Cricket

A question of growth

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Friday, September 21, 2018

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He didn't feature in the high profile Caribbean Premier League just ended, so many people — even some who claim to follow West Indies cricket — wouldn't have heard about the young fast bowler Sherman Lewis.

And yet, Lewis, who turns 23 next month, was among the leading speed merchants in the 2017-18 regional four-day professional league, taking 30 wickets for the Windward Islands franchise at 21.70 each.

Following the regional season he was selected for West Indies A against England Lions in the Caribbean but was forced to withdraw because of injury.

Once recovered, he was part of an extremely timely Cricket West Indies fast bowlers camp in Antigua in May/June and subsequently was easily the top West Indies A bowler in two unofficial Tests against India A in England. Up against the highly talented India A batsmen, Lewis took 10 wickets at 26 each.

In those circumstances it has come as no surprise to me that he has replaced the injured Alzarri Joseph for next month's two-Test tour of India ahead of other impressive young prospects with genuine pace such as Romario Shepherd and Oshane Thomas.

Of course, Lewis may very well end up just watching from the sidelines in India since he is behind Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Keemo Paul and of course the West Indies captain Jason Holder in the pace bowling pecking order.

Also, a great deal will depend on the nature of the pitches prepared by the hosts for the two Tests in Rajkot and Hyderabad. Perhaps the Indians will see the West Indies visit as simply an opportunity to prepare for the tour of Australia at year-end. In that case they could possibly look to prepare surfaces friendly to fast bowlers especially since India boasts a high-class seam attack.

Then again after being thrashed in the recent Test series in England, they may want to play it safe and prepare pitches to suit their champion spinners.

For the latter reason, the West Indies selectors have included the left-arm orthodox Jomel Warrican alongside the established wrist spinner Devendra Bishoo in the 15-man tour party.

The 26-year-old Warrican had a forgettable trip to England with West Indies A, but was absolutely dominant against England Lions in the Caribbean early in the year, capturing 31 wickets in three unofficial Tests at 8.96 each.

His Test record of 11 wickets in four Tests may seem modest. But Warrican is a solid, all-round competitor and will bring value. It's instructive that in seven Test match innings he has a batting average of 65 from an aggregate of 65.

The biggest curiosity for me in terms of the squad for this short two-Test trip to India is the absence of a specialist backup opener for Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell. Instead of a third opener, the selectors went for a reserve wicketkeeper/batsman, Jahmar Hamilton, who turns 28 tomorrow. This, although Shai Hope, used by the West Indies and by Barbados as the first-choice wicketkeeper in 50-over cricket, and Sunil Ambris, who has kept at Under-19 and first-class level, are both in the tour party. Those two could presumably adequately cover for first-choice 'keeper Shane Dowrich.

To be fair to chairman of selectors Courtney Browne and his team, no opener in West Indies cricket is kicking down the door.

Once Devon Smith failed against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it was obvious he wouldn't go to India. At 36 approaching 37, he simply can no longer be contemplated.

Who then to turn to? Cricket West Indies has invested heavily in Jamaican John Campbell who is 25 today. But while his considerable talent is obvious, spin bowling has been Campbell's undoing time and time again. He tends to thrive against the new ball before falling to spin as the ball gets older. It's not by accident that Campbell has 17 first-class half centuries and just three centuries in 53 matches for an average of 30.09.

From a purely technical point of view, have special liking for 21-year-old Keacy Carty of the Leeward Islands — one of that triumphant 2016 Under-19 squad. Carty hasn't always opened but he looks to me a natural opener.

In terms of pure numbers, the 24-year-old Barbadian left-hander Shayne Moseley probably has the edge over everyone else. In his opening first-class season, 2017-18, he scored 643 runs with two centuries for an average of 37.82.

There are a few others including Tagenarine Chanderpaul, son of the great Shiv. My view is that the selectors should have made an assessment of the openers available to them, then pick the one they feel best able to cope.

As it is, the selectors have opted to run with Hamilton as a batting keeper. They obviously have a gut feeling. It turned out well when Hamilton was asked to play as a specialist batsman for West Indies A against England Lions while Dowrich kept wicket in February. The short, stocky right-hander scored a century and topped the West Indies A batting averages with 66.33. That is in contrast to his career first-class batting average of 26.98.

Against Sri Lanka A in the Caribbean late last year when Hamilton kept wicket, he was a complete failure with the bat, averaging 4.40 in three unofficial Tests. And in eight four-day games in the 2017-18 domestic season he averaged 16.92 for the Leeward Islands.

With all that said, the bottom line question in India will be whether Jason Holder and his men can effectively compete. To what extent has this squad grown since they were outclassed 2-0 by Virat Kohli and his men in the Caribbean in 2016?

Many will dismiss the recent drawn Sandals Test series against Sri Lanka (1-1) and 2-0 victory over Bangladesh — both in the Caribbean — as not worthy of mention.

I remember well the Sabina Park Test of the 2016 series, when a clutch of young batsmen, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Dowrich and Holder batted superbly with their backs to the wall on the last day, to frustrate India and ensure an unlikely draw.

Blackwood won't be there in India and that's another story. Hopefully he can fight his way back. But there is no doubt in my mind that this West Indies Test team has grown since 2016. To what extent, we will soon find out.

West Indies squad — Jason Holder (capt), Sunil Ambris, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Jahmar Hamilton (wk), Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Sherman Lewis, Keemo Paul, Kieran Powell, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican.

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