Why no Big Benn in India?

West Indies left-arm spinner Sulieman's continuous omission from the 50-overs format is surprising, writes Tony Cozier

Tony CozierThere are a few unmistakable conclusions to be drawn from the West Indies squad for the ODIs in India.

One is that in the limited time prior to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand February 14 to March 29, the new selection panel, under Clive Lloyd, is focusing on players who have been there, done that.

Another is that spinners do not figure prominently in their World Cup plans, a third that the search for a capable all-rounder continues. Six of the 15 players for the five matches, October 8 to 29 (Dwayne Bravo, Keiron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Andre Russell) were in the previous World Cup there in 2011 when West Indies were comfortably disposed of by Pakistan in the quarter-finals.

West Indies spinner Sulieman Benn
West Indies spinner Sulieman Benn. Pic/Getty Images.

Assuming that Chris Gayle recovers from the operation on his back and none of the others breaks down, the number to go on to South Africa in January for a final build-up to the World Cup would be seven.

Not many teams venture to India short of spinners; the preponderance of turning pitches is as predictable as the traffic chaos of the teeming cities. This West Indies team has one, Sunil Narine; as potent as he has been in the several T20 Indian Premier League (IPL) tournaments, he lacks support from those of a contrasting method, such as the left-armers Sulieman Benn and Nikita Miller.

Clive Lloyd
Clive Lloyd

Benn’s continuing omission from the 50-overs format is as surprising as the return of Russell and Samuels is significant. The 2011 World Cup was the last time the Bajan beanpole appeared in an ODI; until recalled for the recent home series against New Zealand and Bangladesh, his absence from the Test team went back even further, to 2010 in Sri Lanka.

Wheeled away
In the five Tests since his return, he wheeled away stoically for 302 overs for his 14 wickets at an economy rate of 2.5 runs an over. His height from which he gains bounce and, once controlled, his fierce competitive edge enhance his statistics. Doubtless, he will be back for the three Tests that follow the ODIs; in India of all places he is worth a go in the abbreviated format as well.

In their different ways, Russell and Samuels are Lloyd’s two most interesting picks. Lloyd has said that Russell has the potential to be the all-rounder blatantly missing from the Test team. If it is an assessment not supported by his inconsistency, his powerful hitting, his quick bowling and, not least, his athletic fielding, have been game changers in one-day matches for West Indies’ senior and ‘A’ teams as well as for his various Twenty20 franchise sides.

Occasionally, he has combined all three to make a difference. His one and only Test was in Sri Lanka in 2010. Since then he has been confined to 35 ODIs, in which he averages 30.27 with the bat at a strike rate of 119.78 (62 fours, 30 sixes) and 30.29 from 44 wickets at 5.51 runs an over. Yet he has had only one such match over the past 18 months.

The most recent instance of his ability to create mayhem in the opposition ranks was for the High Performance Centre (HPC), another name for the ‘A’ team, against Bangladesh ‘A’ at Kensington Oval in June.
Entering at 149 for five after 33 of the 50 overs, he exploded with 13 sixes and seven fours in 132 not out off 56 balls, setting up victory by 117 runs. In the next match, he repeated the dose with the ball, six for 28 off 8.5 overs in another HPC victory.

Still, a cricket match
The Bangladeshis were hardly the strongest opponents but they were a representative international team and it was still a cricket match. West Indies have searched in vain for someone suitable enough to bat No 6 and take up the slack as a third or fourth seam bowler. Dwayne Bravo was that someone until injuries and a preference for overseas Twenty20 franchises weakened his case.

Now captain, he is again a candidate. For a change, Russell has a chief selector, and eminent former captain at that, willing to give him the chance; it is up to him to seize it. Lloyd has also been instrumental in Samuels’ reinstatement. He hasn’t had an international game since dropped after his double-duck in the first Test against New Zealand in June.

It seemed, at 33 and with a record of underachievement, that his time in West Indies colours was over; Lloyd’s contention was that, whatever his recent problems, he was simply too talented to discard. Like Russell, Samuels has to make of Lloyd’s confidence what he will.

Tony Cozier continues to be the voice of West Indies cricket

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