AS has become the usual story in cricket, West Indies are entering a major contest with controversy as a distracting backdrop.
West Indies Captain Mr Denesh Ramdin and his men must strive to stay focused as they begin a two-Test home series against mighty Australia on Wednesday, even as rumblings persist over the discarding of 40-year-old Mr Shivnarine Chanderpaul following his alarming loss of batting form.
Also, at another level, the West Indies players must get used to the fact that Mr Chanderpaul, one of the great West Indies batsmen of all time, is no longer there.
For over 20 years, Mr Chanderpaul, a calming, quiet presence holding the West Indies batting together, has been there — albeit too often in a losing cause.
Yet, as chairman of West Indies selectors Mr Clive Lloyd and coach, Mr Phil Simmons, have said in their explanation of the decision to drop Mr Chanderpaul, there are talented young players waiting in the wings.
Indeed, the many sceptics — reinforced in their negativity by the various tormenting off-the-field issues — would have found reason for a softening of their attitudes towards West Indies cricket, having witnessed the performance of young players in recent times.
The contributions of Messrs Jason Holder, Jermaine Blackwood and Kraigg Braithwaite, all in their early 20s and at the start of their careers, were absolutely pivotal in the West Indies’ shock 1-1 tie with England in the recent three-Test series.
And the highly creditable performance by a youthful West Indies President’s XI team against the Australians in a tour game last week would have underlined the assertions by Messrs Lloyd and Simmons regarding talent.
Just as an aside, it’s worth noting that in the current West Indies squad chosen to face Australia only three are above 30 — Messrs Ramdin, Marlon Samuels, and Jerome Taylor.
For cricket watchers, a fascinating aspect will be how the young batsmen cope with an Australian side boasting arguably the most hostile pace attack in world cricket.
How will Mr Blackwood — now famous for his delight in hitting fast bowlers back over head in Test matches — deal with the aggressive speed merchants Messrs Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc?
And, can a bowling attack with the likes of Messrs Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder, Devendra Bishoo, and Veerasammy Permaul dominate an Australian side with some of the world’s leading batsmen.
Realistically, West Indians shouldn’t be expecting too much. After all, Australia are number two in the ICC Test match rankings, while West Indies languish at eighth.
Yet, hope springs eternal. The optimists recall with glee that analysts gave the Caribbean side little or no chance when England came a few weeks ago. The optimists are hoping that West Indies — on the field of play, not off it — will provide more upsets for world cricket.