Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Scout Report: John Campbell

The former West Indies U-19 opening batsman John Campbell is generally rated for his left-handed strokeplay. Indeed, he’s had a breakthrough season with the bat in the Regional 4-Day Competition for Jamaica this year, a maiden First-class fifty in his first match of the season, and a hundred in the next the highlights.

I’m not that interested in that though. His ESPNCricinfo profile talks of him as being “an aggressive left-handed batsman who likens his style of play to Chris Gayle.” That is presumably about his batting, because despite the fact that he is an off-spinner like Gayle, his off-spin is nothing like Gayle’s.

Perhaps one day he could be a genuine all-rounder, or go the Todd Astle route of transitioning from top-order batsman who bowls a bit to spinner who bats in the lower-middle order, because John Campbell’s off-spin is exciting.

His action reminds me of Graeme Swann in his early years before it tightened into the well oiled machine it became. Campbell begins his approach to the crease wide of the return crease and walks his first few steps before almost jumping across the crease to the mid-point from which he delivers.

Add that to the fact he gets close to side on and pivots well on his front foot, and there’s a legitimately good off-spin action going on. That’s not the exciting part though. The exciting part is the flight, turn and bounce he can get. Admirably for a part timer, who could be expected to dry up an end, Campbell puts plenty of flight on the ball, something which comes naturally from his orthodox action.

Add to that the most exciting part: turn and bounce. When he lands the ball on a line and length, Campbell can get the ball to grip off the surface, turn and bounce. When bowling in tandem with Jamaica’s front line spinners, Nikita Miller and Damion Jacobs, he spins the ball more than either, off the same surfaces.

All this potential has reaped some rewards. So far, in eight innings of bowling, mostly short spells, he has eight wickets, all of which came in two four-fers, one against the Leeward Islands, and the other against Combined Colleges and Campuses. Those figures of 4-17 and 4-15, to run through the middle order of the students and the tail of the Leewards, show the potential of Campbell to become a genuinely threatening front-line off-spinner.

I hope he will work on his spin bowling and try to develop into an all-rounder. There are a lot of off-spinners in the Caribbean, but few have the sort of gifts he do, and most play a patience game with impatient batsmen.

Campbell’s nowhere near the finished article yet though. As a young part-timer (for the moment) his flight and turn come with the downside of one or two bad balls an over, and opening spells with an entire over of dreck before he gets his bearings. Those aren’t big problems though. Continued practice will hone his action and leave less to go wrong. At that point the batsmen of the Caribbean can start to be worried.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Can Pollard play Test cricket?

If Viv Richards emerged from Antigua today, flaying boundaries all round the ground with insouciant ease, and chomping on his gum, would he be pigeonholed as a t20 player? It’s an interesting question to ask, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer.

Kieron Pollard is no Viv Richards, but he’s something. He has a little of the insouciance, a lot of the power (albeit with bigger bats and smaller boundaries) and perhaps even greater fielding ability. Add in some useful medium pace somewhere in the Angelo Mathews category that looks like it should be faster than it is, and you’ve got yourself a potent short form cricketer.

The next question though, is can he play Test cricket? That’s debatable. Look at his First-class stats and you say there’s no reason he can’t. In 24 games spread over six years, the last a year ago, he averages a respectable 38.40 in a West Indies regional setup where few average over forty.

What may end up being the problem is Pollard’s attitude towards getting into the Test team. If you read an interview with him from a couple of weeks ago he says that “I'm highly unlikely to play a full season of first-class cricket, so my only way of playing is by performing well in the ODIs.”

If you look at it from one angle, it makes sense, Pollard’s an international player, and the ODIs and T20s versus Ireland and England, along with the World T20 made it “highly unlikely” for him to play a full season of First-class cricket. It doesn’t mean he can’t play some though.

Some means more than two. That’s all he’s managed in the current Regional 4-Day Competition season. In those two, he managed scores of 4, 111, and 0. A fourth First-class hundred adds fuel to the fire, and adds to his case of playing Test cricket. But the IPL beckons, so he’s off, and won’t play First-class cricket for another year.

Why can’t he forgo the IPL for a year to play some county cricket? If he put feelers out there, I’m sure he could find a county to play for during at least part of the English summer. The point is, if he wants to play First-class cricket, he’s a good enough player, and well known enough to make it happen.

Twenty four First-class matches isn’t enough to play Test cricket. If he plays some regional cricket, a couple of months of the county season, that number could go up a fair bit. The weakness of the West Indies’ batting reserves is such that three or four more hundreds could secure him the number six spot with some haste.

He just needs to play those matches, and prove he can be a First-class cricketer. To make the Viv comparison again, the great man had played 44 First-class matches before he became a Test cricketer. At that point he had more runs at 2285, but at a lower average of 32.18, and one less hundred that Pollard has at this point.

Nobody’s suggesting Pollard could become anything near the great Viv, but a couple of thousand Test runs averaging around 35 to 40 batting at number six seems well within his grasp. If you add a bit of bowling, and great fielding to that, he doesn’t look a bad package to have coming in at six. If you compare him the current number six, from West Indies’ last Test in New Zealand, Narsingh Deonarine, he represents a significant potential increase. If only he’d make the effort.