By Akeem Greene
By all accounts, it seems topping the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) Professional Cricket League (PCL) 2015/2016 batting charts and more so, leading the Guyana Jaguars to back-to-back titles in the aforementioned competition, is not enough to warrant a place for Leon Johnson in the West Indies playing eleven for the first Test of four against the touring Indians.
West Indies and India are currently locked in battle at the Sir Vivian Richards Ground, Antigua, attempting to secure a series win over the Asian team since 2002 and are without arguably one of their most talented batsmen on the local circuit against the dietary of spin that is expected to be used by India.
The left-handed Johnson was in sublime form this season, batting his way to 807 runs, the only batsman to past the 800- run mark, at an impressive average of 57.64, scoring two centuries and five fifties from 10 matches and certainly had to be high in the pecking order to regain his Test spot after playing on the tour to South Africa in 2015.
His overall stats in the First-class arena may be less pleasing for the elegant batsman, having played 73 matches, scoring only four centuries and twenty-eight half centuries. Those numbers compared to his latest 4-day season, would suggest that the 28-year old is certainly at his peak and without doubt would have been a massive boost to a fragile Windies middle-order.
The experienced cricketer is certainly not one to shy away from performing on the big stage, scoring a fluent 66 as a make-shift opener against Bangladesh on debut in 2014; he added one half-century to his Test numbers, making him average 39.28, an average which in the current West Indies Test team, only Darren Bravo (41.50) boasts better.
Johnson, who usually bats in the middle-order for his country, was chosen as the captain for the West Indies President’s XI for the warm-up matches against India, where he had scores of 3, 17 and two, opening the batting.
Though he opened the batting on his Test debut, it seems ludicrous that because of three low scores on two tour matches, it would translate to his non-selection, after his last score in the 4-day tournament was 93 against Jamaica in March at Providence batting in the middle order.
Based on the squad’s composition, Johnson fell second choice to Barbadian Roston Chase who was given a debut. Chase is a batsman that came three places behind Johnson on the leading runs tally in the last PCL.
Chase scored 710 runs from 10 matches, stroking a lone century and six half-centuries but has only played twenty-nine First-Class matches to date compared to Johnson’s 73 matches. Chase’s ability to bowl off-spin could have inclined the selectors to give him the nod, picking up 23 wickets last season but in the past, the team has chosen the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite (who has a best of 6/28 in Tests) and Jermaine Blackwood to offer spinning support with the ball; albeit Johnson has the capability of offering some degree of support with the ball.
The batsman’s omissions leaves questions to be asked of the meritocracy regarding WICB’s selection policy and the vision of newly installed chairman of the West Indies selectors, Courtney Browne, a former Barbados captain and West Indies wicket-keeper/batsman.
Despite the current Test series is still young, the selectors would have committed the preverbal “one step forward and ten steps backward”, in seeking to take West Indies cricket to greater heights. ([email protected])