In years to come the last fortnight could well be seen as the moment that West Indian cricket began its rise to regain its former position as one of the pre-eminent sides in the world. And make no mistake world cricket needs a successful and vibrant West Indies team.
Firstly, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indian Players Association (WIPA) have finally come to a mutual agreement that will see a first choice squad being selected for the forthcoming tour to Australia. Moreover, the last two weeks has seen an unheralded Trinidad and Tobago side take on and beat all comers in the inaugural T20 Champions League tournament in India.
Even if the side, which has been excellently led by Daren Ganga, fails to repeat its earlier success against New South Wales in the Final today, it is Trinidad and Tobago who will be remembered for lighting up the competition. The team’s togetherness, team spirit and refusal to give up lost causes has made them stars. What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that Dwayne Bravo and Dinesh Ramdin aside, none of the players are considered first choice picks for the West Indies team.
All this suggests that the state of West Indian cricket may not be as terminal as many observers feared. If the spirit and quality shown by Trinidad and Tobago can be replicated by the West Indies Test and limited overs sides then there should be a steep upward curve in their ranking in all forms of the game. This is not to say that West Indian cricket is cured – the WICB still badly needs a restructure and needs to change its style and attitude to the players. Former players such as Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd and Sir Vivian Richards should be given prominent roles in the WICB so that the Board and the team unite in the interests of West Indian cricket. The board needs to recognise that the players need to get access to the riches available to them in English County Cricket and more so in the Indian Premier League. In return the players need to show the same fight and desire that their illustrious predecessors had when wearing the famous maroon cap.
All this won’t happen overnight – indeed it may never happen. But hopefully it is the start of a long road to former glories However, now that the impasse with the WICB has been bridged, at least the team can concentrate on preparing for the difficult assignment that awaits them in Australia where the first of a three test series starts in Brisbane on 26th November. Before then the selectors have an interesting task in picking the squad with several Trinidad and Tobago players making a good case for selection as well as Kemar Roach and Darren Sammy from the WICB XI that played in the Champions Trophy.
The first major decision the selectors have to make is who should captain the side. I think we can safely ignore the claims of Floyd Reifer who captained the WICB XI during the dispute between the board and WIPA. This probably leaves two options – Chris Gayle and Ganga. The laconic Gayle, who led the side before the dispute, had overseen an improvement in fortunes with a drawn series in New Zealand preceding the home triumph over England. He also led the team to the semi-finals of the World T20 and stated this week his desire to be reinstated as captain. «If I am asked to do the job I will be committed,» Gayle told Reuters. «It is always an honour to captain the West Indies. I am always committed to do it. Support-wise the players have been really good and it shouldn’t be a problem. Once I am asked to do it then, definitely.»
However, Ganga has impressed many observers with the way he has led Trinidad and Tobago. The raw ingredients of togetherness, willingness to fight for each other and the knack of someone being prepared to stick their hand up when something special is required are just what the West Indies needs. Although Ganga only averages 25.71 from 48 tests and has only scored three centuries, his fearless and vibrant captaincy makes this an interesting conundrum for the selectors. Ganga’s ability to unify individuals and make the collective stronger than the sum of its parts should win the day. If so he could bat in the middle order rather than in his usual opening role.
Gayle, along with Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are obvious picks for the selectors. Trinidad and Tobago’s Lendl Simmons and 19 year old Adrian Barath should join them in the squad. The former has shown sporadically over the last year the quality needed at international level and now needs to become more consistent. Barath is an exciting prospect who already averages 46.05 in his first class career and could become the long term opening partner to Gayle at both Test and limited overs level. If the selectors want to pick a seventh batsman then Australian born Brendan Nash would appear to be the most likely.
Dwayne Bravo, who has the potential to become the World’s outstanding all-rounder now that Andrew Flintoff has retired and Jacques Kallis continues to get older is a shoo-in, as is Ramdin as wicketkeeper. Kieron Pollard has shown during the Champions League that he has temperament required for the big stage so could be a shrewd pick as cover for Bravo.
This brings us to the bowlers. Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards should both enjoy bowling on the bouncy Australian wickets. So should the extremely fast Roach who impressed against Bangladesh and during the Champions Trophy. Ravi Rampaul, Daren Powell and Sammy will all be in contention too. In the spin department, there is not as much strength in depth and Gayle will probably have to provide support to Sulieman Benn, who did reasonably well against England when they toured the Caribbean.
So, the Test squad could end up as follows:
Daren Ganga (C), Chris Gayle, Adrian Barath, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lendl Simmons, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Dinesh Ramdin, Chadwick Walton, Sulieman Benn, Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Darren Sammy
There is no doubt that a tour to Australia is probably the toughest assignment of all, but with Ganga at the helm and a group of talented players in the squad the West Indies should at least be able to compete with Ricky Ponting’s side. The raw ingredients are there to cause a few surprises even if Australia will likely win the series. Cricket fans around the world hope that this is the start of a new dawn in Caribbean cricket.
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