World Cup winners Australia travel to the Caribbean to contest the historic Frank Worrell trophy with a youthful and optimistic West Indies. Second on the ICC Test Rankings, Australia have made vast improvements since they faded to mediocrity following the retirements of key personnel. However, the measure of true greatness is not in the performances on home soil but triumphs on the road. They are still a side troubled by low, slow conditions, the likes of which will be common in the Caribbean. The West Indies managed to force a 1-1 series draw with visiting England in their last Test outing and yet again have hinted at the prospect of a better future.
To Win Match
West Indies 8/1
Under new coach Phil Simmons and with a fair sprinkling of youth, the West Indies turned around a match deficit against England to square the series with a five-wicket victory in the third Test in Barbados. Although Simmons has installed what can be considered the next generation of West Indian Test cricketers, he has also opened the door for the return of the West Indies’ IPL contingent. The likes of Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard can all earn their spot in the future Test side but for the Frank Worrell trophy, Simmons will persist with the bulk of the most recent squad. The uncapped duo of Shane Dowrich and Rajindra Chandrika make their first appearance in a West Indian squad, while Shai Hope will retain his spot as opening batsman. The pace attack will comprise of experienced campaigners in Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach, with Shannon Gabriel and captain Jason Holder capping it off. In the spin department, Devendra Bishoo and Veerasammy Permaul have been tasked with making use of the dry, dusty pitches.
The most notable exclusion from the West Indies squad comes in the form of 21-year Test veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Admittedly his powers of concentration and quick reflexes are bound to be somewhat diminished at the age of forty and his average in his past eleven innings – a woeful 16.00 – has forced the hand of West Indian selectors. If the West Indies wish to push Australia to the brink, Chanderpaul is not considered among the strongest side to do so. He is the last survivor of the old guard, of a West Indies side who were still moderately feared and only just beginning their painful descent in the mid-1990s. His exclusion has been deemed disrespectful by those who believe he deserves a proper send-off, a la Sachin Tendulkar. He is only 86 runs short of Brian Lara’s all-time West Indian run-scoring record after all. At the end of the day, you can’t buy let alone unearth the kind of experience Chanderpaul possesses. His time has probably come to call it a day and in true stoic Chanderpaul fashion, he refuses to do so. But a final series for fans to honour and savour could have been precisely the type of motivation needed to turn his form around for one last hurrah.
For Australia, this two-match Test series will serve to shake the excess rust before what is bound to be a heated Ashes series. Although the conditions will be no means mimic what they will face in England, having batsmen scoring runs and bowlers limber can only be viewed as a benefit. Indeed, this squad will be the same as the one that travels to England with the exception of Ryan Harris who is on paternity leave. It is an interesting group that perhaps poses more questions than answers, particularly in terms of the composition of the batting line-up. Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner and Joe Burns have been left out, while James Pattinson is unavailable due to injury.
Shaun Marsh scored a wonderful century in the warm-up match of the tour and considering many of the Australian batsmen struggled, has firmly made a push for inclusion. This may come at the expense of a recently promoted Adam Voges who has averaged over 100.00 in the Sheffield Shield this season. Shane Watson is available and with a middle-order containing the likes of Steve Smith and Michael Clarke, competition to bat at six will likely be between the aforementioned contenders and perhaps Mitchell Marsh. Peter Siddle has earned another call-up but faces stiff competition for a place with the likely pace attack comprising of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood. Hazlewood proved deadly in the warm-up fixture and the West Indies will be wary of a seam attack with no discernible weak point. Nathan Lyon will likely earn the specialist spinner position with Fawad Ahmed waiting in the wings. The latter has produced the goods at Shield level and the leg spinner will be not be taken lightly considering the state of the West Indian pitches. A dual spin option may be an ingenious ploy on the part of the Australians.
Windsor Park in Dominica plays host to the opening Test and being rather green when it comes to international cricket, has only seen three previous Tests at the ground. India played out a rain-induced stalemate in 2011 before Australia earned a hard-fought 75-run victory in 2012. Spin played a massive part in the outcome then, with Shane Shillingford bagging ten in the match and an unlikely five-for for Michael Clarke. The West Indies finally tasted success with an innings victory over Zimbabwe in 2013. There may well be a few showers but we should witness a result here.
VERDICT: Australia 4/10
Despite the improvements shown by the West Indies in their last outing and Australia’s struggles on slow tracks, the men from the Caribbean lack the experience necessary to deal with the inevitable Australian onslaught. They may trouble the tourists in fits and starts but I cannot see them showing any level of consistency. They’ve disappointed fans time and time again after resolute showings. Back the Aussies to make the perfect start to their Ashes preparation.