EARL BEST pours water on WI World Cup optimism
Barath, Adrian? Absent
Baugh, Carlton? Absent
Bravo, Dwayne? Absent
Bravo, Darren? Present ..for now
Benn, Sulieman? Present…for now
ON the best assumptions, the West Indies team currently doing battle with 13 others opponents in the ICC World Cup in the Indian sub-continent will struggle to beat any decent international opposition. But when the Fates conspire against them, Darren Sammy’s men are likely to do what the form book suggests the number nine team in the rankings should do and finish out of the top four in their first round grouping. Already weakened by the injury-forced omission of top pacers Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor, the West Indian squad that took on Sri Lanka in the postponed three-match ODI series was noticeably thin in the bowling department. And by the time the two official pre-tournament fixtures were over, they had already lost another pair of players to injury. With all due respect to Barath and Baugh, however, neither could be deemed irreplaceable. The same, though, could hardly be said of the next member of the squad to fall victim to the injury bogey, the premier allrounder and team vice-captain, Dwayne Bravo.
Whether in the Test arena or in one of the shorter forms of the game, the senior Bravo’s contribution with bat and ball has long been critical to a decent West Indian performance. But that is far from being the whole story. Bravo Senior is also the team livewire whose obvious dynamism and infectious enthusiasm are often needed to add lustre to ordinary performances in the field. One is minded to quote a famous West Indian dictum of the 1960s when then T&T Premier Eric Williams told his colleagues that “one from ten leaves nought”. Without exaggeration, it is fair to say that Bravo the Elder’s absence has all but wiped out whatever hopes the WI had of proceeding into the later stages of the competition. In fact, recognizing the implications of the loss of his most consistent performer, Skipper Sammy immediately publicly called on his team to step up and deliver “so as not to let Dwayne down.” They did. In last week’s second match against the Netherlands, who had looked so good against England, the regional team amassed 300-plus in difficult conditions and then reduced the Dutch to 56 for 6 before dismissing then for a paltry 115. The question, however, is will such world-beating performance be replicated in this tournament?
Before attempting to answer that question, we have to ask ourselves whether the injury problem is going to go away. To be fair, the West Indians are not the only ones feeling the pinch but it would seem that for us the problem is much more persistent. Bharath, for instance, made his debut one short year ago and already is enjoying (if that is the word) his third injury-forced hiatus. Ignoring the suggestion that those with names beginning with the letter B are more at risk than others, we can wonder whether Ramnaresh Sarwan, a frequent victim, will manage to make it to the end of the four-week first stage of the tournament. And Shivnarine Chanderpaul is looking like half the man he used to be so it would come as no surprise if he succumbs to injury.
The second question that I would like answered is whether we (the supporters) can choose the next person to be injured. I feel certain that were the answer to that question to be in the affirmative, the team would be looking for a new leader tomorrow. Sammy’s earnestness and passion do not remotely compensate for his lack of real leadership ability. I suppose it is not reasonable to expect a player to be on song every day. But is it also unreasonable to expect him to be on song at least one day? Sammy’s last ten ODI scores have been 2, 58*, 14, 0, 19*, 21*, 4, 3, 0, 6 and his last ten Test scores 0, 48, 19, 1, 22, 44, 10, 0, 2 and 8.
In neither form of the game has he scored a half-century since he was promoted to the captaincy but there is worse; if he has dselivered little with the bat or the ball in his new position, he has done even less with his brain. This was made manifest in the opening game against South Africa. With the West Indies struggling to try to post a decent target after Bravo the Younger’s impressive 73 had laid a solid foundation, Sammy refused to change the pre-determined batting order to allow the dangerous Keiron Pollard to get to the crease. In the event, from 113 for 1 at the start of the 24th over, they could manage only an eventual 222. No one can guarantee, of course, that Pollard’s entry at an earlier stage would have produced the desired result but one feels that he should at least have come in before both Sammy and rookie wicketkeeper Devon Thomas.
The mention of Thomas’ name raises another question (which, admittedly, is only tangentially related to the injury question.) Have the West Indian selectors written off Denesh Ramdin? Is the 26-year-old Trinidad and Tobago player history as far as regional representation is concerned? The injury to Baugh seemed to open the door for Ramdin to make a return until it was discovered that the former first-call stumper who was not deemed good enough to be offered a retainer contract for the current year was not even named among the World Cup reserves. Lest I be accused of parochialism, I have to say categorically here that I hold no particular brief for the Preysal player. I have noted in this space how far down as a batsman he has come from the lofty position he enjoyed when he first graduated to the senior regional team for the West Indies’ Sri Lanka tour in July 2005.
Many of those who saw him then were almost certain that he would have established himself as a fixture in the West Indies middle order before long. However, his Test record of 42 matches for an aggregate of 1482 runs at an average of 22.8 is hardly the kind of performance that can earn him an automatic place. It does not help that his only Test century came more than two years ago in February of 2009 when he made 166 against England in Barbados. Since then, he has added three of his eight half-centuries in 17 innings, the last one (54) coming against Australia at Brisbane in 2009.
Ramdin’s ODI record is no more impressive. In 81 matches, he is still to total 1000 runs while his average remains under 20. He has never scored a century and has got halfway there on only two occasions, the curious researcher having to go as far back as March 2007 to find his 52 against Australia in North Sound. So is it really a surprise that the selectors have opted for Thomas, the 21year-old wicketkeeper/batsman from Antigua ahead of Ramdin who will be 27 on Sunday? Until I got the chance to see Thomas in action at the World Cup, my answer was a qualified yes. The youngster looked to be a very efficient wicketkeeper to both the pace of Roach and the 30-odd overs of spin served up by Benn, Chris Gayle and Nikita Miller. Moreover, he effected one stumping off Benn in the Netherlands game and took a brilliant one-handed catch low down to his left to dismiss Hashim Alma off Roach in the South Africa opener. He has in my view, already earned the right to have a chance to show what he’s got.
Meanwhile, back home in the regional four-day tournament, Ramdin has been showing his mettle with the gloves. In the game against the Combined Colleges and Campuses, he snared all of seven victims in the first innings and then added two more in the second. One stumping and five catches in the other matches all add up to a better-than-ordinary season so far. With the bat, too, there has been encouraging news but it is not precisely what the selectors may be looking for. So far, he has made scores of 0, 3, 19, 53 and 86 but if Clyde Butts and company are looking for a batsman they will look no further than Marlon Samuels who has had innings of 0, 13, 20, 40, 105, 167 and 250* to go with his eye-catching performances in the Twenty20 tournament. It does not seem likely at this stage but, like WIPA President Dinanath Ramnarine, Ramdin might well have played his last game for the West Indies without having announced his retirement.
So we can now ask ourselves: What will the WI do without Barath, Baugh, Bravo, Ramdin and Samuels? Can they- assuming that they can keep a fit enough squad- reasonably entertain thoughts of World Cup glory in 2011? On the evidence of what we have seen so far in their group, it seems likely that we will have got past Bangladesh last week and will do the same with Ireland this week. That will earn us a place against either the winner or the runners-up in Group A on March 23 or 24. Ricky Ponting’s Aussies have a lot to prove both to themselves and to their fans so they can be expected to be no less ruthless than teams from Down Under have traditionally been. The Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis are carrying the huge weight of fan expectation and know that they cannot afford any slip-ups, particularly against inferior opposition. So whatever the order of the finish in Group A, the last two in Group B will be up against formidable foes, highly motivated and, by the last week of the month, probably at the top of their form. Expect the result to be in accordance with the changing rankings.
However, the outcome of the tournament is not unlikely to turn on the final placings in the preliminary stage. New Zealand are probably going to finish in the fourth position in the first group so that they will be up against the winners of Group B in the March 26 quarter-final. India, despite their valiant attempt to let victory slip from them in last week’s tied match against England, will take a lot of beating now that they have had that narrow escape. As I predicted last month, the Mumbai Master is going to take things into his own hands.
For that reason, I expect that the April 2 final will see a repeat of last Sunday’s cliff-hanger in terms of the see-saw nature of the contest. However, Tendulkar will have to contend not with England’s Tim Bresnan and company but the redoubtable Aussie pace trio Brett Lee, Shaun Taitt and Mitchell Johnson. And as he has repeatedly shown the world, not least with his magnificent ODI double century against South Africa, the harder they come…