Hetmyer should remain true to himself

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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I found England's recent three-Test tour of Sri Lanka fascinating.

Sri Lanka, as was seen in the Caribbean earlier this year, possess quality fast bowlers. But as they are inclined to do, the hosts produced dry, spin-friendly pitches for all three Tests, expecting to beat the English with spin.

The plan backfired big time, with England sweeping the series. Joe Root and his men went with what many would have considered a high-risk plan: for their batsmen to dominate the host's spinners on turning pitches with the sweep shot - orthodox and reverse. It worked perfectly.

To add insult to Sri Lanka's injury, England's spinners Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid out-bowled their spinners.

The contrast with the West Indies team on raging turners in Bangladesh was stark. If the West Indies had a plan to combat Bangladesh's talented young spinners it wasn't evident — unless it is argued that the young Guyanese left-hander, Shimron Hetmyer was the only one who executed consistently.

Statistics never tell the whole story. Regardless of that, the batting averages for the West Indies team for the two-test tour in Bangladesh tell a weird tale.

Hetmyer, who turns 22 on Boxing Day, topped the sheet with 222 runs in four innings for an average of 55.50 and a strike rate of better than 100.

Second was the wicketkeeper/batsman Shane Dowrich with 108 runs in four innings for an average of 36. The stout-hearted Barbadian's unbeaten 63 in the first Test was an innings of high technical quality.

Here comes the painful part. The only other recognised batsman to average above single digit for the West Indies in the two Tests in Bangladesh was Sunil Ambris, with 18.25 from a total of 73 runs.

Shai Hope averaged 9.75 from a total 39 runs, Roston Chase 8.50 from 34 runs, Kieran Powell six from 24 runs. Stand-in captain Kraigg Brathwaite — who has made for himself the reputation as being the most dependable of current West Indies Test match batsmen — came last in the team averages with 5.50 from 22 runs.

So then, apart from Hetmyer being an instinctive, highly talented strokemaker, what was it that made the difference between him and others? It seemed to me that Hetmyer came to a bold determination that he would not allow himself to be tied down in ultra spin-friendly conditions — balls spitting, turning alarmingly and some keeping low — against high-class spinners, with four/five close fielders waiting like hawks around his bat.

What Hetmyer did in every innings of that Bangladesh tour was to try to score at every opportunity, with deft cuts, tickles, flicks and sweeps. He sought to turn over the strike as often as he could with quick running. And when he thought the bowlers had erred too full or too short, he hit the ball as hard as he could as far as he could. That's the reason he ended up with four sixes and five fours in his 47-ball 63 in the first Test, and nine sixes in his 92-ball 93 in the second.

Believe it or not, he also carefully blocked deliveries from which he judged he wouldn't be able to score.

Hetmyer's approach has been used with success by many a top West Indies batsman down the years. I won't call names for fear of being accused of sacrilege.

I think it is important for Hetmyer to recognise that his approach worked, though, in every case, West Indies would have wanted him to sustain his efforts for much longer. Importantly, he had the mental strength to find a way which worked for him in hostile conditions. It's the responsibility of everyone to find a way.

Hetmyer must not allow the wave of despair and negativity sweeping West Indies cricket to weigh him down. He must not yield to naysayers whose first response is to question his approach. Even as he works to improve himself as a batsman with better shot selection, tightened defense, and a more balanced game, he must remain true to his bold instincts.

I know many cricket lovers missed the Test matches in Bangladesh either because the television feed was inaccessible or because they chose to sleep.

That I suspect has led to comments like “how one side fi mek 500 and you only mek hundred an' odd?”

The truth is that in both Test matches Bangladesh, having had the good fortune to win the toss, batted first and enjoyed by far the best of the conditions. Both pitches in Chittagong and Dhaka started out very dry. Both were very good for batting on the first day but by the second afternoon were deteriorating rapidly-providing grip, sharp turn, and variable bounce for spinners. Apart from Hetmyer and to an extent Dowrich, West Indies batting specialists were clueless. As it turned out, Chase, Hope, Brathwaite and Powell were outdone with the bat by the likes of Jomel Warrican and Kemar Roach.

Something a lot of people may have missed was that on the opening day of the first Test, Bangladesh seemed well on course to score 500 at 222-3, post-Tea. It was Shannon Gabriel, bowling fast and swinging the old ball, who changed the course of that innings with four quick wickets. In the end Bangladesh were kept to 324. The degree of the pitch's deterioration was such that after West Indies made a first innings 246 Bangladesh, batting a second time, ended up with the lowest score of the game, 125, as West Indies spinners Devendra Bishoo, Chase and Jomel Warrican appeared unplayable at times. It's in that context that the West Indies' second innings 139 on the third day, as they slid to defeat by 64 runs, should be viewed.

Bangladeshi batsmen completely dominated on the first day and for three quarters of the second Test to score 508 runs, which set up a historic win by an innings. In my view that happened largely because Gabriel wasn't there. Readers may recall that he was banned from that game, having breached ICC rules for shouldering aside an opponent.

The absence of Gabriel in that second Test and the injury-enforced absence from both games of designated captain Jason Holder had a decisive negative influence on the West Indies team. Those who may feel two players can't have made such a big difference should consider the plight of Australia without Steve Smith and David Warner.

A big lesson in Bangladesh and previously in India is that there needs to be back-up for Gabriel in terms of express pace. The big fast bowler actually topped the bowling averages in Bangladesh with five wickets at 18.80 each after just one game.

Gabriel, the tall, skilful Holder with his medium pace, and the fast medium Roach will likely be heavily relied on against England in the upcoming three — Test series in the Caribbean. However, it seems to me that if the West Indies are to go toe-to-toe with England as they did on home soil in 2015, they will need another with genuine pace to support Gabriel.

Many people feel 21-year-old Oshane Thomas should be the man. I am not convinced he is as yet quite ready for Test cricket. A few other promising fast bowlers around the region with real pace and a bit more experience, including Alzarri Joseph — who looked good against Barbados last week in the first round of the regional 4-day tournament — should be kicking hard at the door in coming weeks.

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