Food for thought for West Indies’ England Test Series squad selections

The first two completed rounds of the 2022 Caribbean Regional Four-Day Championships would have presented the Desmond Haynes led Selection Panel with much food for thought to chew on in terms of their choices for the West Indies 13-member squad to face England in the forthcoming three-Test series.

The series gets underway with the first Test in Antigua from March 8-12. The second and third Tests will subsequently be played in Barbados (March 16-20) and Grenada (March 24 – 29) respectively.

With Head Coach Phil Simmons still currently away in India, it was left to his fellow selectors, Chairman Desmond Haynes and his sidekick Ramnaresh Sarwan, to observe player performances during the Four-Day Championships first two rounds as they pertained to eventual choices for the forthcoming Tests against England. In some instances, they would have been very pleased by what they saw, in others overly disappointed.

In terms of the latter, there would have been at least two sources of major disappointment for Haynes and Sarwan to endure. For starters, the prodigiously talented Shimron Hetmeyer has now not played a Test match for the West Indies since November 2019. Many a West Indies cricket fan would have been hoping for him to have stuck his hand up to be counted among those being considered for the Tests with some outstanding batting performances for Guyana in the first two rounds of the Four-Day Championships.

Far from doing so, Hetmeyer endured a most miserable first two rounds with bingoesque scores on 24, 9, 0 and 5 in his four innings batted. He even suffered the indignity of being given out without scoring for having handled the ball during Guyana’s first innings of its second-round match against the Leewards. It would now seem fairly safe to say that Hetmeyer’s name will not be among those being considered by Haynes et al for any of the three Tests against England.

Shannon Gabriel’s is another “big name” that now might not be considered. Gabriel was listless and wicketless, bowling for Trinidad in its first- round match against Jamaica. He was a non-starter for the Trinis second-round match against the Windward Islands.

The arguments for Gabriel’s continued inclusion as the ultra pace spearhead of the West Indies seam attack would also have been significantly undermined by the Championships performances of three much younger seamers, all capable of also bowling with speeds over 140 km. The Leewards Islands’ Alzarri Joseph, as well as the Trinidadian duo of Jayden Seales and Anderson Phillip, produced outstanding Championship performances that would have raised serious questions over the necessity for Gabriel’s continued presence as a member of the West Indies Test squad.

In his one Championship appearance, Joseph bowled with impressive pace and hostility to return figures of 2/26 and 5/94 in the first and second innings of Guyana’s losing cause. His second-innings figures could well have been even more impressive had all of the catches he created been taken.

By the time the Championships’ first two rounds had been completed, Trinidad’s Phillip had long since announced himself as its standout bowler to date. Phillip’s sustained pace and impressive seam movement, produced combined rewards of 12 wickets for just 151 runs in his two matches played. By far the most wickets captured to date by any bowler.

Phillip was very well supported by the much younger Seales. Having made his West Indies Test debut last year, Seales has strengthened his claims for retaining his place in the West Indies squad with Championship returns of 6/80.

Kemar Roach and Jason Holder are also both expected to be retained for the series. As such, the West Indies seam attack could well be an exciting combination of their experience and the youthful zest of Joseph, Seales and Phillip,much to the delight of Haynes and Co.

As a former opening batsman himself, Haynes would also have been overly pleased with the performances of both the West Indies Test captain Kraigg Brathwaite, as well as those of several others vying for consideration as his partner for the England Series. Having registered identical scores of just 29 in his two first-round match innings against the Leewards, Brathwaite signaled the full restoration of his well-established appetite for huge scores with a mammoth 407-ball 276 during Barbados’ second-round encounter against Jamaica.

Brathwaite’s return to form would have been delightful to Haynes and Sarwan. So too Nkrumah Bonner, Jermaine Blackwood and Josh DaSilva, as key West Indies Test middle-order batsmen, having been among the Championship runs. Blackwood had scores of 44 and 61 among his four innings, Bonner registered a 49 and a 37 in his two innings batted, DaSilva’s three crease appearances produced 37, 5 and 73.

While Brathwaite was busily getting back to being at his very best, Haynes and Sarwan would also have been paying close attention to the likely contenders as his opening partner. In that regard no less than four individuals have now stuck their hands up for consideration.

At the top of the list would be the incumbent Jeremy Solanzo whose Test debut, during the first match of last year’s Series against Sri Lanka, was cut short by him having suffered a concussion injury while fielding. Solanzo scored an impressive 66 in his only Championships innings batted, during Trinidad’s second-round match against the Leewards.

That should prove sufficient to secure his place, but the selectors would also have been equally heartened by the performances of a trio of former West Indies Test openers: John Campbell, Chandrapaul Hemraj and Kieran Powell. Campbell notched a century (127) and also included a 45 in his four innings; Hemraj struck two half-centuries, 60 and 50, in his four outings, while Powell had scores of 74 and 43 in his three innings batted.

All three will likely have further opportunities to state their respective claims for inclusion above those of Solanzo during the West Indies Best vs. Rest Trial match that is scheduled to be held in Antigua from February 23-26. So too will the leading spin bowling contenders Veerasammy Permaul, Jomel Warrican and Rakheem Cornwall.

We fully expect Royston Chase to retain his all-rounder position in the squad, however, and given the proven wicket-taking capabilities of his off-spin bowling, there will most likely only be room for one additional spinner. A sole position for which the left-arm spinners Permaul with his Championship wickets tally of 8/141 and Warrican with his of 8/146 appear to be vying neck and neck. Rakheem Cornwall’s returns to date of 6/222 would by comparison appear to have effectively ruled him out of contention.

At this stage our expected 13 member squad, in first XI batting order, would therefore be: Brathwaite (Captain), Solanzo, Bonner, Chase, Blackwood, Mayers, Holder, DaSilva (wkpr), Joseph, Roach, Seales, Permaul and Phillip. With the February 23-26 Best vs. Rest Trial match still to be played, however, there will be further opportunities for all others in contention to stake their final claims.

Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted towards Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of the former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.

Guyana-born Reds (Perreira) has served as a world-recognized West Indies Cricket Commentator for well over fifty years. Reds made his broadcasting debut during the 1971 West Indies-India Test Series, and has commentated on 152 Test matches since then!

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