When the West Indies selection panel meets to name the squads for the three-format series against the Sri Lanka Tigers, there will be an enormous elephant in the room.
And such is the interest created by Kraigg Brathwaite’s side’s completely unexpected 2-0 clean sweep in Bangladesh that many a fan will find himself wishing to be a fly on the wall, more than eager to discover whether lead selector Roger Harper and his peers will decide to take that bull by the horns.
By his own admission, short-format captain Kieron Pollard has a lot of work to do to get his white ball unit where it needs to be by the time the ICC T20 World Cup rolls around in India in October/November this year. And the 2021 Red Force skipper will be narrowly focused on the three ODIs and the three T20 matches that await the side he told the world last year in New Zealand was ‘not ready’.
But even before the official announcement by Harper and co, Pollard will be reasonably certain of the personnel he will have at his disposal for those six encounters. These are scheduled to run from late February to mid-March. to be followed by two Tests.
In their three matches in the sub-continent, Jason Mohammed’s side failed to impress, having been swept unceremoniously aside by the Tamim Iqbal-led hosts. They never once crossed 200 in any of their three turns at the crease and also failed to bat out their allotted 50 overs.
It was a pathetic performance from start to finish. Not one batsman crossed fifty in any innings and they lost by six wickets, seven wickets and 120 runs, leading home skipper Tamim Iqbal to express real disappointment that his team had not managed to win by eight wickets in any one of the three matches.
There was not one member of the team about whom it could reasonably be said to have earned himself some kind of reward in the form of a promotion to the first-call unit.
So none of the second string having made serious overtures to the selectors, there will be little adjustment to the composition of Pollard’s white-ball unit.
The only real questions surround the availability of stalwarts like Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell and whether to persevere with them or to blood new youngsters for the future.
First Narine. No matter how you try to spin it, the 32-year-old ambidextrous right-arm bowler and left-handed pinch-hitter at the top of the order is no longer the destructive force he once was with ball in hand.
He is still among cricket’s most parsimonious short-format bowlers—he has a 21.75 average—but his returns in the wickets column have been in steady decline.
For me, he is good for at least one more outing and perhaps Australia and Pakistan in mid-year as well—if he thinks he is up to it. I am on the record as objecting to Richie Richardson’s recommendation that Vivian Richards not be selected on the 1992 World Cup squad.
Richie’s argument at the time that Viv’s presence would get in the way of his imposing his own culture on the team didn’t impress me then; it still does not impress me today.
But I certainly see the World Cup as the end of a cycle and, therefore, the best time for those who have served to have one last outing—earned, of course, deserved—before calling time on their careers.
Which brings us to the other two.
Bravo, now 37, has been on the international circuit for over a decade and a half since his ODI debut in April 2004 and you only have to have seen him in action once to know that he always leaves it all out there.
That takes its toll on a player and, fit as he is and hard as he works, his is a body that is only chronologically 37. Physiologically, you probably have to add another five years, which is why the injuries have increased in regularity in recent years.
I’d like to see DJB in India in eight months’ time—if only because, as last year’s CPL showed us beyond the shadow of a doubt, as a short-format cricket brain trust, he and Pollard are peerless in the region.
But my head tells me that WI’s best interest would be served by saying sayonara to ‘Champion’ Dwayne now. We should keep our eyes on the Super50 Cup to see if we can perhaps find a handful of young players who can try to fill his huge boots, perhaps, for now, all at the same time.
Ditto Andre ‘DreRuss’ Russell, now 32. Along with Chris Gayle, he and DJB have given cricket fans many, many days of exceptional entertainment within the boundary. But the longest rope has an end.
And by the start of the World Cup, each of these stalwarts will have added another chronological year to his current age. And, given the wholehearted way they both play, more than one year’s worth of wear and tear to their bodies.
Letting them stop now is the best way to say that we are truly grateful for all they have done. And protect ourselves against the foreseeable in October/November.
So, barring the news on where the chips fall on these major contributors to the titles won in 2012 and 2016, WI supporters are likely to be calmly awaiting Harper’s announcement of the ODI/T20 squad.
Most will perhaps feel confident that there will be few if any changes to the team’s composition before Bangladesh.
And be cool, one feels, with that.
Potential 18-member squad:
T20/ODI: Kieron Pollard (captain), Fabian Allen, Sunil Ambris, Sheldon Cottrell, Andre Fletcher, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder, Brandon King, Evin Lewis, Kyle Mayers, Sunil Narine, Rovman Powell, Keemo Paul, Nicholas Pooran, Lendl Simmons, Oshane Thomas, Hayden Walsh Jr, Kesrick Williams.