BY BRYAN DAVIS
WEST INDIES (WI) have played four Test matches in 2021 to date, winning two against Bangladesh away from home with two drawn games in Antigua when Sri Lanka were the opposition. On June 10, the visiting South African team would be challenging them in the first of two Tests, the second is scheduled to begin on June 18. Both will take place in Gros Islet, St Lucia.
These matches plus two more against Pakistan in Jamaica on August 12-16 and 20-24 would mean six home Tests overall making it eight Tests in 2021. When the present-day obstacles and drawbacks are taken into consideration, this is a fine output of games at the highest level to keep WI sharp at the Test level.
It must be remembered that the men from the Caribbean just moved up a few notches to sixth place in the world Test rankings.
South Africa are one of those the West Indies have sneaked past on the points table. Therefore, this series against the Proteas would give the West Indian selectors an opportunity for a critical assessment of the performances of their team in the highest format of the sport. It is wise to examine before the first Test match, the strengths and weaknesses of the team in light of recent performances. A consistent opening partnership is vital.
Although the captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, has fought well at the top of the order, his left-handed partner in the four previous Tests, John Campbell of Jamaica, has been a failure. He also failed in England and New Zealand last year.
This casts doubt concerning his temperament at the Test level. He opened the batting with Brathwaite ten years ago when they were both on the West Indies youth team with some success. However, though blessed with natural ability, he has not developed as initially promised, therefore, it would not be wise to continue with him for the time being. Maybe after he gets back into the Cricket West Indies’ first-class tournament he may be able to build his self-confidence which he needs badly at this stage.
I believe the selectors have their eye on Kieran Powell, the Nevisian who also bats left-handed, to replace him. Powell’s lack of cricket can spoil his chances unless he shows some sound form during the camp in St Lucia.
I don’t know whether there are underlying reasons for Evin Lewis being considered only for white-ball cricket when he’s so talented. He would be my automatic choice to open the batting. It will continue the left/right opening combination which is ideal to start the inning. The compartmentalising of players into distinct formats is limiting the assets of West Indies teams.
I would have Shai Hope at three followed by Nkrumah Bonner at four, the position in which he was so successful in Bangladesh. Hope is too good a player to leave out of the Test team. Darren Bravo at five, although the selectors may sympathise with Jermaine Blackwood whose performances have been ragged. Bravo is the better batsman.
Next in is Kyle Mayers followed by the reliable, hard-working wicket-keeper batsman Joshua Da Silva. Jason Holder at eight would finalise a strong batting line-up, albeit he and Da Silva could switch places without disturbing the balance, considering their workload.
The bowling has been tight and fairly consistent yet not penetrative enough to win Test matches. When they won in Bangladesh the pitch was conducive to spin bowling and Rahkeem Cornwall (14 wickets in 131.2 overs)was a hit with his off-breaks. At Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on flat wickets against Sri Lanka (4 wickets for 240 runs in 98.3 overs), he looked quite ordinary.
Maybe he tried too hard; whatever the reason he didn’t bowl well. Shannon Gabriel in Bangladesh (6 wickets for 184 runs in 61 overs) was also fresh on that tour and bowled with good pace. In Antigua, he claimed a solitary wicket (1 wicket for 146 runs in 48.2 overs) and sprayed the ball in every direction.
Maybe he should not have played as he appeared to be jaded. The management needs to look after their fast bowlers.
Anyway, there is Kemar Roach who seems to be improving the more cricket he plays. I would go in the first Test with Roach, Gabriel, Cornwall and Holder backed up by Mayers, a better bowler than they think. The teams must be assessed critically. These Tests are significant.