Richards is ready to open

(CMC) Opener Dale Richards is the sole newcomer in the West Indies 14-member squad for the first Test against England in Jamaica next month.


Benn is under pressure from Jaggernauth. Photo: AP

The 32-year-old Richards has been a consistent performer for Barbados in the West Indies first-class championship over the last three seasons.

He made an encouraging start to this year’s competition, when he struck a hundred in the opening match against Trinidad and Tobago, and has hit two half-centuries in two subsequent matches.

Richards is likely to open the batting with captain Chris Gayle, and replaces left-hander Sewnarine Chattergoon, whose form and confidence plummeted on the recent drawn Test tour of New Zealand.

Richards is one of three batsmen capable of opening the batting named in the squad. The others are left-hander Devon Smith, who earned a recall, and Xavier Marshall.

‘The opening partnership has been a problem for us for many years,’ chairman of selectors Clyde Butts said.

‘We have been looking for a partner for Chris Gayle for some time now.

‘Dale Richards has been batting well over the years. He has been consistent. We want to see how he is going to operate at the highest level now. We have named three openers in the squad, and this shows that it has given us some headaches.’

Butts hinted, however, that Smith is likely to challenge Marshall for the No.4 position between Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Smith, who averages 24.30 in 24 Tests, started the new first-class season with a double-hundred against Guyana in his native Grenada.

‘The position at No.4 has been very troubling to us lately,’ Butts said. ‘Brendan Nash had a few good scores in New Zealand and he will probably bat at No.6.

‘But we have considered (Devon batting at No.4), and it is a strong possibility. Devon batted for us at No.6 in last year’s home series against Sri Lanka in Trinidad, and he got 50-odd, so it is a possibility he could bat at No.4.’

Off-spinner Amit Jaggernauth, who made his debut against Australia last year, has also been recalled and will challenged left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn for a slot in the bowling attack.

Jaggernauth could swing the selectors his way if he performs when he plays for the West Indies A-Team against England in a three-day tour match, starting today at Warner Park in St. Kitts.

‘I don’t know if it is right to describe it as a new thrust to give spinners a place in the side,’ said Butts, himself a former West Indies off-spinner.

‘I think we have always wanted a spinner in our team, looking at the sort of combinations we have in the side, and the pitches in the Caribbean.’

The rest of the squad features players that appeared in the Test series in New Zealand, but all-rounder Dwayne Bravo remains on the sidelines after ankle surgery and hopes to return later in the series.

For players like Xavier Marshall this could be his last chance to impress.

West Indies squad to face England in the first Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica, from Feb 4-8: Chris Gayle (capt), Lionel Baker, Sulieman Benn, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Fidel Edwards, Amit Jaggernauth, Xavier Marshall, Brendan Nash, Daren Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Dale Richards, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith, Jerome Taylor