Australia are in the Caribbean to take on a depleted West Indian outfit in a three match test series. To mark the occasion, we ask proud Jamaican GARFIELD ROBINSON some of the biggest questions in the build-up to the series.
Q. How different is the West Indies team because of IPL and do they still stand a chance in this series?
The West Indies will be going into the test series without Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, and Sunil Narine being available to match skills with the Australians. Under normal circumstances at least three of those named would have been in the squad and the others would certainly have been seriously considered.
For sure Gayle would have opened the innings, especially since he and the WICB has come to some sort of agreement.
After the problems Narine posed in the limited over games the Australians must be happy they won’t be required to decipher his mysteries in the tests. In my view he would have been a significant factor if the WI were to do well this series.
Marlon Samuels has not been in good batting form, but coach Gibson seemed to have suggested that he would have played when he announced that Samuels’ absence forced them to turn to Deonarine, who he curiously said is on probation.
Had they been available, Dwayne Bravo, Russell and Pollard would have been among those looked at first if the WI were to require replacements due to injury or loss of form.
You could say, therefore, that the WI has been significantly weakened because some of its top players are off to the IPL. This is very unfortunate as I consider test cricket to be the highest form of the game. The ICC has to act to preserve the primacy of international cricket.
Q. How would you appraise the captaincy of Darren Sammy to date?
He has done as well as could be expected with the team he has under his command. I was not really in favor of the original decision–though I understood why it was made–of making him captain, because I thought he would not always be able to hold down a place in the side on merit. It turns out though that his numbers are comparable to those of the other WI pacers; his bowling average is actually better than those of Roach, Rampaul and Edwards.
This may be fools’ gold but the limited overs games just completed seem to indicate that the team is coming together nicely. The fielding was outstanding and team spirit seemed high. Of course team morale often go hand in glove with performance but these are welcome signs that a good team, devoid of any major stars, could be emerging under Sammy. He will need to maintain a reasonable level of play to command the respect of his players and the public, and total devastation by Australia will trigger more calls for his head. He and this team, however, have an opportunity here to begin the climb from near the bottom of the rankings. The authorities should stick with him for a while longer.
Q. Where is WI cricket right now? Is it on an upward curve or in a constant state of mediocrity?
I hope it is now starting to curve upward, but I really don’t know for sure. Experience has taught us West Indian cricket fans to be cautious. Hope, on the wings of a few healthy performances, has soared in our hearts before, only to crash back down to earth, crippled by inept and senseless cricket. So our optimism is tempered by the realization that this could be just another false dawn.
There have been some good signs overall. Sunil Narine has emerged as an exciting spinner capable of causing serious concern to top class batsmen and is a very effective addition to our bowling. There are also some young pacemen like Shannon Gabriel from Trinidad and Tobago and Sheldon Cotterell, a lefthander from Jamaica, who could develop into worthy international performers.
The batting is more problematic. There is some talent there but little experience and too much of an inclination to collapse. There are some bright spots there too. The improving Kieron Pollard has already shown his value in limited overs cricket and could develop into a good test batsman. The exciting Darren Bravo has played a few high quality test innings last year, as has Kirk Edwards, while all-rounder Andre Russell was almost as brutal as Pollard in the 50 over games against Australia. The team would do well, however, with a consistent opening pair and a dependable player at 6 in tests.
There is also need for improved relations between The West Indies players association and the board. The cricket has suffered in the past whenever they have been at each other’s throats. I hope that the apparent resolution of the Chris Gayle issue, along with the resignation of Ramnarine–often seen as too cantankerous by WICB officials–from the WIPA presidency, will lead to more cordial dealings in the future.
Q. The world would love the West Indies to rise up to the dizzy heights of their dominance in years gone by. Does cricket still capture the imagination of the youth in the Caribbean? Is it still the ultimate dream or do other sports hold the edge?
Cricket certainly is not as alluring to the youth as it once was. As a youth I used to play cricket almost everyday. Nowadays soccer, basketball, and track and field are much more popular than cricket. In Jamaica, a high school cricket match between two of the top teams might attract a few dozen spectators, while a schoolboy soccer game will draw thousands.
All is not lost however. I know in Jamaica that there are people doing good work to revive and strengthen the appeal of cricket in certain areas. There is still quite a bit of cricket played in the schools in Jamaica, and there are still some communities that are very enthusiastic about their cricket clubs and competitions.
Q. What do you expect from the upcoming West Indies-Australia test series.
I am hoping the West Indies will put up a good fight. I really don’t expect the WI to win the series because I consider Australia a significantly better team, especially with the WI depleted by the absence of the IPL players.
I am thinking that the Australian pace attack will have the upper hand against the WI batsmen. The opening position has caused the WI much worry. Barath will open but I am not sure if his partner will be Brathwaite or Powell. Neither should overly concern the Aussies and Barath himself is sometimes not tight enough, especially when playing outside off. Kirk Edwards and Bravo at 3 and 4 are good players who could get some runs, though Bravo seemed a bit out of sorts in the ODI games.
We hope that Chanderpaul will be his usual immovable self at 5. Deonarine, who I think will bat at 6 has been this year’s top batsman in our regional competition and will want to make good use of this opportunity. Wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh can bat but has been rather shaky at 7, losing his wicket too often playing the sweep shot.
Australia’s fast men should be able to restrict the WI batting to scores low enough to enable them to win, especially at Kensington, which I hear will have pace and bounce. The WI will have firepower of their own in Roach and Edwards but the likes of Watson, Clarke, Ponting and Hussey should be able to cope, though we would hope for something of a repeat of the skirmishes between Roach and Ponting of the last series.
If it turns at the Queens Park Oval or at Windsor Park then the WI could be in with a chance. Bishoo, who won the ICC emerging player of the year award for 2011 has probably dropped off a bit but is still a useful leg spinner, while Deonarine has taken quite a number of wickets this season bowling off breaks. I am not discounting Lyon, but I believe WI will have an advantage in the spin-bowling department.
The WI will have to up their game for this to be a competitive series. I hope they will. Australia is the better team and so should win, but I am looking for good performances from players such as Kirk Edwards, Bravo, Deonarine, Fidel Edwards, Roach and Bishoo. If they rise to the occasion then it will be a series worth watching.
I believe Australia will win 2-0.
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