T2021 W/C: A reflection on selection, concussion and Romario’s extraordinary exhibition

For a selector, concussion is an occupational hazard. All the more, as Ken ‘Jaiks’ Jaikaransingh has already noted above, if you are a West Indian selector.

Let me remind you of a truth every Trini sports fan knows: in T&T for certain, probably in the West Indies as a whole, we does win, dem does lose.

Photo: West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo (centre) is congratulated by teammates after a vital wicket in the fourth T20I against South Africa in 2021.

When you get the call to be a selector, you take the job, you do your level best and then, the first time the team loses—sometimes even before that—you get your concussion. (That’s really a sanitised portmanteau word, forged out of the union of a common noun and a past participle).

I bring it up here in the context of the spate of verbal abuse directed at Roger Harper’s selection panel over the perceived errors, both of commission and of omission, made by them last week. The good gentlemen—after consultation with the captain, provided for in the CWI selection policy, and consultation with the squad, not in the policy but as revealed by Harper in the media conference—included the Jekyll-and-Hyde pacer Oshane Thomas in the 15 and left out Romario Shepherd.

“They even try with Uton Dowe,” Relator sings in ‘Gavaskar’, “but ah sure that they sorry they bring him now.”

KFC Munch Pack

After Sunday’s exhibition, (an ESPN headline called it a ‘stunning all-round show’), ah sure that they sorry they leave him out!

Photo: Romario Shepherd on the rampage for the Guyana Amazon Warriors in CPL 2021 action.
(Copyright CPL T20 Ltd 2021)

Shepherd’s knock did go on as long as Andre Russell’s unforgettable 40-ball century against TKR at the Queen’s Park Oval in 2018. But for sheer ferocity, it was easily its equal.

And yet, I could not disagree more with the two gentlemen who recently contended on this blog that the selectors did Shepherd an injustice by overlooking him.

According to them, ‘the recall of the 36-year-old fast bowler (…) in preference to the much younger 26-year-old Shepherd (…) is another choice that can be questioned’.

Perhaps. And easily explained. Form plus experience beats form plus inexperience any day.

Rampaul’s (…) 17 wickets for the Trinbago Knight Riders in the ongoing CPL, they argue further, are not that much better than Shepherd, who has 14 to date. And Shepherd ‘is also by miles much more capable than Rampaul as a lower-order batsman and a far more agile fielder’.

Photo: TKR pacer Ravi Rampaul (centre) celebrates the dismissal of SKNP batsman Chris Gayle with teammates during CPL action at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 12 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Two quick points: closer examination of the wickets shows that the 36-year-old has repeatedly dismissed batsmen in the Powerplay. It may not in fact indicate superior quality but it certainly suggests it.

And given the ‘composition and balance of the squad’—Roger that!—it’s not so much a capable lower-order batsman that we are likely to need; it’s a dependable one to hold up an end.

What are the comparative ratings on that score?

My final point on this issue is this: one swallow does not a summer make. But in the history of West Indies cricket, truly perceptive selectors have more than once taken one swallow and lit up many of our summers thereafter.

With his irresistible power-hitting, Shepherd has made a strong case.

So, were I a selector, after Sunday’s performance, Shepherd would be included in my reserves, whether or not former Test captain Jason Holder adds injury to the selector’s insult and decides not to make the trip.

Photo: Guyana Amazon Warriors pacer Romario Shepherd (right) celebrates the dismissal of St Lucia Kings batsman Andre Fletcher during CPL action at Warner Park in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis on 2 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

The rules allow us to take as many reserves as we wish, I think, so long as we are prepared to pay their way. Taking an enormously promising 26-year-old to the 2021 World Cup when the next edition is in 2022 makes a lot of cricketing—and financial!—sense to me.

Let me reiterate here that the bulk of the final 15 chosen have earned their place. And I agree with New Zealand’s Simon Doull who, with admirable diplomacy, commented that ‘there are one or two puzzling choices in there’.

I have long harboured doubts about Harper’s competence (‘I need to see Pooran play red ball cricket before he makes the Test team’?). But, in my view, the inclusion of Ravi Rampaul and Roston Chase says unequivocally that, if not the lead selector, at least the panel knows the difference between form, temporary, and class, permanent.

The panel’s views and mine diverge widely on four points. But I leave severely alone the completely indefensible decision to include a 42-year-old opener who is demonstrably but a shadow of his former self. (In both his innings since his selection, he again failed to make a favourable impression, getting 35 off 18 and 5 off 4 on the weekend.)

Photo: St Kitts and Nevis Patriots opener Chris Gayle hits for 6 during the 2021 Hero CPL semifinal against GAW at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 14 September 2021 .
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

I leave equally untouched the related follow-the-science issue of the measurement of fitness—the immobile Rahkeem Cornwall is fit but Shimron Hetmyer who hurtles around the boundary and repeatedly puts his body on the line is not?

I shall, therefore, keeping the focus narrowly on the World Cup squad, deal only with the omission of Holder (J), the choice of Oshane Thomas and Andre Fletcher and, finally, the inclusion in the reserves of Darren Bravo. who, like me, is a Trinidadian.

Fletcher’s record in CPL 2021 only reinforces the abiding impression that he is simply not up to the required standard. In the second game against TKR, he made 81 not out off 55 balls; that apart, six of his eleven scores have been in single figures.

He also looks very vulnerable (read: like a complete dunce) against spin. And he has continued to drop easy catches, even with the gloves on.

Photo: St Lucia Kings wicket-keeper Andre Fletcher (left) throws himself at a low catch offered by GAW captain Nicholas Pooran while teammate Roston Chase looks on during CPL action at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Ki on 2 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Thomas too has nothing to write home about in the CPL unless bad news comes under that heading. He is not particularly gifted with the bat and, in seven matches, he has captured six wickets at an average of 23.

I can find no listing for how fast he has bowled, which is reportedly what has impressed the selection panel. You have to be crazy or incompetent or something to name such a player among your best 15. We have already established that the panel is competent and I see no compelling evidence—Holder’s omission?—that their sanity is in question.

Maybe Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley does. She has thrown her not insubstantial weight behind the Barbados Royals captain, who is among the four reserves.

Commenting on the issue in a written public statement, she affirmed that the selection panel’s decision ‘defies all understanding’.

Photo: Barbados Royals captain Jason Holder (centre) attempts to run out GAW batsman Odean Smith during CPL action at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 7 September 2021 .
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Some time ago, when Gayle was still making runs, Sir Clive Lloyd, the region’s most successful captain ever, suggested to us that Holder was God’s cricketing gift to the region. The talented Barbadian eventually became the ICC’s top-ranked all-rounder. Not just for a week or for a month but for an extended period.

Harper and his panel have just told us that Holder is not among the top 15 players in the region in T20 cricket.

I have been roundly critical of Jason Holder. But, like PM Mottley, I have a little difficulty swallowing that.

These gentlemen deserve every ounce of their concussion.

Especially when they tell us in the same breath that DM Bravo is.

Photo: TKR batsman Darren Bravo is bowled by St Lucia Kings’ Wahab Riaz during the 2021 CPL semifinals at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 14 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)


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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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