Neita credits Brathwaite, Simmons for recent Windies performanceMonday, April 12, 2021
BY SANJAY MYERS
FORMER Jamaica batsman Mark Neita is crediting new West Indies Test Captain Kraigg Brathwaite for infusing “creativity and camaraderie” which he believes boosted the regional team during recent series against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
After a number of front-line players — including the then Test skipper Jason Holder — pulled out of touring Bangladesh months ago due to coronavirus-related concerns, the Brathwaite-led side, which is rated eighth in the world, swept the ninth-ranked hosts 2-0 in spinner-friendly conditions.
More recently, West Indies, with Brathwaite officially named as Holder's successor, played to a 0-0 result in mostly favourable batting conditions in the two-match series in Antigua against the seventh-ranked Sri Lankans.
“I was very happy, for the most part, in how the team performed. The change of leadership was one of the things that was very significant. Brathwaite has brought to the team an element of creativity and camaraderie that was lacking before,” Neita told the Jamaica Observer during a telephone interview.
“He was not afraid to try things, had a good sense of when to attack and when to defend — and those are hallmarks of good captaincy — to be proactive rather than reactive, and putting men in positions in anticipation of things happening rather than after it has happened.
“I think as an individual cricketer Holder's game has improved enormously, but as a leader and captain…I don't think he evolved into what we all thought he would have,” he said.
Holder, appointed Test captain six years ago, won 11, lost 21 and drew five of 37 matches in charge. He guided the team to a famous 2-1 home series victory over heavy favourites England two years ago.
His captaincy came under great scrutiny following heavy defeat away to New Zealand late last year. The writing was on the wall, when in Holder's absence, Brathwaite had a successful campaign in Bangladesh.
However, the 29-year-old Holder, the world's number one all-rounder, underlined his immense value to the team with bat and ball versus Sri Lanka.
He took seven wickets — including 5-27 in the first innings of the opening Test — at an average of 18.57. With the bat, he tallied 138 runs at an average of 69, highlighted by a best of 71 not out in the second innings of the final Test.
Brathwaite, 28, reaffirmed his position as the region's premier opening batsman with 126 and 85 in the second Test. He averaged 59.25 in the series and led the team with 237 runs.
“Brathwaite has batted and led well, but I'm not going to heap all the praise on him because I think leadership starts from inside the dressing room. And I think Phil Simmons as the head coach has done a phenomenal job of moulding this team.
“Over the last two tours the team hasn't crumbled under pressure. They stood up and showed grit and determination and were prepared to fight and to bat long, and that's what Test cricket is all about. It's not about flashy batting, it's about good technique and good temperament and I think for the most part the batting showed that,” Neita, who has previously criticised substandard batting technique displayed by some regional batsmen, said.
In Bangladesh, batsmen Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner, who both began their Test careers in the opening match of the series, and off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall played outstanding roles with the bat for the weakened West Indies team.
Despite the sweep, the series was hard-fought and came down to tight moments in which West Indies largely prevailed, with several players earning praise for holding their nerve under pressure.
Against Sri Lanka, the battle was no less intense though neither team dominated enough to force a win.
After dismissing Sri Lanka for 169 in the first innings of the opening Test, West Indies — hampered by sloppy catching — lost their grip when the visitors piled up 476 in their second innings. West Indies made 271 in the first innings and closed on 236-4 in the second when set 375 runs for victory.
In the second Test, the hosts made 354 and 280-4, while Sri Lanka made 258 in the first innings and easily warded off the home team's attack to end on 193-2 when set a target of 377. West Indies were again guilty of flooring chances.
Neita, who played 45 first-class matches for Jamaica between the late 1970s and early 1990s, said the docile pitches at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium were mostly to be blamed for the stalemate.
“I would say that the team really performed well, but it was unfortunate we didn't win the games because I think we put ourselves in positions to win.
“The pitches are just too flat in the region — we need pitches which are going to encourage the fast bowlers to bowl fast and the good spinners can exploit the conditions. I think if the pitches were of a different nature maybe the results would've been different,” the former top-order batsman told the Observer.
“They certainly adopted the right approach to put themselves in a position that they couldn't lose the [first] Test match. In former years with former teams we would have probably lost from that position. So the fact that we are able to bat consistently in the fourth innings of games speaks volumes about the direction that this team is moving in.
“When you're chasing that kind of total…the fact that you've done it in the past doesn't mean you're going to constantly be doing that. Even the greatest teams struggle batting on a last day in the fourth innings to chase totals in excess of 200 or 250, so I can't fault them for the approach,” Neita reiterated.
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