By Sean Devers in Barbados in association with Digicel
Experienced middle-order batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan replaces Opener Devon Smith for the fourth Digicel ODI between West Indies and Pakistan today at Kensington Oval with the series already lost 3-nil after two defeats in St Lucia and another on Thursday here.
With Chris Gayle unavailable for the remainder of this series after not being selected for the first two ODIs and Adrian Barath still injured, Kirk Edwards who has failed in the middle order in this series, could open with Lendl Simmons today.
Clyde Butts’ selection panel dropped the team’s senior batsmen (Gayle, Sarwan and Shiv Chanderpaul) for non-performance but retained a Captain who averaged nine with the bat and struggled with the ball in the World Cup.
Sarwan’s recall for the last two matches in a meaningless series is surprising while a source close to the WICB indicated that Chanderpaul could be picked for the final ODI in Guyana. It was indicated that the main reason for the omission of the senior players at the start of this series was due to the process of ‘rebuilding’ a young team for the 2015 World Cup.
The 30-year-old Sarwan returned to International cricket with two fifties in the three ODIs against Sri Lanka this year and an average of 49 after being cleared fit by the WICB but struggled, like most other West Indians, in the World Cup.
It is now strange that a player deemed not good enough to help the West Indies win this series or one who did not fit into the plans for the 2015 World Cup has been recalled with the series already lost and an opportunity available to continue to give experience to those Butts and company feel have a ‘role to play’ in the next World Cup.
Sarwan has four centuries and 35 fifties at the ODI level and averages over 40 in ODI, First-Class and Test. His quality in the middle overs after Simmons and Daren Bravo’s good work was badly missed in the first three games; Marlon Samuels (who is also 30) and Edwards struggled to get the ball away.
Now that Sarwan (one of only five West Indians with an ODI century in Barbados) has been picked, it seems a case of putting the Cart before the Horse.
Many feel that despite any rebuilding process, trying to win games are also important to the momentum of the side leading up to the 2015 World Cup and it is felt that the best players should have been selected first to try and win the series.
If they failed in the first three matches and the series was lost few would have had a problem with them being replaced by new blood. Could Sarwan’s belated inclusion be to appease the Guyanese people and attract fans to Kensington today on a national holiday for a match of only academic interest?
Butts is being lambasted by many, including members of Parliament in his homeland and if Chanderpaul is picked for the Guyana ODI, it will raise further questions about the reasons for his selection.
Today is another chance for Sammy, the only St Lucian to play Test cricket, to justify the strange decision by the WICB to appoint him as Captain until after the India home series in July.
Sammy managed just three in the last match and after dropping Carlton Baugh and asking Simmons to take on wicket-keeper duties to accommodate five seamers, he bowled just two overs in two spells as the host looked like a 10-man team.
Simmons and Bravo are the only batsmen with over 75 runs from the three games and pressure will also be on Samules who declined selection to the World Cup to focus on four-day cricket.
Samules enjoyed a wonderful return to regional First-Class cricket after serving a two-year ban for his involvement in spot fixing but he now seems stuck in an ultra defensive mode and played a major role in the West Indies not being able to get substantial totals in St Lucia or here in Barbados.
While talented Kemar Roach has been the spearhead of the pace attack in the absence of the injured Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor (who is playing in the IPL) he looks a bit tired due to his recent workload and lack of support while Andre Russell, another young, promising pacer, failed to make an impression on the hard Kensington Oval track last Thursday.
Ravi Rampaul bowled well and showed encouraging fitness during his unchanged nine-over spell which produced four top-order wickets while Guyanese leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo was again impressive taking three wickets to follow up his four in St Lucia.
Dwayne Bravo was again inconsistent and in a team in which two players have taken all of the wickets to fall for bowlers in three matches, leg-spinner Anthony Martin, who bowled well on debut in St Lucia, could regain his place today.
The problem could be again who to drop to accommodate Martin as the presence of the non-performing Captain continue to badly disrupt the balance of the team. Despite losing seven wickets on Thursday after winning by eight and seven wickets respectively in St Lucia, Pakistan have not been tested due to the poor performance of especially the home team batsmen.
Pakistan have never won a Test series on six previous tours to the Caribbean since 1958 and with the ODI already in the bag the tourists could make a few changes today to give some exposure to their young players.
The 36-year-old Misbah-Ul-Haq, who will lead the Test side since Shahid Afridi has retired from Test cricket, hit a responsible unbeaten 62 to steer his team home in the last game while Hammad Azam and Umar Akmal offered good support after Rampaul left Pakistan on 49-4.
Today, Ahmed Shehzad who scored his maiden ODI century in St Lucia will hope for more runs while Ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Mohammad Hafeez who all notched up half-centuries in St Lucia could also be threats for the West Indian bowlers.
If Afridi gets going with his pugnacious stroke play and Pakistan bat first for the first time in the series, the home team could be chasing a big total even on an outfield which should be slow from all the recent rain here.
With left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz looking impressive on the faster Bajan pitches and Junaid Khan also bowling with pace, Pakistan could opt to use two fast bowlers to share the new ball instead of off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez since Smith has been dropped.
Afridi and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, whose Doosra continues to spark debates about the legality of his action, could provide the biggest worry for the West Indies batting.
But with Sarwan, who made his Test debut with a classy half-century against Pakistan at this very ground as a 19-year-old, back in the side, the Pakistan spinners might not have things their own way today.
However, heavy and persistent rain over the weekend which caused flooding and impassable roads in several areas in Barbados and resulted in the postponement of many public events could have the final say today at Kensington Oval as Pakistan aim for a series whitewash.
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