Windies forced to make Best of bad situation

The fast bowler will need more than a sunny personality
  • @stephenbrenkley

When the promising future went home yesterday, West Indies looked to the suspect past. Shannon Gabriel, the 24-year-old Trinidadian fast bowler who looked the part on his debut in the first Test at Lord's, was replaced in the tourists' squad by Tino Best of Barbados, who will be 31 in August and played one of the great comic roles at the ground.

Gabriel suffered back spasms during England's second innings, in which he bowled only five overs and a scan yesterday showed that he will not be fit in time for the second Test, which starts in Nottingham on Friday. The decision to replace with him with Best was unexpected and in some ways shows the dearth of options for the tourists.

Once they could have merely summoned another speed merchant off the Caribbean production line which never closed to perform a perfectly adequate job. But the plant shut down long ago with redundancies all round and they are reduced to casting around for practitioners who might fit the bill. At least Best is one of those past players the present management is happy to accommodate.

Rumours abound about the likelihood of Chris Gayle joining the squad after finishing his assignment in the Indian Premier League. But while anything is possible with West Indies' selection, the management are aware of no plans for him to be seconded. It is an idea propagated by those who want it either to be confirmed or denied.

When Darren Sammy, West Indies' captain, was asked about Gayle in the aftermath of the five-wicket defeat at Lord's, he said they welcomed all players into their dressing room.

It was less than effusive and Ottis Gibson, West Indies' coach, would be much more comfortable with Gayle being part of the limited-overs squad later in the summer.

Gayle might be the coolest man in world cricket but it should not be forgotten that he led the most shambolic tour of recent times, when West Indies visited England for two Tests in 2009. He has made a career of standing up for himself against the West Indies Cricket Board and for a while he was a popular captain. But that does not make his presence in Sammy's team especially desirable.

Best played the most recent of his 14 Test matches in 2009, when he was recalled as part of a team with nine new caps because of a players' strike. West Indies lost two home matches to Bangladesh. Effectively, he had been out of the reckoning since 2005 until he was selected for the one-day squad in March without playing a match.

He has played one Test match in England, on the 2004 tour, and although he took the wicket of Marcus Trescothick, it was his batting late in West Indies' second innings which will be remembered forever. As the panel above shows, he fell for a genuinely funny piece of sledging by Andrew Flintoff, then the fans' darling, which made the art almost respectable.

But Best will need rather more than a sunny, wholehearted personality to resurrect his international career. While he claims to know his own bowling much better than he did, his record of 28 Test wickets at 48.68 runs each is mediocre. He took 17 wickets at 20.64 in the recent home domestic series but by general consent the standard of cricket was desperately poor. It is a mark of West Indies' decline that he has played more Test matches than such fearsome fast bowlers as Wayne Daniel (10 Tests), Sylvester Clarke (11) and only one fewer than Winston Davies (15).

Theoretically, Best is available for the match at Trent Bridge, but the likelihood is that Ravi Rampaul will come into the side. Rampaul withdrew on the morning of the Lord's Test to allow Gabriel to make his debut and four wickets for the latter at muscular pace, which included those of Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, showed that he might have what it takes.

The tourists must also seriously contemplate introducing the off-spinner Shane Shillingford, on a Trent Bridge pitch certain to offer more life and bounce than that at Lord's. Shillingford has had his action questioned in the past but having rectified the fault he took 10 wickets on his most recent Test appearance, last month against Australia.

Freddie, steady... gone

Tino Best is best known in this country for a famous sledging incident at Lord's.

In the first Test in 2004, Best came in with the tourists 200 for 7, chasing an unlikely 478 to win. He chose to attack and swung and missed with a massive heave. "Mind the windows, Tino" called Andrew Flintoff, from slip.

The pavilion was safe: Best, predictably stumped by Geraint Jones off Ashley Giles next ball, returned there with the Lancastrian's laughter ringing in his ears.