By Dev Tyiagi
Of the current eleven taking on the visiting Pakistan, only five West Indies batsmen, out of the eight, speaking purely of batsmen, have previously played against the sub-continent force.
While to the leadership contingent of the team- comprising present captain and vice captain, as well as the former captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood, and Jason Holder, respectively, Pakistan aren’t an unfamiliar opponent, to the likes of Kyle Mayers, Nkrumah Bonner and Joshua Da Silva, this is a team they’ve only seen video footage of or read about; but haven’t locked horns previously before.
Gladly, West Indies’ opener Kieran Powell, currently in his second wind in the game, which he left following a brief Baseball stint in the USA, Pakistan isn’t an unfamiliar opponent as well.
Ditto for Roston Chase, the bedrock of the lower order.
And yet, from what one saw in the last Test, a contest the hosts won in a nail-biting fashion, none of the current lot inspire a great deal of confidence playing the opponent.
While victory at Sabina Park a week back was indicative of a huge positive, the hosts having taken an unassailable lead in the ongoing series, that the win didn’t come at the expense of batsmen but at the behest of a tail stitching a rescue operation, Roach and Seales taking the team over the line, should drive home an important lesson.
Even if the West Indies are in the driver’s seat, their batsmen aren’t pushing the throttle!
The possible exception being Kraigg Brathwaite, whose 97 showed the captain’s patience and diligence, an act where the leader led by an example.
While captain Brathwaite’s composed 221-ball stay at the wicket led the way to West Indies scoring a fine 253 on a difficult-to-score surface, that his next five batsmen produced 3 ducks and 43 collective runs offers glaring evidence of the problem.
And the problem, unless you aspire to investigate it wearing the Sherlock attire whilst smoking the pipe, just for the kicks, isn’t an undecipherable one.
It’s that they don’t have any problem whatsoever in white-ball cricket, which the West Indies have been playing for quite some time in the recent weeks, especially a format in which they’re considered kings: the T20Is.
But where it comes to Test cricket, the batsmen’s woes are clearly evidenced by their failure to stick to the wicket, stitching stands and converting starts into scores worthy of giving attention.
So is this a cruel declaration muttered in vile banter or is there evidence to support the claim?
One look at the recent Tests featuring South Africa suggests where the problem lies.
Not once in four separate innings did the West Indies put on even a 200-odd total on board.
Suffering massive defeats to a side that had toured the Caribbean for the first time in a little over a decade wasn’t the only hurting issue; it’s the fact that the West Indies began their maiden Test outing versus the Proteas this year with a score where they failed to touch the three-figure mark on the board.
Remember the name is what they say when you do something popular in the Caribbean.
But the hurt fan was compelled to ask his cricketers in whom he sees light and a reason to watch the sport- Remember the 97 all out at St. Lucia?
What’s more, in the fourth inning of the Second and Final Test, when all the West Indies could’ve done was to have batted the game for a draw, if a win wasn’t coming, they were bundled out for 165.
Similarly, a few days ago when the Windies took a settled approach at Sabina Park, in stark contrast to their woeful Proteas performance, they ended up scoring 253. But what might have happened if Kraigg Brathwaite’s fifty not have led to 97 of those runs alone?
While victory in the end thanks to a nerve-wracking fourth-inning display got them home, did it do enough to hide what the top order managed?
Let’s cut some slack to the captain, who could make no more than 2. But that Powell and Bonner collectively made 9 runs with Chase making no more than 22 offered where it is the batsmen are getting it wrong.
Moreover, while Roston Chase, from the two innings collected 43 runs, including a broken inning repairing first-inning stand with his captain, he’s hardly looked the Roston Chase of 2017, when Misbah and Younis’ team were slaughtered with 2 magnificent hundreds.
In here lies a key issue captain Brathwaite would want his batsmen to rectify. The requirement of modern cricket is such that one must immediately adapt provided one wishes to leave behind an indelible mark in the game.
There’s little excuse for Powell to underperform, who the team are posing faith in, having found little results from Campbell. So the otherwise studious left-hander cannot hide under the excuse of having not faced Abbas, Yasir, Afridi before.
Well, none of his contemporaries in the playing eleven have! Add to that, the fact that the role of an opener is to score not return after an 11-ball-stay at the wicket.
That’s never going to leave the incoming number three, Bonner, any comfortable. Lest it is forgotten, he’s yet to fully recover from the concussion hit (suffered at the hands of Nortje) + the inexperience of playing against this Pakistani attack.
It’s an exhilarating site when the tail-enders forge a rescue operation. But really, is that what the West Indies with established and premier batsmen like Brathwaite, Blackwood, Holder and others want to do? What are the batsmen in the team, after all? Luckily, they have two full opportunities in this Final Test to make do for their last chances. And sadly, there’s not a Test cricket going to be played after this tour. So ideally, those who missed out have time to step in the bus and take the fans to a joy ride!