Orville Higgins | Simmons, WI face acid Test
I wouldn't be surprised if West Indies coach Phil Simmons is having sleepless nights as he ponders what should be his starting eleven for tomorrow's start of the second Test against India. Only Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels are settled and established members of this Test team. Everybody else must be deeply concerned that the axe may fall on them, if not in this series against India, then not so far in the distant future.
There is a well-known story of a former Indian captain who was experiencing a lean trot with the bat discussing team selection with his coach on the morning of a very important Test. They agreed to both write down their starting elevens on paper and swap with the other. The captain was not amused when the coach's starting eleven didn't include the captain! Maybe deep in Simmons' heart, he is wondering if he could do the same thing.
Jason Holder, for all his outward enthusiasm, is averaging 42 with the ball. He is picked as a bowler first, and averaging 42 per wicket really means that his place should be up for question. He is averaging 27 with the bat.
But if you think that Holder is causing a headache, check the case of Carlos Brathwaite. Brathwaite, too, is picked as a bowling all-rounder. In three Test matches, bowling well over 400 deliveries, he has taken the grand total of one Test wicket! This has come at the whopping cost of 242 runs. His 'average', then, is 242. For a man picked predominantly for his bowling, this is unbelievable!
Here is the dilemma, though. Brathwaite has played five Test innings. He has scored three half-centuries at the healthy average of 45.25. None of the batsmen in this team averages 45 over their careers! There is a good case here for Brathwaite to be selected purely as a batsman.
Jermaine Blackwood is posing a problem for the selectors. When he is on song, he is one of the best prospects in the West Indies. He showed in the start of his Test career that he is a clean, confident striker of the ball, and we were thinking that he had sewn up at least one middle-order spot for good. In his last seven innings, though, he has scored four ducks, and the coach's faith may be running out.
I would give Blackwood one last innings at his home ground tomorrow. He is too good a player not to come good soon, but the patience of the selectors may well be running out on him.
The man who must be wondering at his luck is Shai Hope. Hope scored a century in the warm-up game against the touring Indians before the start of the Test series and didn't even make the thirteen! That has to be a mistake. This fragile West Indies batting line-up doesn't have the luxury to leave out a batsman who shows that kind of form on the eve of a Test.
The selectors, in an apparent act of panic, have sent out an SOS for young pacer Alzarri Joseph. It looks untidy. If they think Joseph was good enough to play the second Test, surely he was good enough to play the first. They can't be jetting him in at the last minute and then having him carry the drinks. That would make absolutely no sense.
So we can assume Joseph is making his debut tomorrow. The question is, at whose expense? More than likely, that will be a batsman's, and if that is so, Blackwood would miss out. I don't see how Roston Chase would get dropped after one Test and Rajendra Chandrika, the opener, is safe for now. Or maybe the man who would miss out is Carlos Brathwaite, despite his average of 45.
If Joseph plays tomorrow, that means Cummings may not play, and again that would make no sense. If Cummings was preferred ahead of Joseph for the first Test, surely he should still be ahead of Joseph in the pecking order for the second Test, since he didn't play at all in Game One.
The selectors, then, may well be planning to play both Cummings and Joseph on what is said to be a potentially lively Sabina Park pitch. In that case, both Brathwaite and Blackwood could be left out.
So, yes, Phil Simmons may be having a few extra grey hairs between now and start of play on Saturday morning. I don't envy him at all!
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM . Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.