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Time for WI to fire from two barrels
The West Indies begin their 33rd Test series against England, their 19th away from home, on Wednesday when they take on the 'Mother country' in the 144th Test match between the two countries, the 79th away from home, at Lord's, and after 18 previous appearances at headquarters, after winning four while losing seven, their wish, following their historic first victory there in 1950, is to tick off victory number five and to start their defence of the Wisden Trophy in style and on a winning note.
After losing 3-1, 3-0, 4-0, and 3-0, at home and away, to England in the last four contests, the West Indies surprised the world with a 1-0 victory at home a few weeks ago. Now every West Indian, at home and abroad and despite the difference in conditions, expects them to win the two-match contest - the shortest ever between the two teams.
England, however, do not, apparently, believe they can lose.
Warming up for Ashes contest
Despite the embarrassment of not so much losing the match but more so of falling for 99 in the Twenty20 shoot-out against the West Indies, who raced to 101 without loss in 12.4 overs, despite being ambushed a few weeks ago when, in their own words, they were simply warming up for the coming Ashes contest, they are back at it again.
In an apparent lack of respect for the West Indies, the home of champion batsmen like Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, and Brian Lara, and champion bowlers like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, and Malcolm Marshall, England, obviously having not learned a lesson from the events of the Caribbean, are still talking more about Australia and the Ashes series to come than about the now highly motivated West Indies.
England, however, should remember that despite the home conditions which should suit their bowlers and to which their batsmen are obviously more accustomed, their team, by no stretch of the imagination a great team, is not the same without the talented and flamboyant Andrew Flintoff.
They should also remember that even though Windies captain, the big-hitting left-hander Chris Gayle, has flaws against the swinging delivery, he is dangerous on his day, although the left-handed newcomer Brendan Nash could be found wanting against the swinging delivery, he is a fighter to the bone, and that even though their other batsmen and bowlers have not yet distinguished themselves, Shivnarine Chander-paul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards are class players and, even without Dwayne Bravo, could set the table for what would be another surprise victory.
After the two Test matches comes the three matches in the one-day series, and I have one problem with the squad selected for the one-day internationals.
The decision not to select Bravo in the 17-man squad for the Test series after selecting him for the Twenty20 match and for the one-day series in the West Indies, after running around the field, turning, twisting, diving and going through those matches without any problems at all, was surprising.
It was even more surprising that he is in South Africa participating in what, as far as the possibility of injury is concerned, must be the more dangerous IPL Twenty20.
What was really strange, however, was the selection of the 14-man squad for the one-day internationals.
The World Cup is due in 2011, more and more spin bowling is becoming vital to any team's dream of winning it, the 2011 version will be played in India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, where spin bowling is important, almost every team in the whole wide world is now preparing for the World Cup, they are all looking to spin - to good spin bowling - to help them win the World Cup, those who do not have settled spin bowlers are looking for two and are grooming them, and the West Indies have selected one spin bowler in their squad of players for the England contest.
The West Indies strength
In the squad for the Test matches, the West Indies have selected five fast bowlers and two medium-pace bowlers, eight batsmen, and apart from one wicketkeeper, only one spin bowler.
As unbalanced as that may seem, however, the selection of the one-day squad appears even more so.
In a squad of 14 players the selectors have included four fast bowlers and three all-rounders who all bowl pace, five specialist batsmen, one wicketkeeper, and only one spin bowler.
But for a short period of time when Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine ruled the roost, and even during the glory days of Lance Gibbs, pace has been the West Indies strength, and no one can question that.
West Indies pace, however, is not what it used to be, although pace may, at this point, still serve the West Indies better at the international level, spin has been dominating regional tournaments for some years now, spin has the potential of being good, and with the exception of one or two, it can be as good as any team in the world.
It will only improve, however, it will only become as good as or better than many teams around the world, if it is encouraged - if like those who bowl fast, those who bowl spin are given a chance, an equal chance, to prove themselves and to develop.
A look around the world as the teams prepare for the next World Cup shows the following teams with the following spin bowlers:
South Africa - left-arm leg-spinner Roelof van der Merve, off-spinner Johan Botha, and left-arm leg-spinner Paul Harris; New Zealand - left-arm leg-spinner Daniel Vettori, off-spinner Jeetan Patel; and Pakistan - off-spinner Saed Ajmal, off-spinner Shaoib Malik, and right-arm leg-spinner Shahid Afridi.
Australia - off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, right-arm leg-spinner Bryce McGain, left-arm leg-spinner Simon Katich, right-arm leg-spinner Cameron White; India - off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, right-arm leg-spinner Amrit Mishra, left-arm leg-spinner Pragyan Ojha, right-arm leg-spinner Piyush Chawla; Sri Lanka - off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, right-arm mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis, and left-arm leg-spinner Ragana Herath.
Even England, with left-arm leg-spinner Monty Panesar, offspinner Gareth Batty, off-spinner Graeme Swann, and 21-year-old right-arm leg-spinner Adif Rashid, have four in their plans - two of whom, Panesar and Swann, are in their 12-man squad for Wednesday's first Test match.
Not good enough
Pace, for a long time, has been synonymous with West Indies cricket, but the time has come for the West Indies to try and fire from two barrels instead of one - and especially so as one has not been good enough for a long time.
Maybe the West Indies selectors should have a look, once again, at the figures in the recently concluded regional four-day tournament; and if the performance of spin bowlers again fails to convince them, they could even look at what is happening in the current IPL tournament in South Africa where, in the land of pitches made for seam bowlers, spinners, including the ageing right-arm leg-spinner Anil Kumble, with a fairy-tale spell of five for five in 3.1 overs, Muralitheran, with three for 11 off four, and Vettori, with three for 15 off four overs, have been leading the way