By Tony Cozier
AFTER six weeks and eight matches of varying types, the essential point of the exercise – which team wins overall – has come down to the finale, the fifth ODI at McLean Park here today (overnight east Caribbean).
The weather has contrived to produce such a deadlock, with two complete days lost and several others abbreviated, the West Indies have repeatedly had to come from behind to stay in contention and there have been several unsatisfactory aspects of their cricket.
But if they prevail this one, last time, they would return to the Caribbean from their tour of New Zealand in credit. It is a very long time since that has been the case.
On their tour here nine years ago, they had absolutely nothing to show at the end, beaten in both Tests and all five ODIs.
Three years ago, they lost the Test series 2-0 (with rain reducing the third match to 78.1 overs) and the ODIs 4-1. This time, the ledger reads two drawn Tests, 1-1 in the 20/20s and 1-1 in the ODIs (with two others abandoned).
The battle of the cellar dwellers, as the newspapers here call it, has been a contest between teams near the bottom of the ICC’s rankings.
Compared to the epic, simultaneous series across the Tasman Sea between the real heavyweights, Australia and South Africa, it might have been largely irrelevant in the general scheme of things. To the West Indies, it was a yardstick by which to judge both the team itself and several individuals in it.
Victory today, over opposition three places higher on the ICC’s ODI table, would be an undeniable fillip. Even then, even with a drawn series that kept them above New Zealand at the foot of the Test rankings, there remain more questions than answers over several players.
For a couple, today’s match offers a last chance to redeem, if partially, disappointing tours.
One spell in the aborted ODI in Auckland on Saturday (10-1-29-2 in a sizeable New Zealand total) did it for Lionel Baker. A substantial innings could do the same for Sewnarine Chattergoon and Xavier Marshall.
Chattergoon has had an extended chance to secure the elusive place as Chris Gayle’s opening partner and hasn’t take it.
His method is not suited to the limited-overs game but, at the last time of asking and with Devon Smith’s double-hundred for the Windwards over the weekend fresh in his mind, he can remind the selectors of the reason they picked him in the first place.
Marshall’s failure to assert himself on his first major tour since his reintroduction into the Test team last season has been the most discouraging individual feature of all.
His ability has never been in doubt. It was confirmed by two classy innings, 53 and 85, when surprisingly picked against Australia last July. New Zealand was the base on which to build and secure a settled place. It has been a setback instead, a tour filled with low scores.
Now his confidence has to be restored on his return for the current first-class season. Like Chattergoon, a grand finale today would be a bonus and surely he is worth a place in the middle order ahead of Shaun Findlay, an enthusiastic, but hardly international standard, cricketer.
The tour selectors would have considered the composition of today’s eleven long and hard, more especially the bowling.
Jerome Taylor did not play in the previous ODI, according to the official line, “as a precaution” against aggravating a slight calf strain.
Given the importance of today’s match, he would certainly return. The conundrum would be over who to give way.
Fidel Edwards bowled poorly in helpful conditions in Auckland but, with his pace and swing with the white ball, always poses a threat. And McLean Park, after all, was the venue for his Test-best 7/87 in the first innings of the second Test.
Daren Powell has picked up early wickets and Baker’s line and length control make him the most economical.
In other words, the option should be the four fast bowlers in preference to Nikita Miller’s left-arm spin.
Whatever the combination, the West Indies won’t win if they continue to drop catches, bowl useless bouncers that concede wides and byes and have to depend entirely on runs from the usual suspects, captain Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Victory would be sweet but it would be far sweeter if one of the lesser lights steps forward to claim the Man of the Match award.
For their part, New Zealand brings back the left-hander Jesse Ryder after his one-match disciplinary suspension. He takes his usual place as opener with Brendon McCullum with Martin Guptill, debut century-maker in Auckland, moving down to No.3.
Their eleven has a better looking balance and they are clearly superior in the field where they compare with the Australians and South Africans. They will not be easily beaten – but they can be.