“[…] For years the destroyer of bowling attacks, Chris Gayle is but a shadow of the fearsome figure he once was. His run production rapidly declining in recent years, he has endured a near-barren 2021 for both WI and the Patriots.
“[…] If, as the multitude insists, Gayle cannot be picked on his glorious pasts, how are we to react when those same voices describe Jason Holder’s omission as a travesty? With a 15-player limit, no squad can afford four fast-medium bowling all-rounders so only the best-performing two or three make the cut…”
Veteran sport journalist Ashford Jackman considers the furore over the selection of Jamaica batsman Chris Gayle and non-selection of Barbados all-rounder Jason Holder, as Wired868 continues its look ahead to the T20 Cricket World Cup:
Roger Harper and his West Indies selectors are currently being assailed by a torrent of criticism and condemnation, doubtless deservedly so.
But is there an elephant in the dressing room that no one, critic or supporter, wishes to acknowledge?
If the Caribbean is united in the view that the selectors got the squad for the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup terribly wrong—and I, for one, share that opinion—how can we in all conscience point fingers at the lead selector and his panel when there is such variance among the critics as to who the alternates should be and when several of them have credentials that are at best questionable?
The furore was triggered by shock inclusions, surprise omissions and myriad unanswered questions. And the selectors’ sustained stony silence only fuels the widespread view that several of their choices are simply indefensible.
But in the more than two weeks since the official squad’s unveiling, respected Caribbean personalities, from cricket officials and former players to politicians and even mainstream media personnel, have presumably been forced to backtrack with regard to some of the players they have been clamouring for.
At the heart of the problem is the Caribbean Premier League or, more correctly, its status. Take West Indies coach Phil Simmons, whose role in selection remains unclear, despite what a Caribbean Media Corporation report suggests.
Televiewers saw Simmons at almost every game, taking copious and presumably careful notes. It seemed a bit farcical because, before CPL 2021 got underway, he had said publicly, inter alia, that the squad was basically settled in his mind; it would take some doing, he had added, for anyone from outside the regulars to force his way into the final squad.
When the official announcement was made on 9 September, Simmons was noticeably absent. Having once been sacked as coach back in 2016 after publicly disclosing that there were differences between himself and other officials, had he decided this time around that discretion was the better part of valour?
In the dark as we are as to what actually happened behind closed selection doors, we do know that the deliberations resulted in three changes from the group that played four T20 International home series this year, against Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.
Two of the surprise inclusions, Roston Chase (446 runs for an average of 49.56) and Ravi Rampaul (19 wkts at an economy rate of 7.97), forced the selectors’ hands by their superb performances in the CPL.
In stark contrast was Oshane Thomas. In his only previous 2021 T20I appearance which came against Australia, he had bowled two overs and claimed one wicket for 31 runs. Hardly impressive.
He was subsequently almost anonymous for the Barbados Royals in the CPL. His performance in seven matches (6 wkts at an economy rate of 7.39) was not good enough to earn a place among the season’s top ten bowlers.
If current performance levels appear to have been high on the selection panel’s criteria list, that clearly was not the case with Oshane.
And if there seems to be some kind of contradiction evident here, what are we to make of the demand almost universally aired by the panel’s critics: remove Chris Gayle and install Jason Holder?
Holder, it is true, is 12 years younger than the now 42-year-old superman of T20 cricket. But should age trump performance?
Dwayne Bravo is closing in on 38 but there is no objection to the all-rounder. He looks very fit and excelled with bat, ball and in the field against all teams this year before going on to inspire the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots to their maiden CPL championship.
So age notwithstanding, it was current performances that cemented the elder Bravo’s pick; should they not also have significantly influenced who else boards the plane for the Middle East?
For years the destroyer of bowling attacks, Gayle is but a shadow of the fearsome figure he once was. His run production rapidly declining in recent years, he has endured a near-barren 2021 for both WI and the Patriots. His reflexes have slowed significantly and he seems no longer up for the kind of warfare batsmen will face in the UAE and Oman.
When the likes of Australia’s Pat Cummins, South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada and England’s Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are running in to bowl at him, will they be fearful of what the ‘Universe Boss’ was once capable of?
What, pray, were Harper and company thinking?
And if, as the multitude insists, Gayle cannot be picked on his glorious pasts, how are we to react when those same voices describe Holder’s omission as a travesty?
With a 15-player limit, no squad can afford four fast-medium bowling all-rounders so only the best-performing two or three make the cut.
Holder’s modest CPL returns with bat (9 innings, 109 runs at an average of 12.11) and ball (9 innings, 5 wkts at an economy rate of 8.51) mirror his stats in the preceding home series; he was even rested in the hope that the break would spark a return to form.
If the tactic succeeded, the TV cameras missed it.
Even so, when I named my World Cup squad before the start of the CPL, I saw Holder then as the obvious back-up to Bravo and Andre Russell. That was before Odean Smith (18 wkts at an economy rate of 7.58) and Romario Shepherd (18 wkts at an economy rate of 7.70) shook up the tournament.
The public outcry over Holder’s demotion does not surprise me, however. Caribbean people with vested interests have always played politics with cricket.
Retired after 38 years of sports reporting in the region, I know first-hand what it is like to try to get a straight answer from individuals hoping to get into West Indies administration or coaching or players eyeing a career in broadcast commentary. Still others shift and stall and say simply unhelpful stuff merely because they are petrified of being labelled insular.
Of Holder’s challengers, Smith created problems with his hostile pace—he twice hit 150kph—and tight lines, consistently taking key wickets in critical periods and boosting the Warriors’ run-rate with some brief but brutal, boundary-bound blasts.
Still a work in progress, Shepherd is medium-paced and, in my view, several of his 2021 victims may have done themselves in by their anxiety to get after him. A case in point is Kieron Pollard’s fatal error in the Super Over in the tied Match 11 between Shepherd’s Guyana Amazon Warriors and the Trinbago Knight Riders.
But that is the CPL; as the selectors must be well aware, the likes of David Warner, Eoin Morgan and Quinton de Kock, and later—if later there is—Babar Azam, Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli will be a very different proposition.
Hopefully, both young men will remain interested enough to learn by close observation of Bravo, Russell and the experienced rest.
Time is on their side.
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