Controversies and even an England win in the 3rd and final Test in St. Lucia might have shadowed some facts coming out of the series, but here’s the most important one—it took WINDIES a combined seven days to defeat England and claim the series with a game to spare. It was the Caribbean side’s first Test series win versus a team other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe since defeating New Zealand 2-0, here in 2012. It was as you were for the West Indian bowlers in Tests, resuming their 2018 home form, as they added another fifty-five (of a possible sixty) to the ninety-six (of a possible one hundred) wickets they picked up last year. Unfortunately, the same was so (in terms of home form from last year) for the WINDIES top-order, where only two individual half centuries were scored by top-order batsmen in ten individual innings throughout the entirety of the series.
WINDIES batsmen found wanting yet again
As has been the theme of this hopeful resurgence of Caribbean cricket, an unhealthy relationship prolongs between batsmen and bowlers; when WINDIES bowlers have been reliable and are able to make amends, batsmen continue to “flatter to deceive”. A prime example of this in the just-concluded Test series was evident when indiscipline marred the Holder-less attack during the first innings of the second Test, still the seamers were able to pick up wickets (whether that’s a testament to the English’s batting abilities or lack thereof). When those same seamers were found out later in that innings, by a partnership between Ben Foakes and Moeen Ali, Roach and company recovered well; finding the line and length to sweep England’s lengthy tail aside. Giving credit also to the batsmen in that particular innings as they did well to ‘cover’ for the bowling attack leaking 40/50 runs too many. We give credit, in this instance, to the WINDIES batsmen since circumstances—the areas the two English seamers (Anderson and Broad) were hitting, coupled with the unpredictable nature of the pitch—were such that, if the openers came out a minute earlier than they did, or WINDIES’ batsmen ate an extra grape during the break, or spat just a little bit further than they did, they would not have been able to accomplish what they did during that innings—batting 131 overs on that pitch.
At the mention of credit, how much should we give to this bowling attack for realizing their error on Day 1 of the third Test (being too short in length) and rectifying their shortcomings immediately the following morning to take the remaining six England wickets for just forty-six runs? Regardless, so inconsistent and unreliable remains this WINDIES top-order, that when asked to have a turn at carrying the basket, they let it slip, leading to the loss of the final Test (only the two openers from the top six got into double-figures).
WINDIES’ current stance in Test cricket
It is following this famous series victory that we take a step back, in order to critically assess the current position of this Jason Holder-led West Indies Test team. It has been established that while the fans fantasize of the return of the glory days; Holder and his team must focus solely on home dominance. When West Indies plays at home, it should actually be an advantage. Seeing;
1. the work that the, CWI appointed, West Indies regional curator—Kent Crafton has been doing with the pitches for international matches over the last couple of seasons,
2.having a four-seamer attack at home for the last eight Tests,
3. improving that attack (Alzarri Joseph replacing Miguel Cummins)
4. and subsequently having taken one hundred and fifty-one of the one hundred and sixty wickets possible during this period,
5. while statically becoming one of the best seam attack (leanest bowling average, lowest strike rate, joint-most five-wicket hauls and joint-most ten-wicket hauls throughout 2018) in Test cricket– it is safe to say that mission ‘Home Dominance’ is well and truly underway.
Although handicapped by injuries, suspensions, compassionate leave and poor coaching on our last tour of Asia, how much damage–realistically–were we expecting to cause with four seamers on the subcontinent? Or here, at home, on pitches that will begin to “turn” on Day 4? Will Chase and/ Warrican be enough? Along with having Oshane Thomas and Keemo Paul as the fifth and sixth seam options, the West Indies now needs an “X-factor” of a spinner going forward. There is, however, a weightier matter at hand–maximizing the talents of both Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope.
Kraigg Brathwiate co-star; WINDIES Resurgence
Kraigg Brathwaite’s last Test century came just over six months ago; two of those in back-to-back innings against Bangladesh here in the Caribbean. While that does not seem too long ago, he has not done a great deal since then. Having first-hand knowledge of the role he so often plays—protagonist—in Holder’s West Indies, this team needs him “firing”. Sure, he and Campbell seem to have steadied the rocking boat that is WINDIES’ opening partnership for the time being, but if one keeps getting dismissed immediately following the other, then WINDIES would have just traded one problem in exchange for another– rather than a solution. Brathwaite will come out of his current slump, but when he does, we will want a better Kraigg; a ‘Test-centuries-scoring’ Kraigg, a ‘mid-forties-average’ Kraigg, a ‘top-ten-batsman-in-the-world’ Kraigg, a ‘dragging-WINDIES’-top-order-up-by-the-shoelaces’ Kraigg. How long must we wait?
There is still hope, but…
Comparatively, how do we solve a problem like Shai Hope? The remedy for both Brathwaite and Hope might just possess similar side effects to that of the one utilized on the now much-appreciated and highly-valued Shane Dowrich, not too long ago. The Shane Dowrich of 2019 is one moulded from his personal failings with the bat in 2017, which saw Jahmar Hamilton (another wicket-keeper batsman) drafted into the squad the following year as a potential replacement for Dowrich. How did Dowrich respond then? With runs.
Hence, it can be concluded that Brathwaite and Hope are in need of a ‘shaking’; the ground under their feet to twitch, the cushion at their backsides to be pulled, their waffle weave covered robes to be replaced with sackcloth. I am confident that Shai Hope will find his way in Tests as he seems to be doing in the limited overs; but when? How about presently; when we have a balanced team, when we still have one of the best seam-attacks in Test cricket and lively pitches are being prepared currently, when the toss falls for us and the captain takes the right decision, or now when we’ll soon be able to unleash Oshane Thomas?
If we had taken our chances on Day 1 of that 3rd Test, we would not be hearing this “…should have batted first” argument. And while there has been many opportunities to point fingers at Kraigg as a captain in the past, this is not one such instance. Brathwaite was so much more ‘present’ in the field than he had ever been while leading the team previously; one might even argue that the team let him down. Still, who could disagree with the reasoning that it might not be in the team’s best interest to burden him with leadership duties? If such a decision is indeed taken, this Test should not be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If there was anything that could have added to the sweetness of this series victory, it was the fact that three stars from our 2016 U-19 World Cup winning squad all took part. If we remember that very important half-century from Hetmyer during the first innings of the first Test (to take the score up to 289); Joseph, who was unplayable at times, while the same can be said for Keemo Paul who slotted right into the attack. Not only were these young men a part of the team, but they played their part at some point or the other. It is good to see West Indian players transitioning through the ranks. And to think how much more is to come from this trio…
Salute Cricket West Indies
Finally, let us for one moment give credit where credit is due. What was our reaction when Holder replaced Denesh Ramdin as captain or even when Ramdin was relieved of his duties behind the stumps? What were we calling this team– “Barbados”? If you are proud of our current leader, the player presently wearing the gloves behind the stumps and his accomplishes in front of it, if you basked in the pride this team brought us this past month, then some credit is due to Cricket West Indies for the initial decisions they made over two years ago.