Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Brath justifies selectors’ trust


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THE West Indies selectors would have thought long and hard about their opening pair for the first Test against Australia.
Their options were limited by totals from the regional season that would have embarrassed any self-respecting primary school.
At least Adrian Barath had recovered from his latest injury and had a hundred against Guyana, and a free-scoring knock against the Aussies on his return in the ODIs.
In addition, there was the memory of that debut hundred against the Australians in Brisbane in 2009 to carry to the middle.
But there was a worrying lack of runs from Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell, two incumbents from last year’s tour of India where they had confirmed their readiness to take the step up from youth and ‘A’ team cricket to the highest level.
Now Brathwaite was going through the first lean patch of an emerging career.
For a batsman to whom hundreds were commonplace, he had passed 50 once in seven matches for Barbados and averaged 23.33. Powell, the elegant left-hander, was equally out of sorts (average 20.37 in five matches).
Still, Clyde Butts and his colleagues stuck to their guns. They kept Brathwaite and Powell in the squad and, yesterday morning, retained Brathwaite for his sixth consecutive Test.
The pessimism of those of us who feared that, in the present circumstances, he might falter and have his confidence shaken by the always aggressive Australians was shown to be utterly misplaced.
He handled the challenge with aplomb, capably blunting the new ball with the application that has been his most prominent hallmark since his early days at Combermere School, alma mater of the West Indies first teenaged batsman Derek Sealy, Sir Frank Worrell, Wes Hall and several other, if less renowned, Test cricketers.
A bland pitch that drew the life of the bowlers and uncharacteristically faulty Australian catching were in his favour but he almost – almost – made the most of the former and was unfazed by his couple of escapes.
Like Barath and the assertive Kirk Edwards, he should have tossed and turned last night at the thought of wasting his hard work with a careless stroke. He is surely aware that scores in the 50s and 60s are short of expectations but he had at least fulfilled the selectors’ trust.
Gibson’s way
NECESSARY frankness or damaging insensitivity?
Ottis Gibson regards his comments on Narsingh Deonarine prior to the first Test as the former but there has been a volley of criticism from those who see it the other way.
Asked at the pre-match media conference whether Deonarine’s fitness levels had improved since he lost his place in the team, and a central contract, in 2010 because of what the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) described as “a level of fitness regrettably unacceptable for an international cricketer”, the head coach replied: “Partly but not entirely. I can only be honest.”
He might have responded with some noncommittal euphemism. He might have been wary about crushing the player’s confidence even before the series started.
But that is not Gibson’s way. Ironically, he is very much like Chris Gayle in telling it as he sees it, an approach by both that set off the furious quarrel between the WICB and Gayle that has now, hopefully and thankfully, has been settled.     
It is also the way of several coaches in other professional sports who see no point in beating around the bush.
Even one as cagey as England’s Andy Flower left the all-rounder Sambit Patel in no doubt that he had to shed pounds and get into better shape to make the team.
Patel took the advice and is again in Test cricket in the current series in Sri Lanka. Even then, Flower let him know that it doesn’t mean he can now relax.
“I think he’s still got significant work to do on the fitness front but he’s inching in the right direction,” Flower said in a near identical comment as Gibson’s about Deonarine.
 Correctly explaining that, as a No.6 batsman and off-spinner, he was a like-for-like replacement for Marlon Samuels, Gibson said that Deonarine would have “seen how the fitness of the team itself has improved significantly in the last 12 months” and would “know that eventually if he doesn’t make the necessary adjustments to his fitness that the team will move on, as all great teams do, without him”.
So the point was clear. According to the coach, Deonarine has noted it as he “desperately wants to be here . . . if the message didn’t get through in the first instance, hopefully it will get through the second time around”.
In other words, the Guyanese’s future is in his hands.
The shock of the WICB’s initial criticism just over a year ago seemed to affect him badly. His highest score in the 2010 first-class season was 11, his average under ten and there was nothing to show in the wickets column.
At 27, his brief time in West Indies colours seemed at an end, but he has shown genuine character in coming back strong this year – the leading scorer in the low-scoring first-class season (582 runs, average 44.76, with the bonus of 20 wickets at 16.9 runs apiece).
His quality was evident since he was one of the standouts (as was Samuels) in the 1999 regional Under-19 tournament.
In his limited opportunities, his stats are comparable to Samuels’ (average 30.83 in eight Tests, 31.87 in 20 ODIs).
The coming three weeks will determine whether he is just a temporary substitute for the languid Jamaican or the long-term certainty he would have been but for concerns over his fitness.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.


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