Why wasn't Kemar Roach in the second Test?

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Saturday, October 20, 2018

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For close to two-and-a-half days of the second Test against India, the West Indies stayed very competitive.

Then everything fell apart in a familiar second innings meltdown. For the second time in two weeks, West Indies had lost to India in three days.

Even before the team left the Caribbean, most of us had expected eighth-ranked West Indies to lose to number one-ranked India in the latter's backyard. The hope was that the Caribbean team would show fight and a fair degree of growth from the last time the two teams met in 2016.

Maybe we should forget about the first Test since West Indies were severely weakened by the absence of their most experienced fast bowler Kemar Roach and captain Jason Holder due to bereavement and injury.

Without doubt, in the second Test, Roston Chase deserves plaudits for his superb first innings century. Likewise, Holder for his first innings half-century and magnificent seam bowling, Gabriel for consistently testing the star-studded Indian batting line-up with his pace and the left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican for his combative approach.

Sadly, after their calamitous second innings batting performance, all the batsmen got a failing grade.

Yet throughout that second Test, through the good moments and bad, the question nagging at me was why isn't Roach playing? Readers will recall that the Barbadian had returned to India ahead of the second Test following the funeral of his grandmother in his home country. The pre-match reports were that he was expected to play.

Cricket watchers were left nonplussed by the West Indies line-up without Roach and with only two seamers — Gabriel and Holder — both of whom were said to be below full fitness.

Let's be clear. Since the departure of the legendary Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Roach has been by a distance, the West Indies most successful fast bowler. His Test match bowling figures bear this out: 163 wickets at 28.31 each. Just in case you are wondering, Fidel Edwards's 165 wickets came at 37.87 each.

After a shoulder surgery a few years ago, Roach lost pace. But his desire and hard work combined with skill means he remains a top-class seamer. He has proven that over and over again, most recently against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Caribbean.

I am prepared to give the tour selectors the benefit of the doubt. Could it be that having made their assessment, they decided a grieving Roach wasn't mentally ready for the contest?

In which case, they should have played either of the two reserve pacers — 22-year-old Shermon Lewis or 20-year-old Keemo Paul, who has good batting ability. I would have preferred Lewis, who it seemed to me, stood up well to the testing 40-degree heat in the first Test, as well as the challenges posed by the Indian bastmen, not the least the awesome teenager Prithvi Shaw.

Clearly, the tour selectors felt that the pitch at Hyderabad for the second Test would have turned square, hence their decision to play just two seamers, Holder and Gabriel. My view is that even had the pitch being a raging turner, there is nothing to suggest the West Indies spinners, Warrican — despite his control and obvious fighting qualities — and Devendra Bishoo possess what it takes to unduly trouble Indian batting.

In any case, both Holder and Gabriel entered the second Test match with significant doubts being expressed about their fitness. In such circumstances, selecting a playing Eleven without a third seamer amounted to reckless conduct in my view.

I find it hard to believe that Captain Holder, having himself missed the first Test because of ankle injury, could have supported the strategy.

The alternatives were obvious. If it was that the selectors felt compelled to play two specialist spinners alongside the off-spin of Chase, they could have dropped the extra batsman Sunil Ambris. If they felt they needed the extra batsman, then Bishoo, who seemed largely toothless in the first Test despite getting four wickets (4-217), should have been left out.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying the West Indies would have won with a third pacer, be it Roach or somebody else. But in life we all have a responsibility to do, and to be, the best we can. I thought that in this case the tour selectors let-down West Indies cricket and indeed, themselves, very badly.

All that said, I am always surprised when West Indies go into a Test match with just two seamers. I have been following West Indies cricket closely for more than 50 years. Only once can I remember the West Indies playing just two fast bowlers and winning. That was back in the 1968/69 tour of Australia when the legendary new ball pairing of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith was in rapid decline.

In the absence of an injured Hall, the incomparable all-rounder Garfield Sobers — who bowled left-arm pace as well as spin — shared the new ball with Griffith. The great off-spinner Lance Gibbs took eight wickets in the game and Sobers seven — mostly with spin — as West Indies won by 125 runs.

Back in 1976, Clive Lloyd's West Indies, without the great Andy Roberts because of injury, foolishly challenged India with just two seamers, the left-armer Bernard Julien and the youthful tear-away Michael Holding in the third Test at Queens Park Oval. The West Indies entered the Test match with three spinners, off-spinner Albert Padmore, wrist spinner Imtiaz Ali and left-arm orthodox Raphick Jumadeen. India famously won by six wickets, setting a new world record of 406-4 in their second innings run chase.

That experience led to Lloyd's insistence on a four-pronged pace attack thereafter, through thick and thin.

I still get angry when I remember the New Zealand tour of the West Indies in 2014. My understanding was that the West Indies tour party arrived at Sabina Park a few days before the game to find the pitch with a fair covering of grass. A member of the team's management allegedly instructed the ground staff to “take off the grass”. The instruction was carried out. Not a blade of grass was left.

West Indies proceeded to play two pacers, Jerome Taylor, just back from a long break and Kemar Roach, just returned from injury, with Gabriel and the 21-year-old Holder left out. Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn and the off-spinner Shane Shillingford were expected to be the cutting edge of the West Indies bowling effort.

Taylor was superb, but Roach struggled and the two spinners lacked bite as New Zealand piled up over 500 runs. For the first time that I could remember, Benn had a poor game at Sabina — which must surely be among his favourite grounds. Predictably, Shillingford whose doosra had been deemed illegal by the ICC, was ineffective. I have always wondered why the selectors didn't work out that Shillingford without his doosra was unlikely to be a threat. Everybody else I spoke to at the time appeared to recognise that.

As it turned out, the unheralded New Zealand off-spinner Mark Craig, on Test match debut, picked up eight wickets to undermine West Indies batting as New Zealand won easily.

Weird stuff happens in West Indies cricket.

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