And then there were 12.
The 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cup champions West Indies will start a 3-match T20I series against Pakistan with a team which sees several different names on the team sheet when compared to the team which represented the region in such eminently forgettable fashion at the recent T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE and Oman.
With the latest news that Sheldon Cottrell and the Barbados duo of Roston Chase and Kyle Mayers have been ruled out of the T20 series after testing positive for Covid-19, WI are now down to 12 players—with only 11 from the original squad selected a few weeks ago.
Struggling with a hamstring injury he aggravated during the T20 World Cup, West Indies white ball skipper Kieron Pollard will also miss the Pakistan tour, leaving room for the wicketkeeping pair of Nicholas Pooran and Shai Hope to captain the T20I and ODI teams respectively.
Polly will be replaced by another wicketkeeper, Devon Thomas, in the ODI series, while Jamaican batsman Rovman Powell will again get a chance to show his worth in maroon colours as he has been drafted into the T20I squad.
After back-to-back disappointing outings at the T20 World Cup and the 2-match Test series vs Sri Lanka, it’s difficult to see the Caribbean team overcoming the challenge of a Pakistani team which seems to be growing from strength to strength under the leadership of Babar Azam.
Babar and Pakistan defeated the fancied India and eventual finalists New Zealand in the Super 12s of the T20 World Cup and looked set to be going all the way to the promised land before they were stopped by Matthew Wade and Australia in a dramatic semifinal where a crucial dropped catch by Hasan Ali effectively turned the game on its head.
Ali copped the Man-of-the-Match award in the first of three T20Is Pakistan played away to Bangladesh recently, a series they eventually won 3-0 while chasing in every single match!
Ali will not feature in the T20I series vs WI. However, Phil Simmons’ squad can rest assured that the hosts’ bowling threat will still be immense, with the left-arm swing bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi as well as the pair of Mohammad Hasnain and vice-captain Shadab Khan both in the bowling line-up.
These three names should be particularly familiar to WI fans, as Shaheen tortured our batsmen in the Caribbean earlier this year in a Test series, while both Hasnain and the wily Shadab have previously turned out for Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) in the CPL.
A lot, then, for Pooran to ponder as he looks to rally a depleted squad.
Yes, Pooran did oversee a 4-1 T20I series win over Australia back in July when he stood in for Pollard. However, this task is much more challenging as Pooran does not have the dressing room experience to lean on, and it is also clear to see now that the Aussies were playing possum with the squad they sent to the Caribbean shores some five months ago—a far cry from the team which bested their Kiwi neighbours in the T20 World Cup finale.
But the focus is on the WI camp at present, and it’s left to be seen if Pooran and his young brigade can fill the void in the absence of experienced players such as Pollard, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Andre Russell, Lendl Simmons and the veteran duo of Chris Gayle (semi-retired) and Dwayne Bravo (irreversibly retired this time).
Yes, barring a few decent performances, the self-same eight players mentioned above did not live up to the hype at the World Cup. However, a certain level of experience and know-how will be needed to steady the ship as WI try to get back on course for the 2022 T20 World Cup to be played Down Under.
Those eight absentees mentioned have played over 500 T20Is combined and, with as many as three uncapped players in the T20I squad, a hungry Pakistan team could have themselves a feast as international cricket returns to Karachi in earnest after New Zealand pulled out of a tour for security reasons prior to the T20 World Cup.
In Dominic Drakes, Gudakesh Motie and Odean Smith, WI have three young, exciting prospects who, in my opinion, have bright futures ahead of them.
Will they prove to be match-winners from the onset? More likely than not, the answer is in the negative.
However, both Drakes and Smith have already shown their all-round ability, the former producing a convincing match-winning innings at this year’s CPL final to earn St Kitts and Nevis Patriots their maiden CPL crown. Both players also turned out in the just-concluded Abu Dhabi T10 tournament, while Drakes also belatedly earned a contract with this year’s IPL winners Chennai Super Kings.
In the current squad, stand-in skipper Nicholas Pooran is the most capped player with 46 T20Is, while Rovman Powell has 30 and the enigma that is Darren Bravo has 21 T20Is to his name after making his debut way back in 2010.
It goes without saying that Pooran will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility with the bat in these upcoming series while Bravo, Hope and the Jamaican pair of Powell and the elegant Brandon King will have to come to the fore as well.
Both King and Powell have shown occasional glimpses of brilliance at regional level over the years while Powell also struck a memorable century against Ireland to help WI seal qualification for the 50-over World Cup in 2019. Inconsistency has arguably stalled the careers of these two talented players, though, and there is no better time than the present to show that they are not little but, as befits Jamaicans, Tallawahs.
Akeal Hosein, Romario Shepherd, Oshane Thomas and Hayden Walsh Jr make up what remains of the depleted WI team for this series and they will all want to prove their worth for differing reasons.
Undoubtedly, having been originally named as a travelling reserve and then having had a very solid World Cup campaign, Hosein will want to cement his spot in the white ball set-up.
Shepherd, meanwhile, having played only a handful of white ball matches for WI since making his debut in 2019, will be eager to show that he belongs on the international stage. Like Drakes and Smith, the well-built Shepherd possesses that all-round, power-hitting ability. And with DJ Bravo now retired, there is an opportunity for one of these youngsters to grab the spotlight and step into the now empty premier allrounder shoes.
As regards the spin department, because of the inclusion of the ever improving Hosein and the as yet uncapped Motie, Walsh again finds himself fighting for a spot after featuring in just two games at the World Cup.
It wasn’t too long ago that the leggy ripped through the Aussies in the Caribbean to claim Man-of-the-Series honours. What would Walsh not give to be able to claim three or four of those 12 Australian scalps today or tomorrow!
On the topic of wickets, one of only two unused WI players at the T20 World Cup, the strapping Oshane Thomas could use a shot in the arm in that department. Before the global event, he had featured sparingly and without significant success in the CPL.
In the build-up to the World Cup, WI chief selector Roger Harper sought to justify Thomas’ selection by pointing to his sheer pace and hostility. In the end, that hostility would only be transferred into the energy drinks and messages passed on during game breaks, as Thomas was completely overlooked for all five of the WI games in the tournament—even after early elimination was a certainty!
For me, it really brought the selection process—or lack thereof—into question as in an underperforming team no place could be found for two of the players in the 15-man World Cup squad!
But, that’s water on the bridge now.
With Thomas, most would agree that he’s either devastatingly good or incredibly bad. Unfortunately, you never know which Oshane is going to show up and he does have a tendency to be on the expensive side, leaning towards him being on the devastatingly bad side more often than we’d like.
On the plus side, he does have good memories against Pakistan, as he took 4/27 against them at the 50-over World Cup in a thumping WI win. And, of course, he also grabbed 5/28 against Sri Lanka last year in a T20I just before Covid-19 momentarily brought a halt to international cricket.
Can the 24-year-old pacer use his hostility to good effect to unsettle the impressive Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and the rest of the Pakistan batting line-up?
Will Pooran and his young team upset the form card to earn the stand-in skipper’s second straight T20I series win?
From 9am tomorrow (T&T time), we’ll learn a lot more about the mettle of these largely green youngsters.
Let’s rally hard around the maroon!