Jomel Warrican: Barbados' legend-in-the-making, West Indies' metronome, lurking on the sidelines
- West Indies left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican talked about his role in the team and his relationship with other spinners.
- Warrican has played eight Tests so far and is currently in England as part of the West Indian reserve squad for the 3-Test series.
In one of the multiverses, West Indian left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican has bagged 261 Test wickets across 66 games and is already being talked of as the greatest of all time for his country. But alas in a contemporary world, his international appearances have only been limited to eight Tests.
In a land regarded as a hotbed for quick bowlers, Warrican moved from St. Vincent to Barbados aged 10 with his father in search of better opportunities. There he benefited from the strong Barbados cricket structure at Combermere Secondary School, an institution that has produced the likes of Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Clyde Walcott, Chris Jordan, Carlos Brathwaite and Kraigg Brathwaite.
Jomel Warrican coached under the tutelage of Roddy Estwick (current West Indies Assistant coach), a stint that saw him switch his skills from fast bowling.
“Growing up, I actually wanted to be a fast bowler,” recalls Warrican in an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda.
“However, when I arrived at the Combermere Secondary School, Roddy Estwick asked me to bowl for him, and I ran in and bowled pace. He then asked me to try bowling spin, and so I did. From that day onwards, I was a spin bowler.”
In 2014, Barbadian Sulieman Benn dominated the bowling charts and played out the entire year as West Indies’ sole Test spinner. It was during this period that Jomel Warrican made his first-class debut for Barbados, and impressed with 49 wickets in nine games at an average of 14.97 - which remains his best season so far.
After getting fast-tracked to the Board President’s XI against the touring Australians in a three-day fixture the next year, Warrican snagged the wickets of Adam Voges, Brad Haddin and Peter Nevill. Following this impressive outing, he became a beneficiary of West Indies’ revolving-door spin policy in a year that saw Sulieman Benn, Veerasammy Permaul and Devendra Bishoo play at various stages.
In his debut Test against Sri Lanka, Jomel Warrican prised out six wickets, often testing the batsmen’s defence. The stability his left-arm spin offered compared to Bishoo’s leg-spin saw Warrican leapfrog Bishoo to become the side’s lead spinner in their next Test assignment in Australia.
The 0-2 defeat in the three-Test series highlighted all sorts of frailties of the Caribbean side. But given the difficult conditions for his craft, Warrican walked away with a creditable tally of five wickets at an average of 76. It was the most wickets taken by a West Indian in the series, behind Jason Holder.
Being a defensive bowler, Jomel Warrican often gnaws away at a batsman’s patience and his manner of dismissals of Steve Smith, David Warner and Adam Voges on the tour underlined his style evidently.
However, despite a decent show down under, Warrican didn't play another Test until West Indies' tour of India in 2018, with his most recent being against Afghanistan in November last year. He remained on the periphery as part of the touring West Indies squads to England and UAE, losing his spot to Bishoo.
That Jomel Warrican has played only eight Tests in five years shows how quickly off-spinning all-rounders Roston Chase and Rahkeem Cornwall have cemented their spots in the side. But one of the main factors in Warrican not getting as many opportunities in the side has been West Indies’ fragile batting.
Their middling returns and home pitches being tailored to suit their fast bowlers have meant that the lone spinner’s spot has often gone to Chase and now Cornwall.
However, the fact remains that Jomel Warrican’s career average of 20.1 dwarfs that of Chase (32.32), Bishoo (37.2) and Cornwall (23.37). A lack of bowling experience in international cricket has, in some respect, hindered Warrican's progress. But he is seen as a long-term prospect, specifically catering to West Indies’ spin bowling needs abroad after being awarded a C-retainer contract in 2018.
Jomel Warrican has a good relationship with the other West Indies frontline spinners
Jomel Warrican is one of three frontline spinners in the West Indies squad chosen to tour England. But he finds himself in the reserve party, with Chase and Cornwall almost certain to make it to the XI.
Warrican says that he enjoys the chemistry he has with the two other spinners despite the competition for spots.
“Roston (Chase) and I have played almost every level of cricket together and therefore, we have a very strong relationship, which lends to our chemistry on the field of play. We have, what I would consider, an excellent understanding of each other’s abilities and roles, which makes us able to help each other out a lot,” said the 28-year-old spinner.
“My relationship with (Rahkeem) Cornwall started at ‘A’ team level, and it is a special one. Whenever we are playing together, the team does well. One of us is always outstanding and well supported by the other. We share a lot of information, and we keep that relationship even when we are not within the West Indies setup,” Jomel Warrican further added.
His unique chemistry with Cornwall has been fairly evident in their games for West Indies ‘A’ against India ‘A’ and England Lions. In a series against the touring Lions, Jomel Warrican bagged 31 wickets across three four-day games with Cornwall being next on the list with 19 wickets.
In their only Test together against Afghanistan last year, Cornwall bagged a 10-wicket haul while Warrican kept things tight.
Jomel Warrican’s recent experience playing in England extends to his ‘A’ team tour against India ‘A’ and the Lions in 2018. With seam-conducive pitches to work with, Warrican remained largely under-bowled. But he believes the experience has held him in good stead for senior Test tours for which he has doubled up his knowledge about the conditions on offer.
“Analysing the conditions and adapting accordingly is the most important thing. Playing in England, I find that you can use the grass on the pitch to your advantage. You get the ball to slide on a bit more, and it tends to spin quicker in the latter stages of a Test match,” Jomel Warrican said.
“I have found myself using predominantly side-spin in England, which is my natural skill. The dampness from the atmosphere can also be used to get the ball sliding as well. However, for instance, in Australia, I would be using more over-spin in order to get some extra bounce on my deliveries,” he added.
Naturally, a spinner bowling against England is mainly tasked to find a way around aggressive batsmen who often look to disturb their rhythm. The likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Joe Root pose threat to any spinner who comes up against them.
But Warrican, having set up the likes of Steve Smith, Shakib Al Hasan and Prithvi Shaw successfully, will look to be one step ahead of Stokes and Buttler.
“These are two quality, aggressive players. Attacking with the field, instead of the ball, is very important against these types of players. You must have the correct field set for each batsman, in order to give you the confidence to do your work with the ball. Whether on the day it translates to bowling slower, faster, wider or straighter, having the right field setting to do so, is what is most important to me,” assessed Jomel Warrican.
During the home series against England in 2019, a keenly contested affair that the West Indies won 2-1, former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed signed on as the team’s assistant coach. Jomel Warrican, who primarily worked under Ahmed on the sidelines, credited the former spinner for adding a wealth of knowledge especially based around tactics, mentality and life off the pitch.
“Mushtaq Ahmed has taught me so much, not only about cricket and understanding my craft, but also about life as a whole. He is an excellent role model to have and someone I treasure deeply in my life. Working with him is an absolute joy, and the information just seems to keep on coming,” said Warrican.
Working with Mushtaq Ahmed translated into success on the field for Barbados in the regional four-day competition 2018/19 which saw Warrican bag two five-wicket hauls and a brace of ten-wicket hauls across five games.
Emmerson Trotman, the head coach of the Barbados Pride, highlighted what makes Jomel Warrican a valuable asset for the side.
“Warrican is very committed, very organised and disciplined. He’s a cool and a calm cricketer, which makes him so successful. He’s got a very good bowling technique, very consistent. For Barbados, he’s very motivating and makes sure he assists young bowlers as well. Given his wicket-taking abilities, he’s a player you’d want in your side at any given time,” he said.
“He makes a coach’s life easy because he’s always willing to learn and improve by asking questions,” Trotman further added. “He listens well but more importantly he communicates with the captain. Overall, he’s a very good team-man to have, and that’s what makes him a standout player for Barbados.”
West Indies play the first Test against England at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on July 8th, with the next two Tests scheduled to be played at Old Trafford in Manchester, all of them behind-closed-doors. With the two venues traditionally offering turn, spinners Chase and Cornwall are almost certain to start in the West Indies XI.
As for Jomel Warrican, there may be an outside chance should an injury beset either Chase or Cornwall. However, unconcerned with the current pecking order, Warrican acknowledges that he might have to spend more time on the sidelines on the tour than he would prefer.
“Well, it would be tough for me to get into the playing XI as I am not a part of the 15-man squad, but rather here as a reserve. This trip is basically to ensure that I am working on my skills in a high-performance environment and watching my teammates do well. I am excited to celebrate their success,” he concluded.
The eventuality of getting first XI opportunities anytime soon remains something akin to a pipe dream for Jomel Warrican, but it does help that he hasn't fallen off the radar.Published 30 Jun 2020, 22:57 IST