Odds stacked against brave and talented West Indians in Australia
“As we know, there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
An Australia versus West Indies two-Test series in Australia for the second time in just over 13 months might feel like Groundhog Day, but former United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote feels a little more apt.
The known knowns are Australia. Thirteen months on from the first Test against West Indies in November-December 2022, they have played 17 Tests in three continents, including the four-Test tour of India, a World Test Championship [WTC] final, and a five-Test Ashes tour.
Yet, they have made just one change to their XI from that Perth Test in November 2022 with David Warner retiring and Mitchell Marsh having established himself in the side since returning during the Ashes.
The known unknowns are West Indies.
They have only brought five players who played in the two Tests last summer back to Australia and have added seven uncapped players to their squad having only played six Test matches since against Zimbabwe, South Africa and India, and won just one.
The unknown unknowns are how West Indies will fare. Pakistan arrived in Australia last month having not won a Test match in Australia since 1995.
Yet, with an inexperienced squad, they could very easily have won at least one Test and possibly claimed the series had they executed slightly better in critical moments in both Melbourne and Sydney.
The result was 3-0, but no one predicted Pakistan would be as competitive as they were.
West Indies have an equally poor record. They have not won a Test in Australia since February 1997 and have lost 14 of their last 16 including the two last summer.
The 164-run loss in Perth was actually the closest they have run Australia in a Test in Australia since 2009.
But they have brought some talent, as showcased by their strong display against a Cricket Australia XI, admittedly a weak team, in Adelaide last week.
And one of their known knowns in Alzarri Joseph says they paid close attention to what Pakistan did well but will put their own Caribbean flavour on it.
“We’re here to win two Test matches,” he said.
“We’re not just here to play. We had a look at some of the things [Pakistan] did and we’re going to try to implement some of them but we all have different ways of doing things. For us, it’s about being brave, being positive.”
That was Pakistan’s mantra too. But it did not reap dividends with the bat at least across three Tests. But they were brave with the ball. They took 47 Australian wickets at a cost of just 36.78 in three Tests, led by Aamer Jamal, who had never played Test cricket before but claimed 18 Australian scalps at 20.44.
Only India (twice) and England (once) have managed to average less than 40 with the ball as a team in Australia’s last 11 home Test series.
The onus for West Indies will be on Alzarri and Kemar Roach to lead the attack. They are set to unleash Shamar Joseph, who bowled impressively in the practice match and the Adelaide Oval nets on Monday, but he has just five first-class games to his name.
Roach and Alzarri were part of an attack that took just 19 wickets in two Tests last summer. They took just six in Perth and 13 in the pink-ball Adelaide Test when Roach did not play because of an injury.
Alzarri picked up five wickets in that match, including Australia’s new opener Steven Smith and the returning Cameron Green twice.
Alzarri said he took some lessons away from last year’s trip that he will pass on to West Indies’ young quicks, particularly on a surface in Adelaide that has been prepared in exactly the same manner as last year’s, according to curator Damien Hough.
“I think last time our lengths were a bit short,” Alzarri said. “We just need to be a bit fuller and stay patient. Basically it’s different to the Caribbean. A bit more bounce.”
Aside from the conditions, though, adjusting to the format might be the biggest challenge for a bowler even as talented as Alzarri. Since turning out in Australia last, he has played six red-ball matches and bowled just 150 overs in Test cricket.
In the meantime, he has played 53 white-ball matches, 41 of which have been T20s. By comparison, Australia’s captain Pat Cummins has not played a single T20 in that period and 14 Tests, where he has sent down 400 overs to claim 56 wickets at 24.41.
“I’ve been coming from a lot of white-ball cricket,” Joseph said. “So for me, it’s getting back into red-ball lengths and holding that for a long period.”
But Jamal had played just nine first-class matches in the same period before taking it to Australia. The West Indies talent is there.
That much is known. The unknown is whether they can rise to the level despite the odds being stacked against them. (ESPNcricinfo)