“[…] Let me here recall the late Sir Alf Ramsey’s explanation of how he managed England to their only major football title, the 1966 World Cup. The former wing-back said he did not have the players to fit any existing system so he developed one to fit his players.
“[…] The WI selectors must likewise get the best out of what is available. With no obvious reserve, they should employ Dwayne Bravo as a pinch-hitting opener, the role Sunil Narine has played for KKR in the IPL.
“This would ease the pressure on Evin Lewis to get them off to a flyer and move Lendl Simmons to the problematic number three position which they have failed to fill with Chris Gayle…”
Veteran sport journalist Ashford Jackman shares his dream West Indies Team, as Wired868 continues its look forward to the T20 Cricket World Cup:
What are the chances of West Indies repeating as ICC T20 champions in October? Not great, I had thought, until their recent 4-1 thumping of Australia in St Lucia. The encouraging performances of some key players and the return to form of others must leave room for hope of retaining the title.
But the most balanced and effective group of players has to be selected.
The selectors must be prepared to make hard decisions and find the right mix of players of varying skillsets able to provide the flexibility to cope with differing challenges from game to game. Surely, chief selector Roger Harper and his panel must now see clearly the liabilities in the present group.
A lot happened in St Lucia that gave cause for optimism: the breath-taking fielding, particularly the stunning catches; the fulfilment of left-arm seamer Obed McCoy’s promise; Hayden Walsh Jr’s return to form and confidence; Andre Russell’s recovery and revival; and the consistency of stalwarts Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons.
On the negative side, is it not time to give up on Sunil Narine, great mystery spinner that he is? Injuries and unavailability, the latter often unexplained, demand that WI move on. Never once available for WI this year, Narine is fit to play in The Hundred in the UK.
The batting raises the most alarms. West Indies are spoilt for six-hitters. But, confronted by world-class spinners, many of them appear all at sea, unable to pick the ‘wrong ‘un’ or to milk singles when necessary. Beating Australia’s seamers should not blind the selectors to what Sri Lanka’s spinners did back in March.
Against England, leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga’s 11 overs went for 84 runs, yielding just two wickets while Akila Dananjaya went 0/53 in two outings. But against WI, with just over a dozen T20Is under his belt, Hasaranga took eight wickets at just more than 3.5 runs per over. Part-timer Dananjaya had 4/75 while left-armer Lakshan Sandakan claimed 6/39 in his two games.
And, lest we forget, in South Africa’s 3-2 series win in Grenada, Tabraiz Shamshi claimed seven scalps, averaging four runs per over.
At the World Cup, WI cannot afford to simply hope for the best against the likes of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But first we have to get past Australia, England and South Africa in Group One.
In three series this year, only two openers have performed. Evin Lewis tallied 343 runs in 11 innings, with a top score of 79, and Simmons put up 310, also from 11, with 72 being his best.
In contrast, Andre Fletcher’s six knocks yielded 96 while Chris Gayle, batting one down, managed just 191 in 12 innings, with a best of 67.
Let me here recall the late Sir Alf Ramsey’s explanation of how he managed England to their only major football title, the 1966 World Cup. The former wing-back said he did not have the players to fit any existing system so he developed one to fit his players. Thus was 4-4-2 introduced to the world.
Ramsey converted adversity into advantage; having little attacking talent to work with, he made sure the hosts would not need many goals to win matches. England reached the semi-finals before conceding for the first time.
The WI selectors must likewise get the best out of what is available. With no obvious reserve, they should employ Dwayne Bravo as a pinch-hitting opener, the role Narine has played for KKR in the IPL.
This would ease the pressure on Lewis to get them off to a flyer and move Simmons to the problematic number three position which they have failed to fill with Gayle. Simmons can also partner Lewis at the top when it suits the team, affording flexibility that makes planning more difficult for their opponents.
Likewise, with no reliable batsman who can keep wicket available, Denesh Ramdin must replace Fletcher as Pooran’s reserve. Still the region’s best keeper, he plays spin very well.
One needs only recall the 2017 CPL final against St Kitts/Nevis Patriots, with Trinbago Knight Riders seven down and needing 46 off 34 balls. His nerveless, unbeaten 26 off 31 balls contained not a single boundary as he and Kevon Cooper took TKR home. Exactly half of his 636 T20I runs have come in non-boundaries.
Using this formula, WI can play eight capable bats and still have six bowlers plus skipper Pollard as an additional option. And the fieldsmen will range from outstanding to excellent.
Elsewhere, the revival of leg-spinner Walsh and the progress of left-armers Fabian Allen and Akeal Hosein have removed the one-dimensional nature the WI bowling assumed after Samuel Badree’s retirement and in Narine’s absence; no longer is it only pace and medium pace.
One question mark would be the form and state of mind of all-rounder Jason Holder. He has had modest returns in this format, 199 runs in 16 T20I innings at 16.58 and 18 wickets at 37.72 in 23 innings.
In six T20Is this year, the former captain has taken 5/155 and in five knocks his aggregate is 88. Yet, the experienced all-rounder is the obvious back-up to Russell.
Finally, of the three reserves, Test batsman Jermaine Blackwood would be the surprise inclusion. Quick-scoring with all the shots, he plays the faster bowlers well and therefore can be slotted in as an opener. His 237 fours in 39 Tests suggest he can score heavily without seeking to clear the boundary.
And he too is very quick in the field.
Will the selectors go for such fundamental changes? Almost certainly not, this writer suspects. Unfortunately, where sport is concerned in the Caribbean, talk of ‘thinking outside the box’ is just that. Too often, there is a set XI to be altered only upon injury or complete loss of form.
Dominating the Aussies may have convinced WI that all is well. But the statistics tell a different tale. By my count, since the 2016 World Cup triumph, WI have played 59 completed matches, winning 24 and losing 35.
West Indians have thrived in T20 leagues around the world; the format seems tailor-made for West Indian athleticism and aggressive approach to the game. But even talent has to be harnessed and, when up against the best teams and some of the greatest players, every angle has to be covered.
With this squad, I attempt to do just that.
Starting XI: Evin Lewis, Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Shimron Hetmyer, Kieron Pollard (captain), Nicholas Pooran (wicketkeeper), Andre Russell, Fabian Allen, Obed McCoy, Hayden Walsh Jr, Sheldon Cottrell.
Squad #12-15: Darren Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Jason Holder, Akeal Hosein.
Reserves: Jermaine Blackwood, Carlos Brathwaite, Alzarri Joseph.
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