IT has all the makings of a hangover Ash Wednesday morning.
Still heady after the adrenalin rush from the exhilarating mix of cricket and carnival that was the Limacol Caribbean Premier League throughout August, 20 players comprising the West Indies ‘A’ teams come down from their high in the coming weeks in a brief series of four-day and limited-overs internationals against their Indian counterparts in India.
They will find the unfamiliar cricketing locations of Shimoga, Hubli and Mysore in the southern state of Karnataka altogether different from the cacophony of the packed CPL stadiums of the past month. The cricket will be similarly unrecognisable from what was required in the CPL’s abbreviated version.
At least, they end with the second, and final, four-day match at the M Chinaswammy Stadium, the celebrated venue in Bangaluru (formerly Bangalore) well known to their predecessors who marked its Test debut in 1974 with victory.
There was a time when even such a low-key clash between the reserve teams would all but fill its 40,000 capacity. The game has gone through dramatic changes since Gordon Greenidge’s 93 and 107 in what was also his debut Test 39 years ago set up the West Indies’ triumph; the stands this time are likely to echo to the sound of silence.
Now the all-action, over-in-a-jiffy Twenty20, rather than five-day Tests, rule, especially in India through the glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL). And it is Twenty20, specifically the simultaneous Champions League, that commits this ‘A’ series to a sideshow.
Since the 2013 Caribbean Twenty20 champions, the Trinidad and Tobago Red Force are the West Indies representatives among the 12 competing teams, there are no Trinidadians on the ‘A’ squads.
It would have been an ideal opportunity for Darren Bravo to get a feel again for four-day cricket prior to the three Tests in New Zealand in December; he has had only three first-class matches in 2013, two Tests against Zimbabwe, one for Trinidad and Tobago against Guyana in early March. He needs a long innings or two and India, where he amassed two of his four Test hundreds in 2011, was the ideal location to do it.
Lendl Simmons would have relished the chance once more to nudge selectors short of batting options; Adrian Barath, still young and talented, could have been brought back into a West Indies team following the drain on his confidence reflected in a year filled with low scores.
The 17-year-old sensation of the CPL, Nicholas Pooran’s potential might have been given an examination at international level.
It is batsmen of the future that are required at a time when Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s sun is setting, no matter how gloriously, when Chris Gayle, now in his mid-30s, has clearly been affected by too much cricket in too many time zones and Ramnaresh Sarwan’s days as one of our premier batsmen are clearly over.
As it is, there is not much that is not already known about those chosen.
Kirk Edwards and Keiron Powell, respective captains for Tests and limited-overs, Kraigg Brathwaite, Narsingh Deonarine, Asad Fudadin, Nikita Miller, Veerasammy Permaul, Shane Shillingford, Chadwick Walton, Andre Russell, Devon Thomas and Andre Fletcher have all represented the West Indies in Tests or ODIs; Jonathan Carter, Leon Johnson and Nkrumah Bonner are ‘A’ team survivors.
Of the newcomers, Jamar Hamilton is the only batsman—and he is primarily a wicketkeeper. The others are bowlers, the exciting fast men Sheldon Cotterell and Miguel Cummins, the off-spinner Ashley Nurse.
If there is a fear that conditions will neuter Cotterell and Cummins, the truth is that a host of great West Indies fast bowlers first came to prominence in India (Wes Hall in 1958-59, Andy Roberts in 1974-75, Malcolm Marshall in 1978-79 and 1983).
Edwards, retained as captain of the four-day team as he was in the home series against Sri Lanka ‘A’ in June, is clearly at home in that part of the world—and against India. He claimed the No.3 position with Test hundreds against the Indians in Dominica two years ago and more runs in the back-to-back series in Bangladesh and India.
The altogether different environment in England exposed flaws in his technique (he was not the only one); a couple of hundreds in the Caribbean last season, one 190 against Sri Lanka ‘A’, went some way to restoring his reputation.
His retention at the helm is a hint that the selectors are considering him as a future Test captain. Powell, now with a more settled Test place and, at 24, four years Edwards’ junior, seems the likelier option.
Whatever the case, Clyde Butts and colleagues need to stick with their choices rather than the continual chopping and changing of captains since 2010 (Travis Dowlin, Devon Smith, Permaul and Edwards for the ‘A’ team, Dwayne Bravo for the ODIs) and vice-captains (Brendan Nash, Carlton Baugh, Denesh Ramdin for the Tests, Ramdin, Kieron Pollard for ODIs). Their preference for the deputies to Darren Sammy and Bravo for the New Zealand tour should be instructive.
The obvious purpose of ‘A’ level cricket is to further expose, and assess, players against international opponents who are doing the same. It is an extension of the Under-19s, initially seen in the youth World Cup and bi-lateral series.
For the West Indies, ‘A’ teams go back to 1992 when England came to the Caribbean with future stalwarts Mike Atherton, Graham Thorpe, Nasser Hussain, Devon Malcolm, Dominic Cork and Mark Ramprakash. Four years later, the West Indies toured Sri Lanka. It’s been a constant on the itinerary since; only Australia and New Zealand are missing from the list.
Apart from heavy defeats in four-day and one-day contests in South Africa in 1997 and what Wisden described as “a bad tempered, meander around the backwaters of English cricket” in 2002, the West Indies have held their own or better over the years; in their most recent series, all at home, they defeated Pakistan ‘A’ in 2010, India ‘A’, including several Test men, in 2012 and Sri Lanka ‘A’ in the limited-overs matches after two four-day draws last June.
The problem is that, of all those ‘A’ men, only Jimmy Adams, Sarwan and Gayle have gone on to play more than 50 Tests (and become Test captains).
Joel Garner, then manager, had prophetic words about Gayle after the 1998 tour of Bangladesh and India.
“Chris Gayle is a young player with a lot of ability and a lot of confidence (and) I think if he continues in the way he’s going he should be one to look out for in the future,” he said.
Fifteen years, 97 Tests, 254 ODIs, 34 Twenty20 Internationals and heaven knows how many franchise matches on, Gayle has long since fulfilled the prophesy.