CRICKET: West Indies: A Most Interesting Start for the 2022 New Year! – By Tony McWatt and Reds Perreira

– By Tony McWatt and Reds Perreira

Cricket West Indies

It has been a most interesting first week start to the 2022 New Year for West Indies cricket. The first days of 2022 have produced some exciting appointments to the West Indies Selections Panel, ongoing fitness concerns surrounding at least one key player, as well as a few very enlightening comments from Head Coach Phil Simmons.

Most West Indies cricket fans would have been excited by Cricket West Indies’ successive announcements of the appointments of Sir Desmond Haynes and Ramnaresh Sarwan, as the Selection Chairman and Member replacements for the recently deposed Roger Harper and Miles Bascombe. The reputations of both Haynes and Sarwan, within both the Region and the wider cricketing world, as very well respected, knowledgeable, high caliber former West Indies players are undeniably solid.         

The announcements of their respective appointments would have created a sense of optimism that some of the bizarre selection choices that were far too often characteristic of the previous Panel, would now not be repeated. With the West Indies about to begin its all-important quest for qualification at two forthcoming World Cups, this year’s T20 as well as the 2023 50 Overs, wisdom-guided selection of the best possible teams will be of immeasurable value.

The Haynes, Sarwan appointments also seem to be indicative of a Cricket West Indies decision to continue with the Panel’s 3 person composition, with Head Coach Phil Simmons as the additional Selector. This despite the suggestion that had been made by several individuals including ourselves, that the process of selecting the very best West Indies teams would be much better served by a reversion to the former, far more successful, utilization of a five-member panel.

It will indeed be very interesting to see what Panel’s decided size will actually be. Regardless of its final membership size, one of the issues the new Selection Panel will have to address almost immediately is that of the continuing issues surrounding the fitness of West Indies cricketers.

Both Haynes and Sarwan would have been alarmed by the reported failure of two West Indies selection contention players, Chanderpaul Hemraj and Shimron Hetmeyer, to pass the Guyana Cricket Board’s (GCB) most recent fitness tests. The tests were administered during the first week of January 2022, as part of the Guyana National team’s preparation for its participation in the forthcoming Regional four-day competition. Kudos to Guyana’s Head Coach Esuan Crandon for having made those results public.

Given his encouraging performances at the recent 2021 ICC T20 World Cup, as well as his unquestionable potential to be one of the very brightest future stars of West Indies cricket, Hetmeyer’s ongoing fitness challenges have long since become a matter of grave concern. Now still only a 25-year-old, Hetmeyer was West Indies’ leading run-scorer in their disappointing 2021 T20 World Cup campaign. He has, however, now been left out of the West Indies ODI and T20 squads to play Ireland and England after failing the GCB fitness Test.

Head Coach Phil Simmons’ reaction to Hetmeyer’s most recent fitness test failure was to describe it as a “heart-wrenching indication of his continuing inclination to be letting himself and his international team-mates down by paying insufficient attention to his physical fitness!” Hetmeyer has now been omitted from several West Indies squads on fitness grounds, having also missed the recent tour of Pakistan due to personal reasons.

Prior to the Hetmeyer exclusion the former West Indies Batting Coach Toby Radford had, however, described the West Indies selection-related fitness testing protocols as being inconsistent. According to Radford, the existing policies are a convenient excuse for either omitting or excluding specific players.

“I do not think there is a consistency with the fitness testing and the way it has been used. It seems to me (that) if they want to pick a player, they give him a wavier! If on the other hand, they do not want to pick a certain player, they give the excuse that the guy is not fit. We have seen, with the T20 World Cup, (that) there were players who were selected that obviously did not pass any fitness test!

Radford has also advocated CWI’s adoption of an above-board, robust selection process with consistent fitness testing.  “Everyone has to be treated the same way and tested in an identical manner on the same day. At the moment, it is being used to select whoever they CWI want to have included in the respective teams,” Radford said.

We certainly agree wholeheartedly with Toby Radford’s comments. To those, we would now add the suggestion that the Sir Desmond Haynes-led Panel should, as its very first order of business, announce the implementation of a new selections related fitness policy.

Our suggested policy would require all CWI contracted players, as well as those others who are in contention for immediate selection to West Indies teams, to be tested by their respective Regional Boards, four times each year with all of the tests being conducted on the same day. Failure by any player to meet the established required, uniform standard would not only result in their exclusion from selection consideration but would also result in the immediate suspension of their contractual benefits. Such penalties would, however, only remain in effect until the affected player had improved their results to the required standard.

With the squads of the immediately forthcoming Ireland and England white-ball series having already been selected, West Indies cricket followers’ attention towards the Sir Desmond Haynes led new Selection Panel should now be as to whether it does indeed issue any sort of definitive statement in terms of what its approach towards fitness will actually be. Attention should, however, also be focused on the actual performances of the selected players during the forthcoming Series, and certainly in terms of their execution of the “still lacking basic skills,” according to Head Coach Phil Simmons.

Now more than halfway through his four-year contract, Head Coach Phil Simmons’ biggest current concern, as expressed during a most recent Media Conference, is the need for the players under his charge to do the small things better! “Running between the wickets is one aspect of the batting that has let us down, and it is an area that the team will be placing a lot of emphasis on going forward. Fielding is another key area in which we want to see improvement!”

More than two years into the job and our Head and Batting Coaches are still seeking improvements in the most fundamental requirements of strike rotation and pressure fielding. Meanwhile, their associate in charge of the bowlers, Roddy Estwick, likewise speaks publicly of the need for those under his guidance to be more disciplined.

Isn’t this now the most glaringly damning evidence of their respective incompetences? If not then surely the Pope cannot be Catholic!

A new year, fresh Selection Panel members but the same old coaching cadre! Should we now expect the results to be any better than those that were produced in 2021?

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