Asks Tony Cozier
Two names leapt off the computer screen last week from the e-mail announcing the preliminary West Indies 30 for the forthcoming World Cup.
One was Ryan Hinds, the left-hand batsman and left-arm spinner; the other was Tino Best, the tearaway (in every sense) fast bowler.
Hinds last played a One-Day International in 2004, in the West Indies’ victory in the Champions Trophy at the Oval in London. More than six years later, he is back, coming up to his 30th birthday the week before the West Indies’ first Cup match against South Africa in Delhi.
Best’s last ODI was far more recent, against Pakistan at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in the Champions Trophy last year. But it was dependent on the absence of those leading players serving out time after their earlier strike.
Neither has a strong record to recommend him. Hinds’ highest score in 14 ODIs is 18 not out; he has taken just two wickets. Best’s last two ODIs produced figures of 0-70 off 10 overs against Zimbabwe at Bourda in May 2006 and 0-50 off 6.3 overs in that Champions Trophy match against Pakistan.
So why are they there?
The answer may be partially found in clause 1.4 of the detailed “official selection policy” issued by the WICB last August 27. It states, among many other conditions, that players are “expected to achieve consistently high levels of performance in regional and international cricket” to merit selection.
While a succession of panels have lost faith in them – attitude and discipline appear to be other factors – both have been consistent performers at regional level for Barbados.
In the most recent WICB tournament in October, relevant in this case as it was the 50-overs-an-innings format, Hinds was the leading wicket-taker with 14 at the cost of 9.5 a wicket and an economy rate of 2.93 an over in Barbados’ five matches. He also scored 109 runs at 27.25.
Best had 10 wickets at 10.1 apiece, with 5-24 against Guyana in the qualifying round and 4-28 against the Leewards in the tied final. Every report was that he was as fast as he ever was but with more control.
As experienced and astute an on-the-spot observer as Tony Best felt that he should have been chosen for the subsequent tour of Sri Lanka.
“I remembered Best as a young man,” Becca, who has covered West Indies cricket for more than 30 years, wrote. “He was fast and he was wild. This was not the same Best…Is he a new Best? Maybe he is, and if he is, I would like to see him in the West Indies team again.”
Best’s returns in four matches in Barbados’ just ended Division 1 league were 22 wickets, average 7,27. Hinds’ batting average in his eight matches was 80.53.
On the surface, they seem unlikely to have carried much weight with the panel but it is worth noting that the newest selector is Courtney Browne, still young enough and fit enough to be playing in the same competition.
Apart from the stats, there is some added method to the apparent madness in dusting off the cobwebs from two men long since on their shelf and including them among the 30 main candidates for international cricket’s most prestigious tournament.
All but one of the West Indies’ six first round World Cup matches are in India, the other in Bangladesh. History suggests that, on the pitches likely to be encountered, spin bowling will be essential.
The 30 are already packed with those who deal in the art in various guises – Sulieman Benn, Nikita Miller (left-arm), Ravindra Bishoo, Anthony Martin (leg-spin), Shane Shillingford’s withdrawal leaves off-spin as the only missing link.
Hinds makes the fifth spinner in the squad but he is the only specialist batsman of the lot and one who is assured against spin.
So if spin is the likely go, why the need for Best when there are already seven fast men (Lionel Baker, Jason Holder, Nelon Pascal, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Gavin Tonge) in the 30?
Good question and the answer is far less clear than Hinds’ inclusion. Yet it could just be that, without the still recovering Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor, Best offers Kemar Roach the support of genuine backup of 90+ miles an hour pace with the new ball and that the selectors saw in him what Tony Becca saw during the regional tournament in October.
All of this is not to say that either Hinds or Best will be on the list when the next e-mail lands revealing the final 15 by the January 19 deadline (perhaps form in the first round of the WICB’s Twenty20 will be a factor). It is simply to find reasons why they are there in the first place.
Then again, their names could have been pulled from a hat, a method not entirely foreign to West Indies selectors. Or it might just be a way of giving them a surprise Christmas present for services rendered to regional cricket.
Sarwan for captain?
The issue of leadership in West Indies cricket remains a hot topic. It is likely to persist, given the contuining reluctance of the territorial boards to entrust younger players with the responsibility of captaincy.
With Chris Gayle away vending his talents in the Australian Big Bash, Jamaica have turned to Wavell Hinds, aged 34, to carry their team in the forthcoming WICB Twenty20 tournament, even with Dave Bernard, 29 and skipper of West Indies ‘A’ in the recent series against Pakistan ‘A’, in the squad.
Darren Sammy, 27, who leads the Windwards, is a committed, enthusiastic but limited cricketer who has come to the West Indies captaincy virtually by default, in the glaring absence of anyone better qualified.
The other captains of territorial teams next month won’t be any help to the selectors as they seek possible candidates for the future.
Ramnaresh Sarwan, who skippers Guyana, was chosen for the job when Brian Lara left the scene in 2007 but a succession of injuries and the promotion of Chris Gayle led to him summarily resigning as vice-captain at the start of the New Zealand tour two years ago. He is now 30 and, given his recent run-ins with the board, clearly no longer in the running.
Barbados’ Ryan Hinds, 29, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Daren Ganga 32 during the first round, might well have been in the position by now had they fulfilled their early promise at Test level. Both have now passed their sell-by date while the Leewards’ Wilden Cornwall, 37, was never on display.
Surely there must be some bright young men around who would do a capable job if given the chance. Surely.