Resurgent Windies eye Sir Frank Worrell Trophy

Along with the Ashes battle between cricket’s oldest adversaries England and Australia since 1882, contests between Australia and West Indies historically have  been the second most anticipated, publicized and riveting in the game’s history, ever since the “Sir Frank Worrell” Trophy tag was bestowed upon the two rivals during that legendary 1960/61 tour down under.

With both units battling out some close duels in the just-concluded limited overs leg of the current 2012 home season, of five one-day internationals and two Twenty20s that finished 2-2 and 1-1 respectively, the outcome of the upcoming three-test series especially for the home side, will go a long way in quantifying whether a resurgent West Indies is making genuine progress or just perpetuating another false dawn.

But as the first test of Australia’s 11th test tour of the Caribbean (first being in 1955) gets under way tomorrow at the world famous Kensington Oval, commonly referred to as the “Mecca” – a combination of the exodus of a few leading players to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and questionable selection policies of the past by  West Indies selectors – is very likely to significantly erode the competitive edge of the regional side against what is essentially a full strength Australian side.

West Indies batsmen Kieron Pollard and Marlon Samuels, off-spin sensation Sunil Narine and all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell round up the list of players who played in the condensed versions in the earlier part of the tour, but  have dispersed to the fifth edition of the IPL.

All those players except Dwayne Bravo whose test match credentials are not the greatest at the moment, would have most likely been included in the current 13-man squad for the first test.

Compound this with the long standing absence of Christopher Gayle due to his impasse with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB)  and this is seen as an appreciably large number  of talented players who will be away.

So although the WICB selection panel of Guyanese Clyde Butts, Bajan Courtney Browne and Jamaican Robert Haynes can be excused for the team they selected, which includes the retention of out-of-form batsmen Kieron Powell and Kraigg Braithwaite – one unnoticed selection blunder of a few months ago if handled more appropriately would have given West Indies the services of two senior batsmen in light of the departure of the other  players.

These players are Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brendan Nash. Last year on October 22nd, the WICB announced its 2011/12 contract list controversially leaving out those two players.

Nash was axed during the 2011 home season after three bad tests versus Pakistan and India, where he struggled against the spin of Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra. But he was fairly solid in his previous series of 18 tests; averaging 54 in New Zealand 2008/09, 39 vs England in 2009 home series, 24 in England 09, 41 in Australia 09, 28 vs South Africa 09/10 and 53 in Sri Lanka 09/10.

Those numbers from Nash were some of the best by any Windies batsman during the last two years, which had propelled him to being named vice-captain at the end of 2010. So Nash due to the law of averages based on his career record, at least deserved to be contracted even if the selectors felt he was not performing enough to earn a squad place during tours to Bangladesh and India

After his forced break last year due to his axing, which saw him pull out of the Jamaica Super50 squad, he has come back in the 2011/12 first-class season and made runs for Jamaica and his experience would have been very useful in this team with certain players being off to the IPL and injured. But now he is off playing for English County side Kent, a place he probably would not have been if the WICB selectors had not ludicrously not retained his contract.

Although many cricket enthusiasts have voiced the opinion that Sarwan due to his injury woes in the last few years did not warrant a place in the team on form especially with Kirk Edwards’s emergence – did that really  justify not giving one of the few proven batsmen in the Caribbean over the last decade a contract for the second consecutive year?

With the stylish right-hander and veteran of 87 tests playing cricket again – a player of his calibre would fit into the West Indies middle-order perfectly at the moment.
But instead the West Indies  will go into this test series against an Australian pace quartet of Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle who combined to rout the much vaunted India 4-0 in Australia just two months ago, with two in-form batsmen (Chanderpaul and Deonarine) and four talented but out of form young batsmen (Barath, Braithwaite, Powell and Bravo). This is hardly a recipe for success.

Darren Sammy’s performance will also be tested to the maximum. Given his default presence as skipper, one of the three frontline fast-bowlers in Ravi Rampaul, Fidel Edwards or Kemar Roach will not start. This is not ideal since these three are better bowlers than Sammy, so essentially the Windward Islands man will have to maintain his respectable bowling record as West Indies captain since he took over at the helm in November 2010, which reads: 13 tests, 32 wickets at an average of 32.00 – or else the West Indies attack will be seriously exposed.

Bishoo and Deonarine
From a Guyanese perspective two players can use their selection to cement permanent Test places.

After ousting Bishoo, Sunil Narine was heavily tipped to play in the first test, if he didn’t take up his lucrative USD$700,000 IPL contract. But his absence gives the 26-year-old Berbician – who was adjudged the International Cricket Council (ICC) emerging player of the year for 2011 – a chance to reassert himself as the incumbent spinner.

Deonarine also has a chance to take advantage of Marlon Samuels’ vacated number six position.

With just the final between Jamaica and Barbados to be played, Deonarine earned a recall for being leading run scorer in the 2011/12 season, compiling 582 runs at 44.76 with six half centuries and a highest score of 89 in his seven matches. He had also picked up 20 wickets at an average of 16.70.

AUSTRALIA
For the test series, Australia will be clearly boosted by the return of Captain Michael Clarke, batting legend Ricky Ponting, fast-bowlers Harris and Siddle and opener Ed Cowan.

Following Australia’s disastrous 2010/11 Ashes home series defeat to England along with their failure to retain the coveted Cricket World Cup, Clarke has presided over a mini-revival of the once dominant “Baggy green” outfit and this Caribbean tour is another step in this redemption phase.

Therefore barring inexplicable slip-ups, the Australians should triumph in the series at a canter.  The West Indies could find it hard to recover from the collateral damage which has already occurred due to the absence of several key players to be able to mount a sufficient challenge in the 15 scheduled days of Test match cricket, to retain the Sir Frank Worrell trophy which the ‘calypso’ cricketers last held in 1992/93.

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