In search of a series win
Watching CricketFriday, August 20, 2021
with Garfield myers
The heart-stopping excitement as the first Test between West Indies and Pakistan ended on Sunday's fourth day with a one-wicket victory for the home team was undoubtedly a good advertisement for long-format cricket.
However, at the risk of sounding selfish, I would have just preferred a comfortable West Indies win without the thrills and spills. In my view, there were a couple of missteps which prevented that.
To begin with, the hosts made life hard for themselves by including the left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican on a lush, grassy pitch ahead of either pacers, Alzarri Joseph or Chemar Hodler. It wasn't by accident that not a single wicket fell to spin in the game. That was a pitch tailor-made for fast bowlers. Uneven bounce — which is not unusual for Sabina Park — just made conditions more challenging for batsmen.
Perhaps the selectors were conned by the high number of wickets that fell to spinners in the West Indies four-day warm-up game? Even with that though, it surely was a stretch to expect West Indies to beat Pakistan with spin on a grassy pitch.
So far as I am aware, until the four-day warm-up just before the Test match, no formal cricket had been played at Sabina since COVID-19 took over our lives in early 2020. So I am assuming, just assuming, that the ground staff left as much grass as they did because of fear that without it, the pitch would've broken up and deteriorated too rapidly.
Among the great points of interest as cricket lovers tune in to their television sets and other audio visuals before the start of play in the second Test today will be how the pitch looks. If it looks anything like the one for the first Test, then I expect Joseph or Holder will be selected ahead of Warrican.
I hope not, but there could also be the feeling that the batting was so poor it needs to be lengthened. In which case, Shamarh Brooks or Shai Hope could come in as a straight replacement for the left-arm spinner. That would mean Kyle Mayers being asked to play the fourth seamer role with his swinging medium pace, as he did admirably in the first Test. Should that happen, Brooks or Hope would probably be asked to bat at number three, with Nkrumah Bonner walking to the crease at number four.
Whatever the selectors do, West Indian batsmen will have to be much better than last time against a Pakistan team which may not be as talented as some we have seen, but which is of high quality nonetheless.
After inserting the visitors in the first Test, West Indies should have built a lead well in excess of 100 runs despite a terrible start, losing two wickets with just one run scored. I say that because, in my view, they got the best batting conditions on the second day. They didn't capitalise because of classy Pakistani seam bowling and their own carelessness.
Jermaine Blackwood — who redeemed himself in the second innings with an invaluable half-century — and Roston Chase were guilty of awful shot selection. And then, the Captain Kraigg Brathwaite with his eyes on a century, missed the big picture just for a moment, and ran himself out at 97, attempting a risky second run.
Such errors will have to be kept to a minimum if the West Indies are to secure a famous series victory over higher ranked opposition at the start of what is the new World Test Championships.
Of great encouragement to all cricket lovers is the ongoing rapid development of Jayden Seales who turns 20 next month. Tall, with a wonderful physique, good control, high pace and a delicious away swinger, the youngster reminds me of Ian Bishop, who readers will recall looked set to join Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose among the greatest of all West Indian fast bowlers when back trouble had the last word. Hopefully, I haven't put 'goat mouth' on young Seales.
Of critical importance is how he is managed. Such is his talent captains will be tempted, time to time, to give Seales an extra over or two. That temptation must be shunned. Everyone must remember he is very young with just one first-class game prior to his Test debut against South Africa recently.
Going forward, given the game's crowded schedules, Cricket West Indies may have to start giving thought to rotating their fast bowlers. That's something others, not least the English, with a much busier itinerary are already doing.
Speaking of talent, the 21-year-old Pakistani left-arm seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi is absolutely spectacular with swing and pace when he gets it right. If he stays injury free, the sky should be the limit.