The stand-off between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and many of the key players has now almost come to an end. The players have made themselves available for selection once again, and the Board has agreed that, assuming they make themselves available to play in the regional One-day tournament that starts at the end of October, these players will be considered for selection.
This doesn’t mean that all the issues surrounding the players’ contracts with the WICB have been resolved, but at least the players’ union and the Board have reached agreement about how to resolve those that remain.
This is just in time, as well. The West Indies are scheduled to tour Australia starting in late November, for three Tests and a One-day series, and there were reservations about the likely strength of the West Indian side.
Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, has made it clear that he would want to face the full West Indian side. He said, back in September, "None of us want to be playing against a second-rate or a B-grade West Indian side. We want to be playing against the best sides and the best players all the time. So let's hope it is sorted out. Australian fans over the years have really enjoyed seeing the West Indies team out there, so hopefully they get their best players out here."
Indeed, Cricket Australia had been considering whether the tour would take place at all if the dispute had not concluded, with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh potential replacements.
Despite stand-in captain Floyd Riefer’s and the new coach’s insistence that the team have not been a second string side, the results achieved since the players’ strike have suggested otherwise. Bangladesh’s tour this past summer saw the visitors win the Test Series 2-0 and the One-dayers 3-0, unthinkable with a full-strength side. Following that, the Champions Trophy saw the West Indies lose all three of their games convincingly.
The WICB now find themselves with something of a dilemma regarding selection for the Australian tour though. Darren Bernard, Travis Dowlin and Omar Phillips all took advantage with the bat of the opportunity they were dealt by the absence of the senior players, while Darren Sammy and Kemar Roach both performed well with the ball in the Test series. Roach followed this up with wickets in the One-day series as well.
It would be a surprise if some of these players failed to retain their place in the side. It will also be interesting to see which of those players who went on strike miss out.
After his comments on the captaincy during the West Indies tour of England earlier this year, it is not clear whether Chris Gayle would wish to continue leading the side. Indeed, the new Chief Executive of the WICB has expressed doubts as to whether Gayle is the right man for the job. Interim captain Riefer hasn’t really played well enough to justify his continued place, even without the returning players.
The batting will certainly be bolstered by the returns of Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, the latter of whom is very much eager to get back into the Test side . On the bowling side, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor will almost certainly come back in.
Yet, the comments from Dwayne Bravo about his future contract status with the board will have raised further concerns. Like others, he is eyeing up some form of freelance status to take advantage of the possible contracts available through the global proliferation of 20/20 cricket. Although Bravo is considered to be one of the stars of the West Indian side (when fit), and his Test batting average is reasonable for an all-rounder (32.73), his 70 Test wickets have come at nearly 40, somewhat disappointingly.
This level of bare adequacy is replicated across the West Indian squad, and is one of the reasons why, in the three and a half years prior to the Bangladesh series the team has won just three Test matches (Pl 31 W3 D13 L15). The series in England in May showed the very worst of the West Indies – a side that seemed as though they did not want to be there was bowled out four times with a best of 310, and conceded just short of 1000 runs in two innings themselves.
Perhaps, then, the West Indian team needs something of a shake-up.
Nineteen-year-old Trinidad & Tobago batsman Adrian Barath had a very good 2008/9 domestic season and has been unlucky to miss out on both the tour to England and the chance to make his debut against Bangladesh. So was his teammate Darren Bravo, with whom both Gayle and opposite number MS Dhoni were impressed on his One-day International debut in June.
With the failure of Ryan Austin to impress against Bangladesh, a case could be made for the inclusion of the Windward Islands’ Shane Shillingford or Odean Brown of Jamaica as a spin option, after good domestic seasons, whilst Darren Sammy should retain his place.
Whoever the WICB select are unlikely to pose a significant challenge to an Australian side who recovered some pride after the Ashes defeat by dominating the One-day series against England and then maintaining their pre-eminence in the 50-over format by winning the Champions Trophy.
However, the West Indians will have a lot of pride to play for, after such a tumultuous summer, and in some cases may well be playing for their careers.
It promises to be an interesting choice for the WICB selectors to make.