I have to admit to loving England tours to the West Indies.
When I first fell in love with Cricket, the West Indies were the premier team in the world game. Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Greenidge and Haynes—their batsmen could destroy any team any time. Then there were the bowlers, always four quicks, always incredible—Garner, Holding, Marshall, Croft, Roberts—they just kept coming, just kept producing.
When an England team went to the West Indies, you knew a few things would definitely happen. You knew some of your team would fly back injured. You knew that you would get bowled out. You knew that one day, one of the batsmen would smack you out of the park. Test Matches were never slow. One day games lived up to their name. It was electric cricket.
Since the mid-nineties though, West Indies cricket has began to change, even to crumble. The lure of basketball for the young of the Caribbean has meant the production line of quicks has dried up a little. The master-blaster batsmen haven’t always arrived. Money, and even interest in the game, has dried up a little. But maybe a renaissance is on the way and in the forthcoming series with England I have a feeling that a marker moment may be coming for West Indies cricket.
The touring England team are going to have to tackle Chris Gayle in form. Gayle is one of the most destructive batsman in world cricket right now, and a genuine leader. Then you have the rock—Shivnarine Chanderpaul—maybe the most consistent batsmen in the world. He single-handedly took the fight to England two summers ago. What price more Chanderpaul centuries this time? Suddenly the bowlers look menacing too—Edwards, Powell and others could really harm England.
Is West Indies cricket on the way back up? Well I hope the renaissance can be delayed a little as England badly need a winning series. I would suggest three new steps as this tour approaches:
1. Play Owais Shah. I need to be honest here. I think Ian Bell is a class batsman, real class. But class without end product isn’t enough and Bell has been Mr. Inconsistency since his very first call up—magnificent one minute, rabbit the next. It’s time for Shah at No. 3. Shah is a fighter, but also a stroke-maker. He can graft and flourish. England need him and if they pick him, I think he could be the surprise of the Ashes. Pick Shah.
2. Give Harmison the ball. It was written of Peter Moores that he only had one plan when things went wrong—Flintoff. In every crisis, every time a wicket is needed— we give the ball to Freddie. The Caribbean tour is the place for a Harmison relaunch. England need Harmy firing and here is the place to kick start the Harmison fire.
3.Rest Monty Panesar. Again, being honest, I love Monty—great bowler on his day, great character. But Panesar has stagnated and is in danger of going backwards. England have boldly taken Adil Rashid on this tour—it's time to play him. A batsman/bowler rather than the other way round, Rashid can take wickets and is an inspirational player. We have to blood him before the Ashes so he can be an option this summer. Play him.
My team for the First Test would be:
Let us hope England’s renaissance can also begin in these next few months of Caribbean dreaming.
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