The West Indies Cricket Selectors have announced a 13 member Squad for the April 21 1st Test against Pakistan to be played at Jamaica’s Sabina Park. The 13 member squad is as follows: Jason Holder (capt), Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kieran Powell, Vishaul Singh.
Other than the inclusion of newcomers Shimron Hetmyer and Vishaul Singh, there are no real surprises in the squad. Given the dearth of opening batsmen in the Region and the apparent inability to identify a suitable partner for Kraigg Brathwaite at the top of the West Indies batting order, Kieran Powell’s recall after his multi-year, somewhat self imposed exile, was fully expected.
The actual XI chosen to take the field on April 21, donning their maroon caps, will likely be rather more interesting than the actual composition of the squad. It may in fact serve as an early indication of the intended approach of the team’s new Coach, the Australian Stuart Law, as well as the Region’s recently appointed Director of Cricket Operations, former West Indies Captain Jimmy Adams.
If as most of the Region’s cricket aficionados seem to be predicting, Law and Adams opt for a final XI consisting of six batsmen, the wicket-keeper and only four front line bowlers, the indication will be that of a very conservative, defeat avoidance first, approach. If however they chose a more aggressive five batters, five bowlers plus wicket-keeper approach, the indication will definitely be that their intention is to seek to win, rather than avoid defeat.
Personally, given the reality of the necessity of taking twenty opposition wickets being the only means of possible of winning a Test match, my choice would always be to play the extra bowler rather than a batsman. I am and have always been an ardent subscriber to theory that if your top five best batsmen aren’t good enough to make the runs that would be sufficient to allow the team to avoid losing a Test, a sixth isn’t ever likely to make any significant difference.
Based on the above my final chosen West Indies XI for the 1st Test would be, in batting order, Bratwaite, Powell, Hope, Blackwood, Chase, Dowrich as the wicket-keeper batsman, Captain Jason Holder as the bowling all-rounder, followed by the four front line bowlers, Bishoo, the leg-spinner and the three seamers Cummings, Joseph and Gabriel.
Such an XI will provide the West Indies with fairly strong batting through to number 8,as Bishoo has proven in the past that when he puts his mind to it, he can more than hold his own. More importantly it will also give the West Indies its most potent bowling attack. And the very best chance of bowling the Pakistanis out twice cheaply enough to win the Test.
Gabriel and Joseph are both genuinely quick and can be used alternatively in relatively short three to five over bursts in an attempt to blast the Pakistani batsmen out with sheer pace. While these two are giving their all at one end, Holder and Cummins can be used at the other to bowl a very economical line and length as a means of drying up the scoring opportunities and creating pressure on the Pakistani batsmen.
Bishoo’s leg spin and Chase’s off-spin will provide Skipper Holder with spin option relief for the seamers, as will the part-time, often wicket-taking off breaks that Brathwaite can produce.
That would be my final chosen XI, selected with the forethought that Jamaica’s Sabina Park is still one of the Regions’ fastest wickets and with the Pakistani’s somewhat short of valuable Test Match practice, the first Test would be a prime opportunity for the West Indies to sneak a win. My bet though will be that the West Indies “Think Tank” will instead opt for defeat avoidance caution. I therefore wouldn’t be at all surprised if the final XI chosen reads as Brathwaite, Powell, Hope, Blackwood, Singh/Hetmyer, Dowrich, Holder, Bishoo, Joseph and Gabriel. My gut instincts suggest that they will play the extra batter, either Hetmyer or Singh at Cummins expense as the third front-line seamer. If they do, I hope that they can at least avoid defeat.