Tony Becca | Team selection, Windies style
Once upon a time, the job of a cricket selector used to be simple, or at least, simple enough. His job was to select the best team available.
Today, however, it is not that simple. Today, the selectors are faced with the selection of three teams - Test, ODI, and T20 - and on top of that, the policy, probably, and definitely so in the West Indies, seems to be select the teams, especially the Test team, not for today, but for the future.
The selectors, even in the West Indies, used to be men who played the game, and played it well; men who knew the game, who can spot talent, whose judgement is first-class, whose integrity is flawless, who can be depended on to make right and proper decisions, who will make them, regardless, and men who are respected.
Today, in the West Indies, the selectors are men who used to play the game but remembering that he who has been to war knows about war, not necessarily among the best who played the game, and in the West Indies, or so it appears, the selectors are not necessarily among the best men for the job.
And like everywhere else, the Windies selectors are a law on to themselves, at least until they are removed.
Right now, the selection of the West Indies team appears to be a mess, and it appears that the talk says that the present state of West Indies cricket and the reason for its long stay in the wilderness is due to poor team selection as much as it is the fault of the board and the players.
For more than 20 years now, the West Indies team, which was once the best in the world, has been a disappointment, certainly to the fans. For many, many years, it has not won a Test match against a good team away from home. And for many years, the West Indies has found itself down at the bottom of the Test rankings.
On top of that, one can hardly find a West Indian in the Test or ODI rankings of players. And recently, the ODI figures showed the West Indies coming in last, or next to last, mostly above only Zimbabwe, in almost all the stats dealing with performances in batting, bowling, and fielding.
The West Indies, or the Windies, went to England recently. They played three Test matches, one T20, and five ODIs, and they won only two games - one Test and the T20 - while performing wonderfully in one Test match.
The wonderful performance, however, was due to five men only - two batsmen, two bowlers, and one all-rounder - out of 16 players, and in less than two weeks after that, the selectors surprisingly picked the same 16 players to tour Zimbabwe, including those who failed, and failed miserably.
The same players were selected "because the players performed encouragingly in England, losing the series 2-1 but pulling off that win in the country after 17 years".
From the chairman of the selectors came the following: "The selection panel is pleased to announce the same Test squad that toured England to visit Zimbabwe. The dedication, commitment, and focus in their preparation and during the series in England showed increased character for such a young team in very difficult conditions against world-class competition."
Courtney Browne went on to say that "the lessons learnt from the tour augurs well for the individual players and the team's continued development as a whole".
Browne, like many immediately before him, must be the eternal optimist if he is really pleased to announce the same squad, which performed poorly while talking about character, young players, lessons learnt, and about continued development when despite the conditions, the majority of the players undoubtedly failed in batting, bowling, and fielding that the commentators, to a man, English and West Indian alike, lambasted them continuously while using all sorts of adjectives to describe their performances.
Apart from Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, and Jason Holder in the Test matches, and Alzarri Joseph in one ODI match, the West Indians were all disappointing.
Browne certainly could not have been talking about players like Kyle Hope, who averaged 6.83 after three Test matches and six innings; or Shane Dorwich, who, despite his early promise, performed poorly behind the wicket and averaged 4.80 with the bat; or Gabriel, who continued to bowl no-balls after no-balls; or Jermaine Blackwood, who continues to bat like a runaway train regardless of the situation; or the bowlers, who could not bowl the ball on the stumps; or the fielders, who could not catch the ball.
NOT REALLY IMPROVING
In the Tests, he could not be talking about a team that lost 19 wickets in a day and one that lost two matches in three days. And in ODI cricket, he could not be talking about the team which, despite their reputation, faced more dot balls and hit fewer fours than any other team and bowled consistently short.
The only justification for selecting the same squad, especially to play against a team as weak as Zimbabwe, must be because West Indies cricket, despite all the talk of improvement, is really not improving.
Apart from the fact that players like spin bowler Sunil Narine, batsman Darren Bravo, and wicketkeeper Chadwick Walton are around, however, and that fast bowler Ronsford Beaton, and wicketkeeper batsman Jahmar Hamilton are also around, two players who appear ready for West Indies cricket, in whatever form, are batsmen Evin Lewis and Sunil Ambris.
And their form in England recently suggests that and supports their inclusion in the team to Zimbabwe.
The selectors seem to have pigeon-holed some players, who they believe are either Test players, ODI players, or T20 players, and while a few may fit comfortably into one category, that is unfortunate, very unfortunate, especially so in a region of a limited number of cricketers.
Why, for example, is Blackwood considered a better Test cricketer than an ODI cricketer? Why is Carlos Brathwaite considered a better T20 cricketer than an ODI cricketer? And why is Narine considered a better T20 or ODI cricketer than a Test cricketer?
Something is wrong with West Indies cricket, and the players have to take the blame. Sometimes, however, at least this time, it appears that the selectors must take the blame. Players who fail must pay the price. They cannot afford to stay in the team. If they do, they cannot, and most times they will not, improve their play.
Times have changed, but this time, it seems it is for the worse. Yesterday, for example, teams were selected with the emphasis on winning, on results. Today, the emphasis, Windies style, in international cricket, is not on trying to win, and it is not on results.
Although that is not the place for it, although the place must be earlier in the process, the emphasis, misguidedly, seems to be on development.