Concerns about their families are understood to be the primary reason behind Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul declining to be part of the West Indies Test squad for the England tour. Both the prospect of leaving their families for seven weeks and concerns about how quickly they would be able to see them on their return to the Caribbean at the end of July are understood to be key factors in the players’ decisions, with uncertainty around the quarantine requirements that may be imposed by their respective governments.
On Wednesday, Cricket West Indies (CWI) announced a 25-man squad including 11 reserves for the three-Test series in England which is scheduled to start in Southampton on July 8 subject to the UK government’s approval. CWI said it “fully accepts and respects” the decision taken by Bravo, Hetmyer and Paul to opt out of the tour and would “certainly not hold it against” them in future selections.
Talking to ESPNcricinfo, Johnny Grave, CWI chief executive, said that the board wanted players who were “comfortable” travelling without any “nagging doubts” as otherwise it might impact their performances. Grave said he totally understood the doubts and fears expressed by the three players after speaking with Bravo last Friday and receiving emails from the other two players over the weekend.
Grave said Paul, the 22-year-old allrounder, wrote an email to CWI explaining how difficult a decision it was for him to not travel to England. “Keemo Paul is the sole breadwinner in his entire household and wider family,” Grave said. “He was really concerned if something happened to him how his family would cope.
“He wrote a personal note to us to explain it was with a heavy heart that he had decided not to tour but that he just didn’t feel comfortable going to England. He wrote passionately about how hard a decision it was for him and how much he loves playing for West Indies, but with consultation with his family he doesn’t feel he can leave them and doesn’t want to go on the tour.”
According Grave, Hetmyer said that he “didn’t feel comfortable from a safety point of view, leaving his home, leaving his family and heading over to England”. Paul and Hetmyer both come from Guyana, where the number of Covid-19 cases is under 200.
As for Bravo, who lives in Trinidad, Grave said he was concerned about the situation in the UK. “Darren Bravo had concerns about his health and any consequences that it may have on his young family. He also mentioned he made his decision with great remorse as it was always a huge honour for him to play for West Indies. So, yes, perfectly valid reasons and the ones that we fully respect. We were never going to force or try to coerce and we didn’t ask them to reconsider.”
Bravo, Hetmyer and Paul are centrally-contracted, all-format players. Among the three, only Hetmyer has consistently featured in the Test team since his debut in 2017, but all three have struggled with form in the last year. Last year, Bravo managed just 106 runs at an average of 13.25 which included the two-Test series against India. The selectors dropped him for the one-off Test against Afghanistan with chief selector Roger Harper saying Bravo needed to be “away” from international cricket to find his form back. Hetmyer, too, had a forgettable 2019 in Test cricket, scoring 244 runs at 24.40, while Paul has played three Tests in his career with six wickets to his name.
In May, Grave had pointed out that he understood why players who come from smaller Caribbean islands would be nervous about going to England, which was seen as “one of the eyes of the storm” with the official death count due to the virus nearing 40,000. Subsequently, the players grew more confident once they heard of the “robust and safe plan” the ECB had put in place to conduct the tour within a bio-secure environment behind closed doors.
On June 1, both ECB and CWI medical experts had another call before the tour schedule was made public. On the same day, CWI had a call with the wider pool of players from which the final squad would be picked to update them on the final arrangements. “We gave them all the most up-to-date information on the tour,” Grave said. “All I clarified to them on Monday on the call with Professor Nick Pierce (ECB chief medical officer) and our medical practitioners was: were they happy that they had all the information and did they have any further questions.
“I then explained that Roger Harper, CWI lead selector, would contact them regarding whether they were selected or not and that they had until the following day, having slept on it, to confirm their position.
“Ultimately, we want a group of players that are comfortable to be there so that they are not worried about these things and therefore they have got a chance to perform at their best. If they have got nagging doubts or worries about their families they are not going to be performing at their best.
“It is in everyone’s interest if you are not comfortable to say so and not tour and be certain that it is not going to be held against you. Rather than go, be worried, and ultimately don’t perform or want to come home. So it is a good decision all round. We are still taking a strong Test side to England.”
CWI is now waiting for the test results for the squad to come back from Miami, which are expected within the next 48 hours. Anyone who tests positive for the virus will almost certainly not take the charter flight that is set to leave on June 8 from Antigua.