ST JOHN’S, Antigua – West Indies will be without key batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer when they leave in a few days for their historic “bio-secure” tour of England, but two newcomers have been included in a squad that chief selector Roger Harper believes is up to the challenge of holding onto the Wisden Trophy.
Cricket West Indies (CWI) announced in a statement Wednesday that left-handers Bravo and Hetmyer, along with all-rounder Keemo Paul, had opted out of the 14-man team selected for the three-Test series that will be played behind closed doors from next month, amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has already infected close to 280 000 people in the United Kingdom and caused almost 40 000 deaths.
“CWI fully respects their decision to choose to do so. As previously stated, CWI will not hold this decision against these players when considering future selection,” the statement said.
The side is captained by Jason Holder and includes regulars Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shai Hope and Kemar Roach.
Jermaine Blackwood, dropped three years ago, has returned following his heavy scoring in the recent West Indies First-Class Championship.
“His patience and application were evident and that resulted in much greater consistency which I look forward to him taking back into the Test arena. His experience of playing Test cricket in England should stand him in good stead,” Harper said.
The new faces are middle-order batsman Nkrumah Bonner, making his Test squad debut after being one of the leading batsmen in the 2020 West Indies Championship with 523 runs in seven matches at an average of 58.11; and 22-year-old fast bowler Chemar Holder, the leading fast bowler in the West Indies Championship with 36 wickets in eight matches at 18.91 each, and a member of the successful ICC U-19 World Cup winning side in 2016.
“I think we have a squad that will be very competitive. More than half of the squad were involved in the victorious Test series against England in the Caribbean last year so they will bring that experience, that knowledge and belief with them and marry it to the enthusiasm and vitality of the newcomers,” Harper said.
“The experience of the players who toured England before in 2017 will also benefit the squad greatly. I expect that the bowling unit will once again provide a serious challenge for England and our batting will have to deliver. England is a tough team when playing in home conditions; however, I think the West Indies has a good chance of retaining the Wisden Trophy. We will have to bat consistently well to do so.”
Harper also expressed high hopes for the newcomers.
“Chemar Holder is an exciting young fast bowling talent who is coming off an excellent domestic First-Class season. He should enjoy bowling in English conditions. He could prove a real asset to the team in England. Nkrumah Bonner is an unflappable character. His ability to hold the innings together and bat through tight situations could serve the team very well,” he said.
Subject to the final approval of the UK Government, the West Indies will defend the Wisden Trophy, starting July 8. The players, who will all be tested for COVID-19 this week, are scheduled to fly to England on private charters on June 8.
West Indies are scheduled to arrive in Manchester the following day and will be there for a three-week period before moving to Southampton for the first Test at the Ageas Bowl, July 8-12. They will return to Manchester for the second match on July 16-20 and the final encounter at Emirates Old Trafford on July 24-28.
The squad will live, train and play in a “bio-secure” environment during the seven weeks of the tour, as part of the comprehensive medical and operations plans to ensure player and staff safety. The protocols will restrict movement in and out of the venues.
“The new cricketing environment will take some getting used to,” Harper said. “However, being in England and working together for four weeks before the first Test will give the squad the opportunity to get acclimatized and hopefully, mentally and technically adjusted to the demands of the new environment. Playing in July could be a blessing as the weather is likely to be warmer which will allow the squad more of an opportunity to play its best cricket.”
CWI selectors have also chosen 11 reserves to accompany the squad on tour, among them Sunil Ambris and Shannon Gabriel, to train and help prepare the Test squad and ensure replacements are available in case of any injury.
Gabriel is working his way back to full match fitness after an ankle operation last year, and Harper said the four weeks leading up to the first Test would be of tremendous benefit to him and the team.
“A fully fit and firing Shannon adds great potency to the bowling attack, so it is important to have him back at his best,” the CWI chief selector said.
SQUAD – Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Chemar Holder, Jason Holder (captain), Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach
RESERVES – Sunil Ambris, Joshua Da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Keon Harding, Kyle Mayers, Preston McSween, Marquino Mindley, Shane Moseley, Anderson Phillip, Oshane Thomas, Jomel Warrican.