Experience counts for something in cricket, and so the West Indies selectors’ decision to insert two debutants into an already inexperienced batting unit might not have been a wise one. The two newcomers, Shimron Hetmeyer and Vishaul Singh (97 and 135*respectively), both made runs in the tour match in Trelawny leading up to the Sabina Park test, the 50th to be held at the venue. But they’d have definitely found that Test cricket is contested at a much higher level of intensity than what was likely a relaxed practice game.
The Test match would have demanded more strenuous application of their mental faculties as well as provided a sterner examination of the skill levels. More focus would’ve been required in what would have been a less forgiving atmosphere. One slip in concentration, one lapse in technique, one misjudgment, and the likelihood that you’ll pay a steep price is much more significant than at the lower levels. As West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels said a little less than a year ago while imploring his younger teammates to make the ascent from first-class to the five-day game, “Test cricket is big-man cricket…so we all have to step up to the plate…”
2016 U19 World Cup winning captain, Hetmeyer, is wonderfully gifted and pleasantly attacking. His footwork against spin is normally decisive, nimble and makes for compelling viewing. Thrown in at number three in the batting order he showed glimpses of his ability. Yet he also showed he had much to learn. Surprised by a delivery from Mohammad Amir that came into him, rather than swing away as they had been doing, he had his off-stump dislocated for 11.
In the second innings, he was somewhat unlucky to play a ball from Yasir Shah on to his stumps via his leg when he had reached 20. But he showed uncertainty against Shah spinning it out of the rough that developed outside the left-handers’ off-stump and got himself into a tangle.
Like Hetmeyer, Vishaul Singh is also Guyanese and left-handed. He does, however, have a totally dissimilar approach to his craft. His fellow debutant is flash; he is more restrained, more circumspect, more in the mold of his other, more famous countryman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.He too showed he has some way to go.
Falling over slightly to the off-side in attempting to clip a ball pitched up on his pads, he lifted it to the fielder at square leg.In the second innings, and like Hetmeyer in the first, he was shocked to see a delivery from Amir he thought would swing away, swing in instead. It disturbed his stumps as he shouldered arms. He made nine in each innings and appeared to be even more tentative against Shah spinning the ball out of the rough. That mode of attack will remain a major worry if he stays in the team for the coming matches.
Including the two debutants would probably have been reasonable if the line-up was otherwise staffed with Test-match veterans. It was not. Opener Kraig Brathwaite had played 34 tests; his partner Kieran Powell, returning to the side following his baseball adventure, had 21. Thereafter, no batsman in the top seven had more than wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich’s eight.
To be fair, the selectors did not have a boatload of options. With former mainstays Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels unavailable for various reasons, many felt the selectors would have kept faith with Jermaine Blackwood, who has 22 tests to his name. And though he didn’t have a bumper 2016-17 first-class season, averaging only 32.11 for Jamaica, he did compile a stroke-filled 95 two Test matches prior against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Hetmeyer and Singh averaged 38.45 and 26.41 respectively, in this season’s first-class competition for Guyana.
The selectors might have also looked in the direction of Jason Mohammad. The Trinidad and Tobago right-hander never dominated the first-class season either, averaging 37.66 in four games for his country. But in six One Day Internationals, three versus England and three versus Pakistan, he had a very good run of scores: 72, 50, 10, 91*, 1 and 59.
Instructively, the 30-year-old played like a batsman who belonged in elite company, surprising everyone who followed his game since he made his first-class debut in 2006. Had he been chosen for the Sabina Park Test he would have been a debutant as well. He showed, however, during the aforementioned ODIs, and especially during his sparkling, unbeaten 91 against Pakistan, that he is comfortable at the international level. Many were surprised when he was omitted from the squad.
Inevitably, dropping either newcomer after a single appearance would be seen as unfair to the young men. On the other hand, confronting bowlers of the caliber of Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah with a line of juvenile batsmen was ill-advised. If it is accepted that selecting such an inexperienced batting unit was a mistake in the first place, should adjustments not be made?
To be sure, the West Indies team has other areas of concern. Apart from its generally poor batting in the first Test, their fielding and catching need to improve as well.Additionally, while the fast bowlers did reasonably well, Bishoo did not really distinguish himself. Not that long ago he took 8/49 against Pakistan in Dubai. But his inconsistency remains a concern. Jamaican offspinner Nikita Miller has been unjustly omitted year after year despite topping the first-class bowling lists almost every season. The selectors ought to remember him should a vacancy arise, despite his 34 years.
The next test begins on April 30th. The selectors have urgent decisions to make.