Orville Higgins | Revisiting the case of Devon Smith
I cannot believe what I am going to be writing about this week, and whose cause I am going to throw my support behind. I have never exactly been a fan of Devon Smith. I have always felt he did not have the cojones for international cricket, and I was among those who used to call for his head when he was opening for the West Indies.
Not that I have become a Devon Smith fan overnight, but what he has done in regional cricket over the past three years makes it impossible to ignore his claims.
So yes, he is 36 years old, and really should be at the age when he is being put out to pasture. He has already played 38 Tests with only one century and a measly average of 24.5. His last Test was in April 2015, which is a long, long time ago, and I can understand those who feel that we need not look his way again. The time has come, though, when we may have to give him another chance.
In the just-concluded four-day regional tournament, Devon Smith was by far and away the best batsman. He scored 1095 runs at an astonishing average of 84.23 with six centuries and a half century. While he was scoring those six centuries, nobody else managed more than three. No other batsman in regional cricket history has scored so many runs and so many centuries in one season. Surely, that must count for a lot. That conversion rate is mind-boggling. To score a hundred six of seven times after passing 50 is not to be taken lightly. To show how much he excelled this season is to look at the next best average for those who had four or more innings. That was Denesh Ramdin with an average of 61.46 and an aggregate of 799. This means Devon Smith was scoring on average over 20 more runs per innings, and almost 300 more runs than the next best man. This is almost Bradmanesque.
You may say I am building a monument on one season. Well, let me go back to previous seasons. In 2015-2016, he averaged a respectable 40.83 then with two centuries. In the 2014-15 season, he was again the leading batsman, scoring 822 runs at an average of 54.80 with two centuries. Over the last three seasons, therefore, he topped the aggregate twice, has scored 10 centuries and is clearly the leading batsman in regional cricket over the last three years. He has out-batted virtually all the batsmen who would have played Test cricket for the West Indies over the same time. That can no longer be ignored.
If West Indies was a team doing even reasonably well, then Devon Smith's claim could be overlooked. The truth is that we are struggling in every department and the opening position is clearly not settled. Kraigg Brathwaite is clearly one of the openers that must be picked for Test cricket in the foreseeable future, but surely the other opening spot is still up for grabs.
Kieron Powell has opened for West Indies in the last four Test series but has clearly not made the position his own. Against Pakistan, he averaged 26.83. Against England, he averaged 23.67. He did feast a little bit on the hapless Zimbabweans, managing a healthy 54.33, but was brought back down to earth against New Zealand, slipping to 20.5 per innings. Averaging in the 20s against decent opposition in your last three series should mean that the selectors may be eyeing someone else. Powell did not help his case one bit by his performance in the regional 4-day either. In his three games for the Leeward Islands franchise, he scored a mere 89 runs with an average of 17.80. Powell would be very lucky if he is still opening the next time West Indies play a Test series. The cricket gods may well frown if Powell plays while Devon Smith is watching on television.
And in any case, Devon doesn't have to open either. With the exception of Kraig Brathwaite, Shai Hope, and Roston Chase, every other batting position is up for grabs. He could easily slot into any of those. Without Marlon Samuels and Daren Bravo, the batting line up could well do with a grizzled, old veteran like Smith. It would be a gamble, but it would be no bigger gamble than throwing in someone new or persisting with those who have got the chance and not done anything special. So maybe the selectors may have to revisit the case of Devon Smith. He has had more lives than a cat, but maybe he has done enough to earn one last chance.