Ardent WI cricket fans said a prayer. And continue to pray. Curtly Ambrose made an appeal. Sir Clive Lloyd wrote a letter. Coach Phil Simmons issued a challenge. But the biggest impact on the performance of Kraigg Brathwaite’s second-string unit in Bangladesh over the next couple of weeks is likely to come from the announcement made by Ricky Skerritt last week.
“Broadcast media rights income is crucial to the future financial sustainability of CWI,” the CWI president declared, “and this five-year rights agreement is just the start of good things to come.”
Even without the interventions from Lloyd and Ambrose, the 15-man squad, still on half-pay as far as we know, was always going to do its best. But now, with the assurance that there is—or will be—ample funds in the kitty, these players’ ears will have perked up.
They have cut their international cricket teeth in the Age of the Mercenary (see Dr Noel Kalicharan’s letter in this week’s Sunday Express) and so are now more than likely to raise their game.
Without a slew of their first-call players, however, the eighth-ranked WI cannot realistically expect to easily dispose of Mominul Haque’s Bangladeshis, albeit currently one place below them in the rankings.
To start with, there is home advantage, exacerbated by the relative inexperience in the ranks of the visitors, whose squad features only four players with 20-plus Tests under their belts and just as many without a Test cap.
The home side’s record against WI has not been good so they will doubtless see the current series as a very good chance to improve it. And, given the lop-sided nature of the ODI contest and the comparative quality of the Test teams, they may well feel confident about moving effortlessly past the tourists, both in the games and in the Test rankings.
A Bangladesh team with players of the experience of Shakib Al Hasan (56 Tests), Tamim Iqbal (60) and Mushfiqur Rahim (70) is likely to be formidable opposition. But, over the last decade, their team has won just three Test series and lost 17. And they have won only twice in 19 matches in Chattogram and just six out of 20 in Dhaka.
Additionally, none of them having played red ball cricket since their 1-0 win over Zimbabwe last February, they all—especially Shakib—have something to prove to themselves and the world.
Little or no rain is forecast for the next couple of weeks and the Chattogram pitch is expected to be dry. In home conditions favouring their bowlers, Bangladesh will certainly back their spinners to exploit the perceived West Indian weakness against the genre. And they will be confident that, on these pitches, they can take the teeth out of the WI most potent weapon, their quality three-pronged pace attack of Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph.
Frankly, it is the WI batting line-up, which potentially contains five players from Jason Mohammed’s 15, that demonstrated a distinct frailty in the three ODI defeats. Not once in three attempts did that unit ever manage to bat for 50 overs. And their best effort with the bat yielded only 177.
Against the white ball, almost half of the 30 wickets fell to spin. It is true that, in a Test match, scoreboard pressure is not quite as weighty a consideration—or ought not to be. But I can think of not one player in Brathwaite’s 15 who would not be embarrassed if, like India’s Cheteshwar Pujara in Australia, he required 205 balls to get to 77 (Sydney) and managed only eight runs off his first 90 balls (Brisbane).
It matters not that that slow-but-sure approach was the foundation upon which the Indian crawler’s team’s hard-fought draw in Sydney and incredible, historic victory at the Gabba were built.
In the first innings of the three-day warm-up game that Brathwaite’s men played this weekend, once the free-scoring openers had departed, WI could not find a man to hold up the side. And a spinner claimed five scalps.
Having spent 187 at the crease over his 85 in the 1st innings, skipper Brathwaite opted to pass up the opportunity to bat some more in the 2nd. In the event, Nkrumah Bonner posted a hard-hit 80 to earn himself a place in the final XI for Chattogram.
Despite his unbeaten 49 and 2 for 7 in the 2nd innings, there’s no place for Ramon Reifer’s medium pace. The issue that seemed to need settling was which left-arm spinner would partner off-spinner Rakheem Cornwall.
Jomel Warrican’s decent 1st innings figures of 7-1-25-3 should give him the nod over Veerasammy Permaul, who failed to impress.
Simmons and Brathwaite will do their level best to be in every player’s ear at every moment. I doubt the XI will be mindful of the abstract stuff like the meaning of the maroon in Lloyd’s letter.
Ambrose came closer to talking their language with his unordinary, fit-for-purpose advice to forget trying to win and play for themselves and their future place on the team.
But I think if anything is ringing in their ears as they walk in to bat or run in to bowl, it won’t be either the voice of the coach or the captain or the former skipper or the former ace pacer.
One voice in the back of the young WI players’ heads is likely to be the one reading out the next list of the players offered CWI retainer contracts.
And it is a moot question whether any of them will be able to silence the little birdie whispering that Pujara does not play in the IPL…
…but Rishabh Pant, who made 97 in Sydney and a match-winning, undefeated 87 in Brisbane, does.
WI (likely): Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), John Campbell, Kyle Mayers, Nkrumah Bonner, Jermaine Blackwood (v/c), Joshua Da Silva, Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Jomel Warrican, Shannon Gabriel,
Omitted: Kavem Hodge, Shayne Moseley, Veerasammy Permaul, Raymon Reifer.
Bangladesh squad: Mominul Haque (capt), Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Mithun, Liton Das, Yasir Ali, Saif Hassan, Mustafizur Rahman, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Taijul Islam, Shadman Islam, Nayeem Hasan, Taskin Ahmed, Abu Jayed, Ebadat Hossain, Hasan Mahmud.