IN WHAT is believed to be an unprecedented move, West Indies cricket selectors yesterday picked a squad with a heavy bias on fast bowling by naming six pacers in a 13-man squad for the opening Test against England starting next Thursday in Jamaica.
Chairman of selectors Wes Hall said only four would play, but obviously keen to cover against two aging fast bowlers, his panel added tall Vincentian Nixon McLean to the list of five which went on the recent tours of Pakistan and Sharjah.
By doing so, they have chosen just six specialist batsmen and no identifiable stand-by should something go wrong with one of the top six hours before the start of the Sabina Park match.
Hall, the former West Indies fast bowler, defended the selection of the high number of pacers, adding that one of the batsmen on the West Indies ``A'' team which opposes England this weekend, would be on stand-by.
``We have looked at all the eventualities and we think this is the best formula at the moment Š four fast bowlers.
``If we need another batsman weÕll have him in Jamaica,'' Hall told a news conference at the Barbados Hilton which was televised live on Caribbean Broadcasting Union stations across the region.
One of the disadvantages the selectors had over the years according to Hall was that they had no control of what type of pitch they were given.
``We would have picked the team with a back-up in the batting and a back-up in the bowling,'' he said.
``Sometimes that does not give the captain as many options as he needs.
``WeÕre hoping to play four fast men. We wonÕt play six. ThatÕs for sure. Two will come out.''
McLean, a strapping 24-year-old who toured Australia last season before injury set him back for a couple of months, earned a recall principally on his outstanding showing on the West Indies ``A'' team tour of South Africa and his sustained hostility in last weekendÕs PresidentÕs Cup match between Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.
Colin Croft, the former West Indies fast bowler, now newspaper columnist and broadcast commentator, was impressed by McLean, who unsettled no less a person than Brian Lara.
``I saw young Nixon McLean bowl recently and I donÕt think I have ever seen anyone bowl so quick,'' Croft said.
Lara, the new West Indies captain, also touched on the presence of six pacers.
``We are prepared at this time to expose all the fast bowlers that we think will possibly represent the West Indies in this series early on, so the coach can have a look at them in the nets and see what we have for the future,ÕÕ the 28-year-old Trinidadian said.
There is also reinstatement for Jimmy Adams, the dependable left-hander who rediscovered his form on the tour of South Africa in which he was captain.
There was a feeling in some quarters that there would have been wholesale changes following the 3-0 whitewash in Pakistan, but Adams and McLean are the only two brought in.
It means that Stuart Williams, in spite of a modest return of 60 runs (average: 10.00) in Pakistan and a disappointing overall record which shows that he has passed 50 three times in 37 Test innings, holds on to his place as Sherwin CampbellÕs opening partner.
The truth is that none of the other candidates Š Philo Wallace, Leon Garrick, Robert Samuels or Suruj Ragoonath Š advanced claims either on recent tours or the early part of the current PresidentÕs Cup.
Since the tours of Pakistan and Sharjah, a few players have been bothered by injuries including ace fast bowler Curtly Ambrose, fellow pacer Mervyn Dillon, opener Williams and wicket-keeper David Williams.
Hall gave the assurance that all were fit: ``We are adamant that we must have doctorsÕ certificates from all those who have been unfit since Sharjah,'' he said. ``Even the captain has had to come up with a clearance.''
Lara said he expected full support from every member of the squad and was looking forward to playing alongside the former skipper Courtney Walsh and Ambrose.
``Being captain of the West Indies is going to give me an interesting life,'' Lara said.
``I promise the people of the Caribbean that, although I have had my indiscretions, I have thought long and hard about what I intend to do in the future and that those days are behind me.''
Hall also announced the promotion to the vice-captaincy of Carl Hooper, a veteran of 67 Tests since his international career started in 1987. The 31-year-old Guyanese has been labelled as an under-achiever by many, but Hall had a different view.
``Despite his paltry average, I donÕt see Hooper as a failure. He has done well in the last four or so series,'' the chairman of selectors said.
``He is yet a young man ... and we expect the vice-captaincy to boost his confidence and he will take off from this point.''