Weak batting, puzzling team selections undermined WI in England


Weak batting, puzzling team selections undermined WI in England

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Friday, July 31, 2020

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I know people who boast they need only look at a young batsman in action, and after a few minutes they can tell whether the youngster has talent enough to make it on the big stage.

The problem with that sort of analysis is that you can never tell after just a few minutes whether the player has the capacity to bat for hours and hours which, in long-format, traditional cricket is the true test of a batsman.

In the just-concluded Test series in England, commentators suggested that while the West Indies batsmen all showed plenty of “talent” the ability to stay at the wicket for a long innings was wanting. That's the gospel truth.

It's true that the English seam attack, especially in English conditions, was superb and would have proven difficult for any batting team, as powerful India found out in their 1-4 Test series loss in 2018, for instance.

However, the worrying failure of West Indian batsmen to play long innings has been evident for a long time. It's not by accident that no one in the West Indies squad to England average higher than the 30s in first-class cricket, much less Test cricket.

It's a very different story for the English. Why is that?

My suspicion is that some of our more talented players simply aren't doing enough work practising to bat for long periods. Hopefully, Jermaine Blackwood's recent experiences will spur others to practise, practise, practise.

I've heard of the so-called “geniuses” who didn't seem to need to practise seriously. Presumably, in competitive cricket they just went to the wicket and started from where they left off the last time.

Then there were others like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who, we are told, would stay in the nets for five, six hours, for the simple reason that he wanted to do exactly that, come game time.

All of which brings me to West Indies Captain Jason Holder's plea for a restructuring of international cricket to allow teams like West Indies to get more of the earnings from international cricket. Those earnings are of course driven by television revenue.

Cricket West Indies is so broke it struggles to pay its contracted players even at the best of times.

And bear in mind, West Indies player salaries are far, far less than those in the leading Test playing countries.

Hence the recent three-million-pound loan to Cricket West Indies from the England and Wales Cricket Board. We recall reports of not so long ago, when the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka Boards apparently had to bail out Cricket West Indies as well.

Which is why Cricket West Indies, in all practicality, can't tell a young batsman he should place priority on playing in Caribbean domestic competition ahead of any of the numerous cash-rich Twenty20 leagues around the world. Other boards able to pay their players at higher, competitive rates can do that. Not cash-strapped Cricket West Indies.

And if young batsmen need only bat 100 balls at a time to get themselves in gear to earn the high salaries in the T20 leagues, why practise to bat 300 balls in low-earning, long-format cricket?

All that said, the failure of our leading batsmen to play long innings wasn't the only reason for the calamitous performance by the West Indies in the last two Tests of the recent tour. The losses, let's not forget, came after their historic achievement in winning the first Test, against all odds.

Don't get me wrong, England in their home conditions are very strong and very difficult to beat. Their fast bowlers in their own conditions are second to none, and their young batsmen are coming through.

But even in defeat, I expect the West Indies to fight with spirit even in strange, previously unheard of biosecure environments. Sadly, in the last Test especially they surrendered meekly. That's mainly, I believe, because of selectors' choices that on the face of it were inexcusable; and very probably, demoralised the team.

Hopefully, the decision to play Shai Hope in the last Test — a big mistake in my view — won't cause long-term damage to the player. Indeed, he was starting to look really good when he got himself out in the second innings.

But surely there should be an explanation from the coach, Phil Simmons, as to the failure to rotate the fast bowlers on tour? Everyone knew ahead of time that playing three Tests, just three days apart, was going to be stressful. That's precisely why the English rotated their seamers.

I write with the strength of hindsight. But in the case of Shannon Gabriel playing his first competitive cricket since ankle injury, it should have been a straightforward decision for the tour management, having made their assessments, to rest him for the second Test — notwithstanding first Test heroics. Had they done that, they could have anticipated bringing him back for the last Test, fresh and buzzing.

As it was, Gabriel was a true soldier, trying hard all the time. His effort in the first innings of the last Test was awesome. But he is just flesh and blood, like everyone else. How much more could've been had from him, had he been managed more carefully?

And how do we explain the failure to use Chemar Holder on tour? In an unofficial three-'Test' series against India 'A' last year in the Caribbean, he looked arguably the best young fast bowler on either side, taking 15 wickets. In case you are wondering, I watched the livestreaming of those games.

Just to strengthen his case, the 22-year-old Holder was easily the best of the young fast bowlers on show in the COVID-19 curtailed four-day regional first-class season earlier this year. How then, does he go to England, in an environment such as it was, and not be asked to play even one Test?

To cap it all, for the third and last Test — the second in succession at cold, bleak Old Trafford in the north of England — the West Indies tour selectors chose to shorten their fast bowling attack — replacing Alzarri Joseph with the off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall. The fast bowlers had bowled well and effectively in the first two Tests. Surely, if they had to replace Joseph — who had a seemingly minor injury in the second Test — it should have been the promising Holder.

On what basis did the selectors feel they needed a second off spinner to go with Roston Chase, at cold, damp and blustery Old Trafford?

Then having chosen two off spinners, and shortened their fast bowling, the West Indies won the toss and chose to bowl??!! The team management should explain.

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