Stuart Williams will get yet another chance to prove that he can be an opener at the Test level when the West Indies take on India in the first Test on March 6. This is one of two peculiar decisions the selectors have made while picking the squad of 13. A total of 386 runs in 12 Tests in 1994 and 1995, with just one score above 50 is all that Williams has to show so far. Is a good showing with the 'A' team in Sri Lanka enough to earn recall at this stage of his career?
Williams' recall is rough on Robert Samuels who finds himself out in the cold after having made 78 and 35 not out in the fifth Test against Australia; he has been dropped at a stage when he just seemed to have got his early problems sorted out. A tour of Australia is not exactly the best place to make one's Test debut as an opener (though Roy Fredericks was one who did so successfully) and Samuels did not find it easy. But he showed grit in the final Test and seems to have been dropped just when he could have, along with Campbell, provided a solution to the biggest problem which the West Indies have faced since losing first Greenidge and then Haynes -- finding an opening pair who can stay together for a reasonable period and give the team some kind of foundation.
The other peculiar decision is the retention of Roland Holder in the squad. The Barbados captain has been more or less a fixture in the side since 1993. But he has yet to play a Test. And he has yet to make a hundred in a first class fixture while on tour with the team. He has played 30 one-day internationals and scored 540 runs at an average of 25.71, hardly statistics to set the Thames on fire. The West Indies preferred to fly in Phil Simmons and make him 12th man for the fourth Test in Adelaide in January this year rather than play Holder. Why is he still there? Are there no batsmen in the Caribbean?
The decision to jettison Browne, Thompson and Griffith is logical. In fact, Murray should have been doing duty behind the stumps without a break. Injuries have sidelined Benjamin, Cuffy and McLean and so Franklyn Rose gets a look in after coming back following an early retirement! The West Indies are desperate to find some good pacemen to provide the backup to Ambrose and Walsh; Bishop will have to slowly start playing the main role as the other two are not expected to remain around too much longer. As far as backup goes, only Benjamin has shown any consistency.
Spin has never been seriously considered by the West Indies since 1976. The man who decided on utilising a four-pace attack is now manager. But with the pace conveyor belt seemingly empty, spinners will have to play some kind of a role in the future. It remains to be seen whether leg-spinner Rawl Lewis will play or whether the traditional four-pacemen attack will continue, with Adams, Chanderpaul and Hooper expected to provide the spin component. Another leg-spinner, Rajinder Dhanraj, played in one of the two Tests against New Zealand in the Caribbean last year but was not included in the squad to Australia where he could well have cemented a place in the side.
There are worries on the batting front too with Adams being in poor form for quite some time apart from one knock of 78 in the third Test against Australia. He had a chance to play a long innings in the tour match against India but did not avail of it. He seems like a shadow of the man who scored so heavily on the tour of India in 1994. The only reassuring fact is that he did do well against New Zealand at home last year despite having a bad World Cup.
The West Indies need a convincing victory to prove that they have regrouped after the trauma of 1996. They were up and down in Australia and did little to convince observers that the problems they had last year have been fully sorted out. Lloyd and Marshall know that victory is the only way that the team can regain its ability to function as a coherent unit. And they will be hoping that this series will, at last, prove some kind of a turning point.