Hero CPL giving Haynes more selection headaches than solutions

Article by Barbados Today
Writer: Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt

As Chairman of the West Indies Selection Panel, the Rt. Honourable Desmond Haynes and his fellow selectors have of late been faced with the challenge of selecting the absolute best possible 15-member squad to represent the West Indies at next month’s now rapidly approaching ICC T20 World Cup Qualification tournament. The top four teams from which will then proceed to become Super12 participants for this year’s Australia-hosted World Cup. To that degree, Haynes & Co would have been hoping for this year’s Hero Caribbean Premier League, which got underway on August 31, to have provided some tangible solutions by way of outstanding performances from meaningful contenders for the yet-to-be-determined final spots on the West Indies World Cup-bound squad.

Hopefully, Haynes and his fellow selectors would be in full agreement with the expectations of most knowledgeably intelligent, rationality-oriented, followers of West Indies cricket that given the circumstances at least seven players would by now rightfully have guaranteed their respective squad inclusions. Skipper Nicholas Pooran, Vice-Captain Rovman Powell, Brandon King, Shimron Hetmeyer, Jason Holder, Akeal Hosein, and Alzarri Joseph are those who by sheer virtue of their reputations, past performances, and future potential should have already guaranteed their seats on the flight to Australia. If so with seven of the required fifteen having been firmly chosen, as many as eight additional flight spots would now remain available for their respective holders to be identified for selection by “Uncle Dessie” and his selection panel accomplices.

St Kitts’ rain showers have wreaked havoc on the completion of this year’s CPL early round matches with some either having overs reduced or being abandoned altogether. With the first quarter of its scheduled twenty having been completed, however, the performances to date of targeted players have been providing Haynes and the company with far more headaches than actual selection solutions. Three of those who the selectors would have been hoping to automatically add to the aforementioned seven-player core are Evin Lewis, Fabien Allen and Hayden Walsh Jr.

Having represented the West Indies in 50 T20I matches, one of only a handful of still active players to have done so, Evin Lewis has to date scored 1423 runs at an average of 30.93 from 49 innings batted. He has also hit two centuries and ten half-centuries at an overall strike rate of 155.51. Under normal circumstances, such experience and outstanding returns would make Lewis an automatic shoo-in as Brandon King’s chosen partner to open the West Indies batting at the World Cup.

The circumstances now, however, are nowhere close to being normal as Lewis hasn’t represented the West Indies since last year’s T20 World Cup. Failure to attend West Indies fitness tests has been the provided primary reason for his automatic exclusion from selection consideration since then. Furthermore, Lewis’ CPL ’22 performances to date have been distinctly disturbing. He has only played one of St Kitts – Nevis’ Patriots matches to date, scoring just four runs. Haynes & Co will, therefore, be hoping for much-improved returns from Lewis in the Patriots’ remaining matches before the ICC established September 15 squad announcement deadline for all 2022 T20 World Cup participating teams.

Likewise for Fabian Allen, the three-dimensional hard-hitting, left-arm spinning, outstanding fielding all-rounder, who should by all rights be an automatic West Indies World Cup pick. Not unlike Lewis, Allen has had an extended absence from the West Indies team. His most recent appearance was this past February against India.

Allen’s 2022 CPL performances to date have also been overly disappointing. Only six runs were scored from two innings batted and no overs bowled. Allen has, however, already demonstrated his justifiable reputation as arguably the very best fielder in the entire Caribbean region by taking two unbelievable catches during CPL’22 that were simply breathtaking.

As suggested by ESPNCricinfo, the concept of the West Indies, or any side for that matter, travelling to Australia without a wrist spinner would be unfathomable to most knowledgeable cricket enthusiasts. Hence Hayden Walsh’s name would have been foremost among those Haynes & Co are likely to have wanted to include in the World Cup squad without any doubts whatsoever. ESPNCricinfo has also rightfully indicated that during the recent home series against both India and New Zealand Walsh, however, struggled for control far too often letting the opposition batsmen hit with the wind. As deceptive as it can be, skidding off the pitch as it often does, Walsh’s wrong’un could, however, very well prove itself to be a much-valued wicket-taking asset for the West Indies in Australia.

It was just two years ago, during CPL 2019, that Walsh’s outstanding bowling propelled him into the international spotlight. Unfortunately for Walsh, he has not been included in the Barbados Royals’ starting eleven for either of its two matches played so far. It is, therefore, becoming increasingly difficult to understand how he will be able to cement his World Cup squad inclusion against the continued absence of actual CPL’22 playing time.

In addition to the aforementioned trio of Lewis, Allen, and Walsh, there are several others whose names have also been bandied about as West Indies World Cup squad inclusion certainties. Barbados Royals’ Kyle Mayers would now be at the very top of the list as an all-rounder and potential opening batsman. Mayers has certainly significantly advanced his squad selection chances by topping both the Royals batting and bowling averages after its first two matches played.

With 109 runs scored from two innings batted at an impressive 54.50 average and with one half-century included, Mayers is only one of three batsmen with 100 plus aggregates to date. Brandon King (121/2 Avg.60.50) and Andre Fletcher (112/2, Avg 56.00) are the other two.

Fletcher’s returns to date also are among those that would have left Uncle Dessie with a selectorial headache. At 36 and with the unenviable record of having scored only 950 runs at an average of 21.11 from his fifty T20I matches played for the West Indies, Fletcher would not have been considered by most as a contender for squad inclusion as the West Indies backup keeper.

Fletcher’s CPL ’22 performances have, however, been that much better than any of the other wicket-keeper batsmen contenders. Despite this year’s CPL productivity, Fletcher’s advancing age and unimpressive overall T20I stats should be sufficient to allow the much younger Shai Hope to squeeze in ahead of him as the backup keeper to skipper Pooran.

The CPL ’22 performances to date of the anticipated final squad including front-line bowlers will also have caused Haynes et al a fair degree of angst. Alzarri Joseph (6/48-8 ER 6.00) and Akeal Hosein (4/13-4. ER 3.25) have been sufficiently impressive. The same, however, cannot now be said for either Jason Holder (2/42-5 ER 8.20) or Obed McCoy (1/54-5 ER 10.80).

As bowling all-rounders, neither Odean Smith (1/39-4 ER 9.75) nor Romario Shepherd (1/48 -3.2) has as yet done anything with the ball during CPL’22 to concretely justify their respective T20 World Cup squad inclusions. Shepherd’s demonstrated prowess as a hard-hitting lower-order batsman may, however, have strengthened his claims for selection. His 17-ball 36 which included triple sixes and an equal number of fours, struck as it was at an incredible strike rate of 211.76 almost giving the Guyana Amazon Warriors an unlikely win over the Barbados Royals. It was, far more importantly, exactly the type of lower-order firepower the West Indies would welcome having available for Australia.

With just a few CPL ’22 matches still available to be played before the impending September 15 squad announcements there still appear to be quite a few decisions to be made by Haynes and his Panel members. Hopefully, the provided much improved performances from the targeted contenders will be sufficiently forthcoming to reduce the headaches Haynes and his selection cohorts would have been most recently experiencing.

About The Writer: Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets/monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted toward the Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.

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