s and went on to play at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup. The team’s vice-captain and primary wicketkeeper, he scored 303 runs from six matches, ranking fourth for total runs and leading the West Indies’ averages. 

This included half-centuries against Canada and India and an innings of 143 runs against Australia (from a team total of 208 all out), which was the highest score of the tournament and was subsequently described as ‘one of the most memorable innings under pressure in the tournament’s history’.

But when first-call wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich withdrew from the squad in New Zealand after the First Test, Pooran was not called up. Instead, the selectors gave his compatriot Joshua da Silva, the 22-year-old right-handed wicketkeeper/batsman who made his first-class debut in September 2018, his Test cap.

We already know what Louis Carrington thinks but what do you think? Is the current lead selector really the man we West Indians need to pick our teams? 

Photo: West Indies chief selector Roger Harper.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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