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South Africa Vs West Indies – Are West Indies Selectors Making Way for a Possible Brian Lara Return?
The just-concluded second cricket match between West Indies and South Africa, which South Africa willingly accepted and leveled the series, is an interesting case study in cricket chess – if such a game exists. West Indies won the first Test in convincing fashion and looked very similar to the victorious West Indies of previous years. What followed is not good cricket but something else.
In the first Test under their new captain Chris Gayle, they attacked from the opening ball and outplayed South Africa in both innings with convincing batting and hostile and accurate bowling. There were minor collapses on both sides. Good game all around.
The first surprise in the second Test was the omission of Darren Sammy, one of the most promising West Indian bowlers. He is young, strong and talented with the bat – very close to being called an all-rounder. They replaced him with Rawl Lewis, a suspected bowler with one of the worst tests. The current international Test spinner in the Caribbean is Omari Banks. He never lost his test seat. Until his single injury, he was doing exceptionally well with bat and ball. If West Indies really needed a spinner, they could have called upon their tried and tested Test match winner, Omari Banks.
Here is what Cricinfo columnist Rob Smyth wrote on the Cricinfo website in February 2006 about Lewis. “Legspinner Rawl Lewis had a lackluster entry into Test cricket. In his three Tests for the West Indies, he bowled 97.3 overs. Of those 585 balls, only one took him for a wicket, that of South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher caught by Brian Lara at Johannesburg in 1998 -99. That single knock cost Lewis 318 runs. He captained the Windward Islands in the Red Stripe Bowl for a while but instead of developing as a player with age his form declined. It looked like he was destined to go down in history as one of the most effective bowlers in Test history until he was given a second chance when he was selected for the tour of New Zealand in 2006. He came into contention on the back of decent performances at domestic level, taking 24 wickets for 17 in the 2005–06 first-class season, 54 and the season before that he took 32 wickets at 26.43.”
On the other hand, Darren Sammy, a 24-year-old St. Lucian, played two tests. In his first Test in England last year, he bowled 17 overs, 7 of which were maidens; he gave up 32 runs and scored one wicket. He had the best bowling average (1.80) of any West Indian bowler. Darren Sammy played in South Africa’s victorious first Test. In the second Test, the wicket favored seam bowling. As a rule, cricket teams do not change winning combinations. In the first Test, Sammy bowled 4 overs in the first innings, two of which were maidens, conceding 6 runs. He made 38 with the bat before being run out. He was LBW for 6 runs in the second innings. In the second innings, his 7 overs cost him 29 runs; however, he claimed one wicket when it mattered. His side won the test.
I have my own views on the politics behind Darren Sammy’s exclusion. One has to wonder though: aside from Antigua, Barbados and all the new smaller venues, attendances for cricket in the Caribbean have declined. The demise of cricket means a reduction in status for everyone associated with the game: selectors, cricketers and officials. Not good in a media-starved environment.
Suddenly the Caribbean and international new media are abuzz with news of former batting star Brian Lara rejoining Trinidad’s regional competition. Everyone knows that in order to be selected for a Caribbean team, one must first play for a regional test side. Furthermore, a person must be a top in the category he wants to choose. Of late, all the top West Indian batsmen have been doing very well, barring opener Darren Gang, who is suspected of being a hooker. In today’s game, one has to be a skilled shortstop to be consistent between runs in the opening position. Even though Nevis showcased two promising youngsters in Kiernon Powell and Tonito Willet during last year’s Stanford20/20 cricket tournament, instead of bleeding them for hosting the World Cup in the Caribbean last year, regional athletes and selectors pretended not to see them.
Since they continued with the suspect Ganga in the initial position, here is the problem. Ganga’s career was advanced with Lara’s blessing when he was captain. Lara does not like to open. Not only is he a nervous starter, but he struggles with the new ball in his nervous moments. Lara doesn’t ball. With the wicket favoring swing bowling, if Sammy had played, not only could he have made a huge difference with the injuries to Fidel Edwards and Chris Gayle, but he might have already been certified as a legitimate all-rounder. The batting and bowling all-rounders in the West Indies team are invaluable and very hard to replace as they can help in both the batting and bowling departments. Lara is an excellent fielder, a superstar and a flamboyant player and it is no secret that his flamboyant play, even if many times at the expense of other players in his team, could help bring big crowds back to the stadiums. Lara scored a hundred in Trinidad and Tobago’s match against Guyana last week – weeks before the Caribbean’s biggest cricket extravaganza – the STANFORD 20/20 TOURNAMENT. Lara is automatically eligible for selection in the Trinidad side. A good show on this international stage and all the media hungry will be clamoring for his reinstatement. I sense something very Machiavellian here. Was Lewis a pawn in a larger chess move? Since Chanderpaul is a consummate team player, don’t be surprised to see Chanderpaul opening in the next series and Lara returning to the West Indies team.
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