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T2021 W/C: From ‘Universe Boss’ to Walsh Jr; Best looks at ups and downs of Harper’s WI picks

West Indies lead selector Roger Harper is pleased with his and his selection panel’s handiwork. Good for him.

Not I.

“I expect the team to do very well,” he confidently declared during the media conference called to defend his and his fellow selectors’ work on Thursday. “I think we have a very good chance of defending the title.”

Photo: Cricket West Indies (CWI) lead selector Roger Harper.

I think he got that wrong. That ‘have’ is the present tense; if I am right, it should be the past tense ‘had’.

Because if Kieron Pollard’s men do go on to successfully defend their title, it will not be because of the selectors but in spite of them.

Like in the good old days before overconfidence handed Kapil Dev’s India the World Cup in 1983, WI currently have an abundance of short-format talent, a rich lode for Harper and co  to mine.

Even-handedly. Giving everyone a fair shake. With the best interests of the entire region in mind.

Put your hand up if you think they have done that.

What? No hands? What is going on here?

The truth is that I do not know. I do not know if the 15 selected and announced by Harper and co on Thursday is the best squad the panel could have come up with.

Photo: West Indies players (from left) Dwayne Bravo, Darren Bravo and Chris Gayle celebrate winning the ICC Twenty20 World Cup final after defeating Sri Lanka in Colombo on 7 October 2012.
(Copyright AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

It goes without saying that that is not the view I currently hold.

What I do know is that there is no way soon-to-be 42-year-old Christopher Henry Gayle, ‘Universe Boss’, scorer of 15 centuries in Tests, including two triple centuries; scorer of 25 centuries in ODIs; scorer of a century in each of the game’s formats and 14,000 runs in T20s, including two centuries in T20Is; and holder of a slew of other truly enviable cricketing records, could have earned a place among the best 15 regional players for the World Cup in the UAE and Oman.

Not in 2021.

And I am not alone in my view.

Here is a brief but revealing Letter to the Editor of a Jamaica daily. It is signed by freelance cricket writer Ray Ford and it is critical of the selection of the iconic Jamaican left-hander.

Photo: West Indies veteran batsman Chris Gayle celebrates a T20I milestone reached in a July 2021 game against Australia.
(via CWI Media)

Yes, no mistake; no need to rub your eyes.

Ford’s letter to the Jamaica Gleaner: Selectors have ignored Chris Gayle’s wretched form and named him in a 15-man squad for next month’s Twenty20 World Cup, while recalling 36-year-old fast bowler Ravi Rampaul for his first international match in six years.

There have been bold cricketing decisions by West Indies selectors before. But, probably in the history of West Indies cricket, none this bold.

When the West Indies for a traditional Cricket World Cup some years back, selected Jason Holder to lead them, eyebrows were raised. But two days ago when ‘Dad’s Army’ Chris Gayle, and ‘Fat Fowl’ Ravi Rampaul were selected to represent the West Indies in the upcoming T20 World Cup, laughter in East Lansing could be heard from as far away as Antigua.

In fact, my phone rang almost immediately after the squad was announced.

Photo: St Lucia Kings wicket-keeper Andre Fletcher (left) celebrates the dismissal of SKNP batsman Chris Gayle during CPL action at Warner Park on 4 September 2021 in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 4 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Even the Jamaica Gleaner—normally the chief cheerleader for its own—in its reporting headline yesterday could scarcely hide its bemusement: ‘Struggling Gayle named to T20 World Cup squad’. And just look at its lead-off paragraph.

Let’s put it this way: Knives for Roger Harper and his hallucinating band of selectors aren’t yet drawn. But surely, they are being sharpened.

In the media conference, the first questioner cited the relevant stats to put the Gayle issue to bed.

I think that, in response to a subsequent question, Harper may have said the quiet part out loud. Having told the assembled media that neither Sherfane Rutherford nor Sunil Narine nor Odean Smith had reached the required fitness levels for selection, he was asked whether Gayle had done so.

His response in essence was that the hard-hitting, 40-plus-year-old batsman was held to a lower standard because he had a ‘medical exemption’.

Photo: Guyana Amazon Warriors bowler Odean Smith (left) celebrates the dismissal of Jamaica Tallawahs’ Shamarh Brooks during CPL action at Warner Park on 12 September 2021 in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 12 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

No need to go there again. Valentino Singh, former Guardian sports editor and my friend has more than adequately dealt with that.

So Gayle was granted a place on the squad. And the relevant question is why.

Is something rotten within the state of CWI? Is the tail wagging the dog? Is some unseen hand pulling the strings? 

Let me open a parenthesis here to explain that I am under no illusion about the task facing any selector. The role of the selector, shades of the lines teachers asked secondary school offenders to write thousands of times in the last century before individual rights became the big things they are today, is exceedingly difficult.

Writing on Monday 6 September as a member of the sole selector panel whose members have been selecting their dream team and sharing them here over the last many weeks, David Abdulah, trade unionist and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader, began his column with the following truism on selection and selectors:

One of the most difficult posts in world sport has to be that of WI selector.

Photo: TKR pacer Ravi Rampaul (centre) on a high after capturing another wicket during CPL 2021 action against the St Lucia Kings.
(Copyright CPL T20 Ltd 2021)

Before that, on Friday 20 August, writing as a part of the same series, Ken ‘Jaiks’ Jaikaransingh  had this rather more expansive, pithy statement on the subject:

I was well aware not only of the 10,000 other ‘sole selectors’ there are out there. I was also acutely aware of how often I had myself thrown a few brickbats at officially appointed selection committees over the years.

Often, it also occurred to me, regional and other insularities preclude a detached look at the requirements involved.

Such insight! And such refreshing candour!

The selectors, let us be very clear, do not have an easy task. And that is why I want here to say loud and clear that on the whole, they have done a good job.

We shall come in due course back to the other parts of the job that are not so good. But for now let me just record my immense gratitude to Roger Harper and his panel for including the leg-spinner Hayden Walsh Jr in the 15.

Photo: West Indies spinner Hayden Walsh Jr took 5/39 in the first ODI against Australia on 20 July 2021.
(via CWI Media)

Leg-spinners need intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful handling. Look at how Fawad Ahmed performed when he was playing for TKR last year under Kieron Pollard. And how he has been performing for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots this year under Dwayne Bravo.

On the same ‘undersized’ Warner Park ground, mind you, where the Barbados Royals have regularly not dared to include Walsh in the starting XI. And when they did deign so to do, the talented, hard-working 29-year-old looked a very ordinary bowler.

Putting a class leg-spinner in the hands of a shithong captain is the cricketing equivalent of putting pearls before swine.

So credit where credit is due. Thank you to the Royals’ management for not selecting Walsh more often.

And hearty congratulations to the West Indian selectors for having the insight not to punish the player for the failings of his leadership.

 

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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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