The West Indies are seen playing the likes of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and England regularly, but what’s stunningly strange is that they hardly get to play South Africa.
The most impassioned Caribbean fan may perhaps recall the AB de Villiers hammering in the 2014-15 summer in the Protea land where Windies drew a Test and won just 2 T20Is, having lost across formats. And the ’90s kids would perhaps remember the 5-nil whitewash suffered under Brian Lara‘s leadership, rather the lack of it, with the Prince being the lone fighter in the series.
Then in 2016, the AB de Villiers-led side accompanied by the Australians arrived in the Caribbean for a Tri-series. Most would remember Darren Bravo‘s stylish century (102 off 103) and a fine stand with Pollard which knocked out the Proteas, the hosts winning by 100 runs and reaching the finals.
It’s been easily half a decade since the two teams locked horns in a bi-lateral series, with the Proteas emerging triumphant in 2010, asserting their might across all formats under Graeme Smith‘s leadership.
Though, what the West Indies are due to face is a rather different South Africa, one under transition. No more the worries of facing a titanic troika of Amla, AB, and Steyn. Moreover, there being no Faf du Plessis on this tour, should offer the hosts respite. But even then, the West Indies will be battling a side with new and rising faces, of which they know very little.
For that’s the feeling one gets, unless and until you’d imagine Kraigg Brathwaite and team sitting absorbed with minute nuances of every major presence in a squad that comprises a Bavuma, Maharaj, Nortje, Rabada, Elgar, Marco Jensen, Rassie van der Dussen.
So to make sense of the current situation, while West Indies wouldn’t be meeting a mesmerisingly powerful side, it doesn’t mean they’ve got everything sorted their end.
Their situation, frankly, is both exciting and unresolved.
While it’s going to be nothing shy of brilliant to see a Hope and Chase, two of the most resourceful batsmen wear the whites, which is if not one but both are picked, Chase’s inclusion offering the key support in off spin department- there’s this unsettled business right up top.
And that’s exactly where Kraigg Brathwaite finds his biggest challenge- who to contend with- John Campbell or Kieran Powell- the latter having struck a chord with the selectors again.
This is no small problem; it’s the tip of the iceberg. The last prolific West Indian Test opener was Chris Gayle, the ageing lion with 7,200 plus runs against his name.
And unless you are living under a rock, you’d know among the hugest problems of West Indies cricket is their lack of success in finding a formidable opening batsman. It’s a woe, make no mistake, that’s continued for a decade no less.
In the last ten years, where most of the world found not one but two established openers, the West Indies continued to trundle around with limited success.
Australia found David Warner and the choice to pick Wade or Burns. England have Sibley and Burns, who look refreshing and poised to go the long way. Sri Lanka have Karunaratne and Thirimanne. Bangladesh seem much settled with the legendary Tamim batting alongside Soumya Sarkar. Dhawan and Rohit, and on other occasions, Rohit and Rahul and now, Rohit alongside Gill have proven India have the problem of plenty not of dearth of openers.
But how powerful does the West Indian opening cauldron look?
Captain Kraigg Brathwaite himself, easily the most reassuring presence with the bat, is good, though in patches. Is he your most prolific West Indian batsman right now?
It would be a fool’s errand to believe so. Gifted with patience and sturdiness that are hallmarks of a Test specialist, surely he knows a thing or two about how to wane out bowlers. But his returns aren’t necessarily a bag full of runs.
Though, on the brighter side, he recently experienced a high, going past 4,000 Test runs versus the Sri Lankans, a series during which he averaged 59 with the bat, having scored a fantastically patient 126.
But who is his partner, moreover, has there been a stable one?
Frankly, if Gayle’s lower back issues wouldn’t have surfaced, there may never have been a vacuum up top for the West Indies.
So that leaves us guessing, what options have the West Indies contested with?
At times, there was Devon Smith, though a fluent run maker, but someone who despite 76 innings hasn’t even clocked 2,000 runs. Moreover, an average of 23 clearly suggests he’s makeshift material- not a regular scorer.
Then there was Leon Johnson- who faded away soon as he appeared.
In between, there was Travis Dowlin, who vanished after scoring 343 runs.
And then, finally appeared a new character on the block John Campbell, whose finest cricketing moment came in the Irish winter of 2019, where a massive 365-run stand saw the Jamaican score 170 ODI runs. But what’s he exactly doing in Tests?
Make no mistake, John Campbell who’s got the shots in the books and a more than gorgeous square drive and a handy pull hasn’t exactly rewarded the faith the selectors reposed on him.
Vile accusation or an absurd one?
Well, whatever it is, the numbers don’t lie.
|John Campbell vs Eng 2020 tour|
|1st Test 28 off 36 and 8 off 26|
|2nd Test 12 off 34 and 4 off 4|
|3rd Test 32 off 50 and 0 off 3|
|John Campbell vs Bangladesh earlier in 2021|
|1st Test 3 off 15 and 23 off 50|
|2nd Test 36 off 68 and 18 off 48|
|John Campbell vs Sri Lanka recently in the Caribbean|
|1st Test 42 off 148 and 11 off 15|
|2nd Test 5 off 24 and 10 off 25|
Now while on the one hand, it’s bright and refreshing that the resourceful Shai Hope and Roston Chase may well feature in the First Test, what isn’t is the dillema West Indies are yet to solve.
Who to draft in as the opener alongside Kraigg Brathwaite, their most established top order man and the one with character and the challenge of leading a side against another he himself has little understanding of.
Yet, how far can you go to test an opener? How many chances would you give him to hit a big one and prove his credentials?
3 Tests, 4 Tests? The West Indies, unless you are mistaken, have afforded far more kindness to Campbell than any strict team hungry to see results would have. Yet, despite getting 7 Tests to prove himself in the last 12 months, the left-hander struck not even a solitary fifty, let alone a century.
Yes, his 148-ball-stay in the Sri Lanka did prove a point, but Campbell’s case is that of a batsman who throws away starts, failing to convert his opportunities he’s been given in plenty.
That being said, the only good choice and a handy one is that of Kieran Powell. Not only because the left-hander emerged on the scene a decade back, albeit with limited success, he’s still the man to have played more Tests than any reserve opener around.
With the likes of a possible Kimani Mileus still to make the cut, Powell, with 40 Test appearances under his belt cuts a fine figure.
Half a decade back when experiencing troubled form, he took a break and even took to Baseball to improve his hitting abilities.
And his record, though not a glowing one, suggests some promise.
Take a look here.
|Matches||Runs||Highest score||50s, 100s||Batting avg||Runs vs SA|
6 fifties, 3 centuries
|27||Yet to play|
That being said, while Kieran Powell, who supposedly failed a fitness Test along with Hetmyer for the tour to Bangladesh that saw him miss the most, would certainly be keen to make a mark, even if that means he’s not played a single Test yet against the Proteas.
A batsman known for his focus, someone who’s faced the likes of Steyn, Johnson, Faulkner, Watson, Ishant in the past, knows a thing or two about holding fort.
Additionally speaking, a left-hand and right-hand combination also seems promising given at the other hand will be Kraigg Brathwaite.
Kieran Powell struck one of his most dogged tons versus New Zealand, his 134. He was also at his best versus Bangladesh against whom he fired a dominant 117.
Now that the selectors have warmed up to him, perhaps clearly aware that Campbell is battling for survival, the Tests against South Africa should warrant a new chance.
So can a second inning be expected from one of West Indies’ fine talents, albeit one who’s yet to truly excel?
The answer rests only in the lap of the future. But what’s known is that Kieran Powell will have four full innings to prove his mark again.