Nothing happened in ODI play in Bangladesh to warrant imminent adjustments to the pre-tour line-up. But that’s hardly the case with the Test unit where the successful second-string challenges to the incumbents are now being awaited with more than a little anticipation.
And they will be welcomed.
Why? Easy. Given the circumstances under which Kraigg Brathwaite’s replacement side got—and grabbed!—their chances in Bangladesh, it is easy to feel that a handful of them have already secured spots in the line-up for Sri Lanka. And deservedly so.
But the $64,000 question is this: how many places have the replacement players already sealed on the starting XI for next month’s matches?
A second question, worth at least twice that sum, is this: at whose expense?
Conventional sports wisdom holds that you do not change a winning team. In the instant case, however, the team that won happened not to be your best team period but your best team under the circumstances.
And so the problem for the selectors becomes what do you do with a team that was not supposed to win but did. Convincingly.
The major contributors to the completely unexpected WI clean sweep in the Bangladesh Tests are easy to identify. Nkrumah Bonner, Man-of-the-Test-Series, and Kyle Mayers, scorer of a match-winning, fourth-innings double-century on debut, distinguished themselves.
Despite both donning the maroon in a Test match for the first time, the pair steered their team to within sight of a stunning come-from-behind three-wicket victory in the First Test in Chattogram.
Bonner went on to add another 120-plus runs in the Second Test. So all things being equal, there are nine places left in the starting XI for the First Test.
Make that eight. Even before he took matters into his own hands in the second innings in Dhaka, removing both openers and a stubborn tail-ender, Kraigg Brathwaite’s place as the number one opener was as safe as houses.
He never quite went on to play the big hand his pre-Test form suggested him to be capable of but he looked much more solid at the top of the order than in New Zealand. With luck, he could get a promotion in the pecking order!
Placing a lien on Shai Hope’s now vacant place in the batting order is Joshua Da Silva. That takes us down to seven.
Even if Shane Dowrich is in the best form of his life, even he will concede that it is well-nigh impossible to justify dropping a player who, unspectacularly efficient with the gloves behind the stumps, also had scores of 42, 20, 92 and 20 in his four innings.
The 22-year-old Da Silva reminds me not of the former WI vice-captain and QPCC wicketkeeper Deryck Murray as of Charlie Davis. For me, he looks very much like a player who passed under the hand of legendary late St Mary’s coach Kelvin ‘Pa’ Aleong.
And I took it as confirmation when, in speaking to Ian Bishop after top-scoring in the Dhaka first innings, he said diffidently, “Once you’re at the wicket, runs will come.”
Someone should, by the way, encourage Jermaine Blackwood to talk less to Virat Kohli and more to Da Silva, accurately described in an ESPNcricinfo story as ‘the glue that has kept the West Indies together’.
One more place is not in dispute and there are two contenders for it.
Left to me, at 300 pounds, Rahkeem Cornwall would not get a look-in on any Test team. But there is no chance that he will not be considered for the spin bowling place in the Sri Lanka squad. After their performance in Bangladesh, it’s only the issue of which horse is deemed right for which course, as to whether or not he gets the nod over Jomel Warrican.
One expects that, once they are both fit, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach will be the first-call quicks with the luckless Alzarri Joseph, workhorse Keemo Paul and the still youthful Jayden Seales as back-up.
So, the usual suspects, Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Blackwood, Shamarh Brooks and Shimron Hetmyer, will hope that Da Silva gets promoted to partner Brathwaite and thus leave an additional spot open in the middle order.
I expect the first two to impress the panel with their Super50 Cup form and seize the couple of places still unclaimed.
Still, the 64 million dollar question is this: will Harper and his peers have the cojones to tackle the burning issue of Jason Holder’s captaincy? They can and they should.
But the answer is currently ‘not likely’.
In Bangladesh, Brathwaite was perceptive, responsive, innovative with his field placing and his bowling changes and inspirational into the bargain. In the Sher-e-Bangla, he chipped in with three crucially important scalps.
But winning two out of seven Tests at the helm does not automatically make him a candidate to replace Holder. It does, however, throw into stark relief the degree to which the incumbent is under-optimising the resources at his disposal.
And the Super50 Cup results, at least so far, seem to suggest that Brathwaite and Holder are not the only candidates.
So Harper may be willing to bell the cat. But judging by his ultra-conservative public statements on Nicholas Pooran’s chances of gaining Test selection on the basis of what he does in white ball cricket, I would not hold out much hope for the unexpected.
When he calls the next selection meeting to order, I confidently predict that he will ignore all cries of olé, olé, olé and not volunteer to do battle with a horned bull.
Potential 18-member Test squad:
Jason Holder (captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Joshua Da Silva, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Keemo Paul, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Jomel Warrican.