THE SELECTORS have kept faith with them. Now, it's up to the young out-of-form West Indies batsmen to deliver in the first Test of the three-match Digicel cricket series against traditionally strong Australia bowling off at Kensington Oval today.
Despite sharing the spoils in the One Day and Twenty20 series, most of the top-order batsmen are short of runs in the longer format following below par batting displays in the WICB Four-Day Tournament.
The million-dollar question is this: Can they turn around such wretched form against the Australian pace quartet of Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and all-rounder Shane Watson, supported by off-spinner Nathan Lyons (as Ryan Harris is likely to be omitted)?
Once again, the experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who averages 63.55 in 15 Tests at Kensington, with three centuries, and needs only 69 more runs to eclipse Brian Lara (1339) as the highest-run-scorer at "The Mecca", will hold the key to the Windies' batting as they seek a first Test triumph over Australia since the successful record run chase in Antigua in 2003.
Australia, seeking to move back to the top of the ICC rankings, have only three players—former captain Ricky Ponting, his successor Michael Clarke and the experienced Michael Hussey—who have played Test cricket in the Caribbean.
Barbadian teenager Kraigg Brathwaite, who averaged just 23.23 in seven regional first-class matches this year, scoring a solitary half-century, and Trinidad and Tobago's Adrian Barath are expected to be the opening pair ahead of Kieran Powell, whose 20.37 average from eight innings was even worse.
Normally such modest returns would result in exclusion from their national teams instead of elevation to the Test side, but they have been gifted another opportunity with Chris Gayle unavailable for selection.
Narsingh Deonarine, the leading run-scorer in the four-day tournament with 582 runs, has been recalled with Marlon Samuels unavailable because of his IPL contract. His off-spin bowling could be an asset.
West Indian fans will be hoping for an end to the run drought being experienced by gifted left-hander Darren Bravo and that he and vice-captain Kirk Edwards can rediscover their form of 2011 when the former amassed 949 runs in 10 Tests with three centuries and the latter scored 595 runs in six Tests with two centuries.
For Edwards, it will be his first Test before his Barbadian home fans as well as against Australia, and in a pre-match press conference, the stylish right-hander said while it was not his wish to discuss other player's form, he was quite happy with his own.
"I had a few decent practice sessions leading up to this Test (and) a few first-class games since I was injured so I'm feeling good at the moment and I'm looking forward to having a good Test match," he said.
Also admitting he was not one to discuss personal goals, Edwards said he truly believed the West Indies could defeat Australia.
"Obviously at the end of the Test match, I would love to see the West Indies on top of the game with a winning result. That's my major goal . . . . I believe (West Indies can win) in my heart," he said.
Edwards conceded that Australia, who have won 15 and lost just one Test against the West Indies since 2000, have a disciplined bowling line-up and the team had been playing good cricket for years, but West Indies were not daunted by their opponents' reputation.
"You just have to go out there and be mentally tough and stand up to the challenge... It is a great feeling to play and grow in strength together. Most of us are young guys. We are a bit inexperienced, but we all have a positive mindset and good fighting spirit, so at the end of the day, whenever we go out there and we do well, we feel really special," he said.
Even though he wasn't keen on commenting on the Kensington pitch, Edwards reckons the two local fast bowlers Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach, should make an impact.
"I've seen it look different ways over the years. Every day is a different Kensington Oval pitch... Different conditions provide you with different challenges... As long as you have quality bowlers in your team, at decent pace, especially if they are familiar with the turf, it sort of gives them an edge. Of course, I think Fidel and Kemar will have a major role to play," he said.
It will be interesting to see whether the West Indies opt for a four-pronged pace attack of Fidel Edwards, the recuperated Ravi Rampaul, Roach and skipper Darren Sammy or include ICC Emerging Cricketer of 2011, leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, whose 39 wickets in 10 Tests were the most by a West Indian bowler last year.
Meanwhile, key batsman Hussey believes the series won't be a walk in the park for the visitors.
"We have already seen in the limited-overs stuff, the West Indies are extremely competitive, particularly in their own conditions," Hussey said on the eve of the match yesterday.
"…But I think Test match cricket is a new challenge altogether and I think the West Indies will prove a huge challenge to our team," he added noting it was important to get off to a "good positive start".
WEST INDIES – Darren Sammy (captain), Kirk Edwards (vice-captain), Adrian Barath, Carlton Baugh, Devendra Bishoo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Fidel Edwards, Kieran Powell, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach.
AUSTRALIA – Michael Clarke (captain), Shane Watson (vice-captain), Ed Cowan, Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mike Hussey, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Ricky Ponting, Peter Siddle, Matthew Wade, David Warner.