Devon Smith was the dominant batsman of the 2017-2018 Professional Cricket League in the Caribbean. The diminutive opener, justly rewarded with a place in the Test team currently facing Sri Lanka, slammed six 100s and a half-century on his way to 1095 runs at a staggering 84.23 average.
Second on the list, both in terms of aggregate and average, was wicketkeeper-batsman Denesh Ramdin. The Trinidadian, no doubt searching for a way back into the Test team, accumulated 799 runs at a 61.46 average, completing three centuries and four half-centuries along the way.
Ramdin then, on the sheer weight of his performance, placed himself squarely in the sights of the selectors. His bat spoke loudly and clearly and since he was long regarded as the best gloveman in the Caribbean, there was no way they could have ignored claims.
And yet somehow, they did, much to the disappointment the large number of Caribbean cricket followers who thought he deserved a place. He was never called for the pre-series training camp, a sure sign that he would not been chosen, and his omission was confirmed when the squad for the first Test was named.
Justifiably, there were many voices raised in disapproval, and many fans from Trinidad and Tobago felt especially hard done by. Some were upset to the point of calling for a boycott of the game and the series, and there was a small group of “silent protestors” outside the ground on the first morning.
The protestors main grouses were the “ill treatment of TT (Trinidad and Tobago) players and a “lack of transparency” by Cricket West Indies (CWI). The leader of the group, sports and social commentator Andre Baptiste said this: “I think obviously that West Indies selectors are not independent. I feel they are influenced by Cricket West Indies in selection.
One point of view is that Ramdin is still paying the price for his wrangling with the authorities, especially regarding the part he played in the abandoned 2014 series in India. As reported by Colin Benjamin in Cricbuzz, former West Indies keepers Jackie Hendricks, Jeffrey Dujon and Deryck Murray, were flabbergasted when Ramdin was first omitted for 2016 India visit, and a number of fans have been calling for his reinstatement ever since.
Commenting on Ramdin’s omission, Browne informed Cricbuzz that “We decided to stick with the incumbent (Shane Dowrich), who obviously had a decent A team series versus England Lions, and we felt that with building our young Test match squad we should stick with him, hence the reason Ramdin was not invited to the pre-series camp training.”
And so now we come to the current Test in Trinidad and the outstanding performance of Shane Dowrich. The Barbadian defended, stroked and willed his way to an unbeaten 125 that allowed his side to declare at 414 for 8 – after being precariously placed at 147 for 5 – thus setting up an exciting 10-over burst by the West Indies pacers that left the visitors in disarray at 31 for 3. Shannon Gabriel especially, turned on the heat, clanging Angelo Matthews on his helmet and generally posing a physical threat to the batsmen.
But, it was Dowrich who should get the largest share of the plaudits, not only for the size of his innings, but also because he managed to shrug off all the tumult that framed his appearance in this game to register his most significant outing with the bat.
There was a strong argument that he should not have retained his place in view of some sub-standard catching and batting in recent Tests. He did indeed score a Test hundred in Bulawayo last October, but that was against lowly Zimbabwe on an exceedingly flat surface. Since then, he toured New Zealand and did very little to inspire confidence in his ability to become a world-class wicketkeeper-batsman.
And yet you always knew there was some quality there. He showed it with a very competent 70 against a good Australian bowling attack in Roseau in June 2015, and he showed it again in this game.
His innings was painstaking for the most part — one could hardly expect him to be flashy considering the pressure on his shoulders and the pickle his team was in when he began his innings. A solid defence was his main method, though he did unveil a few attractive strokes when the bowlers pitched short and he thought it safe enough cut or pull, or when they bowled on his legs and he took them through the legside.
His innings lasted 325 deliveries, and his century was the fourth slowest in West Indies cricket history. But, he was clear about the job he had to do the moment he strolled out to join fellow Barbadian Roston Chase, and all throughout his sizeable alliances he had with Holder, Davendra Bishoo and Kemar Roach. He had some good fortune too, for he was floored by Mathews early in his innings, a straightforward chance off MDK Perera, and also survived a few close LBW shouts.
But, the batsman remained steadfast, resolved, it appeared, to improving his team’s circumstances. Even when he was bogged down as he approached his century, spending 42 balls in the nineties, one never got the impression he’d do something rash. As the pressure mounted he dealt largely in singles, rather than give in – easy to do on such occasions – to the risky big shot. The stress must have eased after he got to his century, yet he never departed from his circumspection and left it to Roach to employ the fireworks at the other end.
Hopefully, this turns out to be a breakthrough innings for Dowrich. Those who thought he should’ve been dropped must have been impressed, even grudgingly so, by this innings. This knock, made under difficult circumstances and against mostly decent bowling, would not only have placed his side in an enviable position, it would’ve also removed the shadow of Ramdin hanging over his head. At least for a season.
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