ON THE BOUNDARY Tony Becca
The West Indies team, bidding to recover its former glory in Test cricket and ODI cricket, begin a series against India shortly, and although it will be one of only two Test matches and three ODIs, it will be a series which will throw some light as to where they are at in two versions of the game.
Once the champions of the world in Tests and ODI, the West Indies are currently ranked number five and number eight respectively in the two versions, and, despite winning the World Twenty20 Cup, they are ranked number four in the Twenty20 version of the game.
And although that is better than it was a few years ago when they were ranked just above Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in both Test and ODI rankings, there is still a far way to go, or so it seems, to cross swords with the likes of South Africa, England, Australia, and India.
Cricket is such a game, however, that two or three batsmen, and two or three bowlers backed up by good if not brilliant fielding, can, sometimes, make the difference between winning and losing.
In Christopher Gayle, if he can again find his footing in the Test arena, in Shivnarine Chanderpaul, if he can keep on going, and in Marlon Samuels, the West Indies do have three quality batsmen, plus a really promising one in Darren Bravo.
And if the gods smile on those three or four batsmen, if they hit form, then young Kieron Powell - two centuries in a Test match and three in 15 matches, Kirk Edwards - a century on Test debut, followed by another in nine matches, and followed by prolific performances on the recent 'A' team tour suggesting that he has corrected his faulty offside play, and Chadwick Walton, if not Narsingh Deonarine, can really spring a surprise or two.
Walton is a surprise selection, especially when one considers Carlton Baugh's first-class record as a batsman. While Baugh's first-class record as a batsman is the envy of many of the region's batsmen, however, his Test record of 432 runs at an average of 20.06 after 21 matches, especially at age 31, is very disappointing.
Although Walton came through the back door, through the Combined Colleges and Campuses (CCC), instead of by the Jamaican team, although his Test record reads 13 runs and an average of 3.25 from two matches, his ODI record reads zero runs from two matches, and his first-class record reads 2,122 runs, an average of 25.87 with one century from 54 matches, his wicketkeeping is nearly as good as any - especially against fast bowlers, and his batting can be brilliantly exciting.
Some years ago, he reeled off two innings at Melbourne CC, one for Lucas CC and one for Kingston CC, both before lunch, and both went beyond a century on each occasion.
In 2010, he hit 95 off 70 deliveries during a partnership with Brendan Nash which rescued the West Indies 'A' against Bangladesh 'A' in Savar; last year, he scored a brilliant 119 not out for CCC against Guyana at Warner Park in the regional four-day competition; and this year, at Queen's Park Oval, in a regional T20 competition, Walton slammed 99 for CCC against Guyana, an innings which included four sixes in the last over.
Walton has not been a model of consistency himself, but the kind of batting, as he can provide at number seven has been lacking in the West Indies team for a long time.
His selection may be timely, regardless of how the selectors came up with it, even if it is only for the ODI part of the tour.
His batting can be breathtakingly brilliant, and because of that, I pray for his success.
As promising as the West Indies batting may be, however, probably even with the selection of Deonarine over the brave and confident Lendl Simmons, the bowling promises to be a problem.
I am not sure, at least I do not believe that fast bowler Tino Best, as good as he has been bowling lately, that medium-pacer Darren Sammy, or that new boy Sheldon Cotterell can come up with proper support for pacer Kemar Roach, even if Roach is at his best.
And somehow, I feel sorry for off-spinner Shane Shillingford, for left-arm spinner Versammy Permaul, who can be considered fortunate to get in over Nikita Miller, and also, even more so, for the off-spin of batsman Deonarine against India's batsmen, on India's pitches, and in India's hot climatic conditions.
Left-arm spinner Miller has been a brilliant performer for many years in regional cricket, and although he is not a prodigious spinner of the ball, he deserves to test himself on the big stage.
India is a hard place for fast bowlers, although West Indies fast bowlers, the really good ones, have usually done well against Indian batsmen in India, as they usually do wherever they come across them.
Quality is quality, and although Best is nearly as fast as any of them and faster than one or two, he certainly does not possess the quality of Roy Gilchrist, Wes Hall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, or of Courtney Walsh, and neither does Sammy.
Apart from Roach, newcomer Cotterell is the only one of promise, and although he seems to have been called to service a bit early, we wish him well.
We wish him a successful start, a start similar to those enjoyed by Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine on their first tour to England in 1950, and to Hall, Holding, and Marshall after the selectors threw them into the West Indies team early, to England in 1957, to Australia in 1975-76, and to India in 1978-79.
Cotterell's attributes, his pace, his awkward action, his unerring accuracy of line and length, most times, and the fact that he is left-handed, suggest that he can become someone special.
Times have changed, and I do not know if this West Indies team was selected on a mixture of past performances, present performances, and with an eye on the future, or if it was selected based on all that, but also on the basis of performances in four-day games, one-day games, or 20-over games.
Whatever was the selection process, it is a pity that Jason Holder, the 21-year-old six-foot-seven inches fast bowler who was taken to Australia, was not selected this time.
He seems destined to be one of the great ones, if he is treated properly. May be, however, the selectors are handling him with kid's glove.
May be, at this stage of his career, the selectors are keeping him away from India's batsmen, in their own conditions, and on their own pitches.
Can the West Indies beat India in the Test matches? I don't believe so. Even if their batting clicks, I do not see their bowling doing the trick, and twice in a match at that.
I also do not see a balanced West Indies team taking the field, not, as hard as he plays, with Sammy as the captain.
The West Indies team needs a fourth bowler who is better than Sammy, and if it goes for one, then it will be short of a batsman.