Boys against men

What were Clive Lloyd, fellow selectors Courtney Walsh, Eldine Baptiste and coach Phil Simmons thinking when they asked 21-year old, middle-order batsman, Shai Hope, with just 14 first class matches under his belt, to open the batting in his maiden Test against England last month and then again, in the First Test against Australia, earlier this month? Did they think that a baptism of fire courtesy of James Anderson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood, would miraculously see the youngster coming of age on the international stage?

Even more difficult to fathom is why the same gentlemen then decided that their experiment had failed and asked Rajendra Chandrika to replace Mr Hope. For, although an opening bat, a poor first class average of around 25 in 32 first class matches and no centuries to his name could hardly have filled them, let alone poor Mr Chandrika himself, with confidence. It was like sending a lamb to the slaughter. As it is, Mr Chandrika bagged a pair on debut, Kraigg Brathwaite amassed four runs, equalling the record for the lowest total by an opening partnership in a two-innings match.

Against Australia, the West Indies fielded the most inexperienced team seen in these parts for some time. With a number of players having sought more lucrative employ in the Indian Premier League, the team then lined up without the 40-year old veteran of 164 Tests, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, dropped for poor form and to facilitate Mr Lloyd’s youth-first policy; and, in the Second Test, without Marlon Samuels, because of illness. To make matters worse, with the exception of Jerome Taylor, the remaining senior players, skipper Denesh Ramdin and Darren Bravo, might as well have been considered absent too, so insignificant were their contributions.

Sadly, the promise of the series against England was ruthlessly undone by the Australians and, once again, the illusory light at the end of the tunnel in which West Indies cricket has been for too long trapped, was extinguished before you could say “Shivnarine Chanderpaul.”

Yes, Mr Taylor was outstanding, as was Devendra Bishoo in the First Test, until handicapped by his raw spinning finger. Jason Holder continues to show the potential to be a great allrounder and perhaps, sooner rather than later, the next Test captain. And Shane Dowrich demonstrated temperament and grit, which would be a welcome addition to Marlon Samuels’ obvious but frustrating talent. The general impression, however, was of a team rapidly regressing from the uplifting performance against England in May.

Our Sunday sage, the usually optimistic Ian McDonald, has already penned two anguished letters lamenting the governance of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), “the decades-old status quo that has increasingly dragged West Indies cricket into the doldrums” and the “devastating disgrace” of the clean sweep by Australia. In so doing, he posits that, regardless of the arguments against, Mr Chanderpaul “should have been in our team — fit and agile at 40, performing as well as, if not better than, anyone at regional level, a lifetime of experience and great batting far outweighing the statistics of his last few Test innings.”

We know that public opinion is divided in the region on the matter of Mr Chanderpaul’s dropping, although almost everyone agrees that it was badly handled by the WICB. But how in heaven’s name can the Board and the selectors justify throwing callow youths into the fray against the might of the Australians, without someone of the mental strength and commitment of the “Tiger”? If anything, they have probably done more damage to the youngsters’ future development than they could have imagined, as the hapless capitulation in the second innings of the Second Test would suggest.

This youth-first policy cannot work as long as novices are pitched against hardened professionals and boys are sent out to do battle against men; rather than being blooded they end up more mentally bloodied than is good for them. Moreover, as Mr McDonald has written: “When you play very important matches — especially against formidable foes — you pick your best side, not ‘plan for the future.’”

But let’s face facts: without the T20 mercenaries and Mr Chanderpaul, the West Indies cricket cupboard is looking rather bare. And, unfortunately, the brave new world that seemed to beckon, with the installation of the new panel of selectors and the announcement of the new professional league last September, and the subsequent appointment of Mr Simmons, is looking like yet another mirage.

It is good that the WICB and the West Indies Players’ Association have just resolved, through mediation, the matter of the Memorandum of Understanding and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated last September. But until international agreement can be reached on appropriate windows for T20 tournaments, to guarantee the availability of all players in domestic first class, ODI and Test cricket, and until we can produce decent pitches which would allow our players to develop their skills, West Indies cricket will not be competitive at international level and the overall standard of our regional game will be destined to continue its downward spiral.

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