“West Indies cricket selectors, over the years, have probably been the most sharply criticized group of men in the Caribbean. Their decisions have fanned the flames of West Indian insularity and have been condemned by everyone from heads of government to the man in the street,” quoted from the opening paragraph of an article on Michael Holding, one of the Five Cricketers of the Year in the 1976 edition of the now defunct West Indies Cricket Annual, written by Tony Cozier.
Forty odd years ago, before cricket had grown into the industry that it is today, there were two eagerly awaited announcements every year; the team chosen for the opening Test match of the home series and the squad selected for the overseas Test tour, if there was one that year. Now there is cricket year round in three different formats and one can hardly keep track of which team for what tournament has been or will be announced.
However, last week Tuesday, when the West Indies became the tenth and final team to announce their squad for the ICC World Cup West Indian fans throughout the world were paying rapt attention. The six-week tournament commences on the 30th May and the fans of the former two- time winners are full of optimism that their team will perform well.
The recently formulated selection committee under the interim chairmanship of Robert Haynes had been given the mandate to choose the best possible team, an option that has not been available for quite some time now, since some senior players were not being considered for one reason or another.
With the advent of the internet and social media platforms, fans have become ‘experts and armchair selectors’ but are they truly appreciative of how difficult this responsibility is? The committee which is often privy to information generally not available to the public, for instance, players’ fitness levels, had to find a squad of fifteen players who are best suited to perform in the prevailing conditions, which will favour seam bowling, and are capable of playing longer innings, rather than adopting the swashbuckling approach of T20 matches.
With the West Indies currently in a rebuilding phase with the emphasis on the younger players, should the committee have veered off course and opted for the easy way out and selected a squad of veterans? It was not an easy proposition when all things are considered.
“There were a number of tough calls we had to make to settle on our squad of 15, including ensuring there was some continuity in the side, but we believe we have chosen a strong squad of players taking into consideration such factors as experience, fitness, team balance, current form and conditions,” interim chairman Haynes was quoted as saying at the announcement of the team.
Veterans Chris Gayle and Andre Russell have managed to secure places and one can only wait and see if they can maintain their fitness for the entire period of the tournament. The selectors have taken a gamble here but if these two can deliver when it really counts, the West Indies can probably reach the semi-finals of the tournament.
As Haynes noted, they made the ‘tough calls’ of not selecting some veterans, obviously referring to the omissions of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo. These decisions, unpopular as they might be with the fans who longed for their inclusion, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It’s a long tournament and the West Indies can ill afford too many injuries. Currently injured off-spinner Sunil Narine and emerging fast bowler Alzarri Joseph would quite possibly have gained the selectors’ nods had they been fit.
The selectors have done their part, it is now up to the players and the coaches. Anxious West Indians are wondering if this is the occasion when Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer will seize centre stage and steal the show? Or will it be Evin Lewis who returns to the team after being sidelined for a year? The bowling department which seemed incapable of containing England in the recent series will have to be at the top its game if the West Indies are to make a deep run in the tournament.
The West Indies will face Pakistan in their first match on the 31st May at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.