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A Case For Brandon King In Tests
When will Brandon King get his chance?
Except for three changes, two of which were due to injuries to Jayden Seales and Anderson Phillips, the recently announced Test squad to tour Zimbabwe had the same familiar names. There are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, the selectors have been rather conventional in their selections in recent years; and secondly, they have not exactly been spoilt for choices.
We often hear in the West Indies that there is no shortage of cricket talent in the region. That’s not true. There has been a distinct shortage and we see its manifestation in the West Indies’ often poor performances in the international arena. The recent series in Australia emphasizes that there is a lot of work to be done before Caribbean side becomes a formidable force in Test cricket once again. And their failure to get out of the first round of the T20 World Cup, held late last year in Australia, indicates that the two-time title holders have seriously regressed in that format as well.
There was a period, beginning in the mid-seventies and continuing throughout the eighties, where the region churned out exciting batters and high-quality pace bowlers like cars on an assembly line. Those days are long gone. Our last great Test batter was probably Shivnarine Chanderpaul (some would probably say Chris Gayle) who made his debut in 1994. And while Kemar Roach and Jason Holder are world-class fast bowlers on their day, injury and indifferent form has meant they have not been at their best for long periods.
Despite their inadequate showing in Australia, the West Indies’ bowling attack, especially at home with the prouder seam and harder exterior of the Dukes ball, can be a challenging proposition. They need to get better abroad, but their attack has a few young, talented fast bowlers who should get better with time.
The batting, on the other hand, seems to have more limited resources available. Captain Kraigg Brathwaite has been in prime batting form of late but the rest of the batting has been inconsistent.
This scarcity of regular run-scoring Test batters has long plagued the region. For a while now it has largely been the same names thrown together whenever there’s a series: John Campbell, now on suspension for a drug testing violation, Brathwaite, Nkrumah Bonner, Kyle Mayers, Shamar Brooks, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, and Jason Holder. It’s still early days but the recently included Tagenarine Chanderpaul to replace Campbell seems a good addition.
There have been some good individual performances every now and then, but, as a group, the batting has underperformed. And with nobody beating down the selectors’ door there have not been many options from which to choose.
Though bare, however, the cupboard is not totally empty. There are a few of players who seem to have the capacity to develop into pretty decent Test-match batters.
The one I’m thinking of, specifically, is Brandon King.
A few years ago, the Jamaican middle order batter seemed headed on a path to the Test team. Four games in the 2016-17 regional red-ball season saw him average 51.57. He fell off a bit the following season but returned to good form in the 2018-19 season averaging 48.46 in seven games. At that point he must have been in the reckoning for the Test side. But then he went to the Guyana Amazon Warriors for the 2019 Caribbean Premier League, opened the innings and had a dream season, winning the award for the most valuable player of the competition.
That success propelled him into the West Indies white-ball teams and he has been in or around them ever since. But that success also derailed his Test-cricket prospects. International limited overs cricket has limited his participation in regional first-class cricket. In three or so years King has played only two regional four-day games, the last of which was against the Windward Islands in Torouba in march 2022. His unbeaten 119 in that game was instrumental in Jamaica winning by an innings and 14 runs.
The norm is that regional four-day participation is often essential for Test selection. What happens, however, if a player’s involvement in regional red-ball cricket is limited through no fault of their own? It really hasn’t been King’s fault that he’s played so little red-ball cricket in the past few years as he was frequently on West Indies white-ball duty during the first-class season. As a consequence, he’d have a hard time convincing the selectors about his red-ball form if he had the ambition to play Test cricket.
This is a difficult issue. How do the selectors pick a player for five-day cricket when they’ve only been playing limited overs games? Still, King has played enough first-class cricket, and has done well enough in that format for his claims for a Test spot to be seriously considered. Additionally, anyone who has seen him bat knows that he is a technically sound player that oozes class. Admittedly, we have seen many a good-looking stroke-player flounder upon being elevated to the highest level.
We won’t know how King will fare, of course, until he’s allowed the opportunity. But my view is that the selectors erred in not selecting the elegant right-hander to tour Zimbabwe. The West Indies do not have the luxury of ignoring a player as good as King, or like Nicolas Pooran for that matter, providing they want to play Tests.
Brandon King appears to be a batsman of some quality. He should be picked in the next Test squad.
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