Harper, Hope, Holder, Brathwaite, Blackwood, Bonner, Bravo, the baby and the bathwater

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Kraigg Brathwaite’s eighth-ranked West Indies now look more likely to go on to lose the series against seventh-rated Dimuth Karunaratne’s Sri Lanka than to win it. And whether or not they do, some serious questions have to be asked of lead selector Roger Harper and his panel. 

And answered, one hopes, by them.

One question has already been satisfactorily answered; we do not need the 32-year-old Darren Bravo at #3. In just three matches, Nkrumah Bonner, also 32, has demonstrated that he has both the talent and the temperament to justify his occupation of that slot. 

Which also sheds light on a completely gratuitous question asked publicly by former regional captain and selector Clive Lloyd. 

Who needs Harper or coach Phil Simmons to tell us that Joshua Da Silva’s place in the line-up is a non-issue? Notionally, wicketkeepers occupy the last batting place in the order since their recovery time should be maximised.

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But the batting order is only set in concrete when Jason Holder leads; fortunately, that has now been fixed. 

Jermaine Blackwood’s place in the batting order is also a non-issue; the issue is his place in the team. Notionally, both captain and vice-captain are certain to be in the final XI selected on merit. How, therefore, can the 29-year-old Jamaican be the vice-captain?

Photo: West Indies batsman Jermaine Blackwood makes a shot during the fifth day of the first Test match against England at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Sunday 12 July 2020.
(Copyright Adrian Dennis/Pool via AP)

On what basis has he retained his Bangladesh promotion? On what basis did he get into the First Test XI ahead of Darren Bravo?

Are the WI cupboards so bare that a batsman who averages 32.25 in Tests is guaranteed a place among the region’s current best XI?

In his 35 Test matches, he has scored a total of 1903 runs, with two centuries and 14 fifties.

Bravo’s 52-match 3,459 aggregate features eight centuries and 17 half-centuries, at an average of 38.43. Better than Blackwood’s.

True, the elegant left-hander can hardly be said to have covered himself in glory in his last 12 Test innings, with scores of 1, 50, 6, 0, 18, 2, 4, 23*, 9, 12, 7, 4 for a total of 136 runs.

Photo: West Indies batsman Darren Bravo (centre) prepares to sweep during Test action against Pakistan at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on 22 October 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Aamir Qureshi)

However, without being truly impressive, Blackwood’s recent record, which reads 0, 55, 28, 23, 23, 104, 69, 20, 68, 9, 28, 9, was marginally better than Bravo’s. But are we simply to continue to ignore his proneness to give his hand away? 

Not to mention both the manner of his First Test dismissal and his two single-digit scores. 

Besides, ask yourself this: if tomorrow you had to pick one of Blackwood or DMB to bat for your life, would you hesitate for a second?

And repeat the question with John Campbell (13 matches, 572 runs, ave. 24.86, 0 100’s, 2 50’s) and ODI vice-captain, Shai Hope, (34 matches, 1603 runs, ave. 26.27, 2 100’s, 5 50’s).

We end up, methinks, in the same place. There is, it seems, madness around.

Something is amiss, one has to conclude, if not in Harper’s head, then surely in Bravo’s and Hope’s.

Photo: West Indies batsman Shai Hope takes evasive action from a bouncer.

Frankly, I think the selectors are deluding themselves. They have been talking about the performance in Bangladesh in glowing terms. As if Brathwaite’s team is a genuine winning team. Or as if Brathwaite is already a winner.

Close scrutiny exposes the fallacy. Let us not forget that the Barbadian’s teams lost every one of his first five games in charge by wide margins, the 64-run loss in the 2018/19 First Test against Bangladesh the only one that might be considered not a mauling.

True, he won the next two. But that pair of victories brought his winning percentage up to 28.6. And last week’s draw takes it down to 25; Holder’s was marginally less bad at 29.7. 

The difference in 2021 was the exceptional circumstances; with a second string, your real options are glory or utter humiliation.

We expected the latter, we got the former. We may well, therefore, have overreacted, overvalued the achievement. 

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)

Certainly the selectors’ decision to retain the core of the victorious Bangladesh squad and include just two of their pandemically-challenged predecessors with them seemed unduly optimistic.

And then, only Holder of the two made it into the XI.

Sentimentality? One hopes not but it is a possibility.

Everybody and his brother has been bending over backwards to laud the former skipper for his essential contribution to the team—not just, right Ms Baksh, with bat and ball? So we hear everything about his first innings 5 for 27 and his current place atop the ICC all-rounders list.

He certainly did not bowl badly in the second innings. But it is a fact that he failed to take a single wicket. Balance and fairness require that we not shine the spotlight on him when he overachieves and avert our gaze when he does not.

Photo: West Indies all-rounder Jason Holder.
(via Cricket World)

The 29-year-old all-rounder’s sell-by date as captain was indisputably behind him. But does replacing him with the 28-year-old Brathwaite mean we’re no longer interested in seeing what 33-year-old Kieron Pollard can do with the red ball? Or 25-year-old Nicholas Pooran? 

What does it mean for the 24-year-old Shimron Hetmyer, currently deemed underfit, who should at least be, as a former Under-19 captain, a candidate, if not heir apparent?

In, let us add, a sane system.

The full list of WI Test players numbers 325; the active list is 35. What are the prospects for the region’s most recently capped player, 26-year-old Shayne Moseley, who made an undistinguished debut in Bangladesh?

What of 29-year-old Roston Chase, with five centuries and eight half-centuries and 69 wickets to his name? And of 32-year-old Shamarh Brooks, with one century and one half-century under his belt? 

Photo: West Indies batsman Shimron Hetmyer plays a shot against England during a Test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua on 1 February 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan/Wired868)

And a handful more. Must they all wait for Brathwaite’s Bangladesh mirage to disappear before our eyes? Or must they all await another crisis à la Bangladesh? 

Those entrusted with the responsibility of making sure that, at the business end of the Test, ours is the better team on the day must begin by ensuring that ours is the best possible team on paper. 

Anything else is a dereliction of duty.

For if WI simply throw the baby out with the bathwater, WI shall merely see our legitimate hopes go down the drain.

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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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  1. Was reading the article but had trouble getting past this section: Bravo 136 runs in last 12 innings at average of approx 12 runs per innings. Blackwood 436 runs in last 12 innings at average of approx 36 runs per innings. Writer says Blackwood is “marginally better than Bravo”. Really??

    • Fair point—on the face of it. I, however, was not at all concerned with comparing the average score. Bravo made one half-century, Blackwood three and a century.

      Marginal? You perhaps don’t think so. I do.

  2. I respectfully disagree. The West Indies doesn’t have a single quality test batsman. None. Consequently, form and commitment must be the salient characteristics. I am of the age when I remember Carl hooper’s career which was spoilt because he was never dropped for underperformance. You reward mediocrity there is no incentive to improve. Take bravo. Bravo absented himself from the last 2 overseas tours despite averaging 12 in his last 12 innings. Blackwood despite all his faults has presented himself for selection and in no way deserves to be dropped for bravo as of yet. Shai hope I saw in the England tour and I nearly cried due to the depths to which we have fallen. How did I ask myself could a man who has played 34 tests! And averaging 26 be batting at no. 3 for the West Indies. I applaud the selectors for what they are doing. Runs and current form will be the guide. Commitment also. I keep hearing how shai is quality. He has been given 34 tests to prove it. Same with bravo. The players who performed in Bangladesh have to be given an opportunity. The others have been given their chance and found woefully wanting.

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