Time and time again over the last two decades the West Indies have gone into a Test match with great expectations. Time and time again they and their fans have come away disappointed.
This last Test match against India at Eden Park is only the latest episode of performance not meeting expectation. The troubling thing is that this time, like so many others, the main offenders have been the batsmen. On a pitch where one Indian batsman on debut made 177 and one of their bowlers 124, only one West Indian batsman managed a half-century.
But even before we even get there, the selectors started the madness by selecting a team that was one batsman short. The line up of Gayle, Powell, Bravo, Samuels and Chanderpaul was always going to be inadequate in a match where runs were going to be very crucial. India by contrast fielded Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Sharma and Dhoni; seven batsmen most of whom are in good form. The West Indies fielded five.
I say five because Denesh Ramdin is not a batsman. He may have been but not anymore and he has not been one for years now. In 52 Tests Ramdin has scored only 1978 runs at an average of 25.68. He has three centuries and 10 half centuries. I don’t know what the selectors see in him but as far as I am concerned, the tail, the woeful tail starts with the hapless Trinidadian. If the West Indies is in need of rearguard action like they were in the second inning against India, Ramdin is the least likely to be able to mastermind a fightback. You might have better luck sending Tino Best to the crease.
Ramdin however, continues to be selected as the wicket-keeper/batsman despite being the worst in the world as far as I am concerned because even minnows Bangladesh have a more capable wicketkeeper batsman. Mushfiqur Rahim has played only 36 Tests, 16 fewer than Ramdin yet he has scored 2078 Test runs at an average of 32.46. Zimbabwe’s Regis Chakabva has only played four Tests so I wont bring him into this comparison. Still he averages 20.76. It is not unreasonable to suggest that if he plays 52 Tests he could be boasting a higher average than Ramdin.
The West Indies however, should never be depending on Ramdin however, because that is why they bat him at 6. Gayle, Powell, Bravo and company need to understand, or at the very least demonstrate that they understand that Test cricket is about patience. It is about spending time at the crease accumulating runs and by doing so taking away any possible advantage from their opponents both in terms of time elapsed and runs scored.
Yet, Gayle our senior opening batsman, after all these years playing Tests, still falls into the most blatant trap they can set for him by stacking slips and gully and then bowling the ball across his body. A little foot movement would allow him to get closer to those balls that keep flying to slip off the edge of his bat and perhaps yield better results. In the second innings when the West Indies were more than 200 runs behind, the attempted pull that got him out caught was a shot that he needed to have left inside the drawer because what was needed was a steady erosion of the deficit. Knowing what shots to eliminate, the low percentage, high risk shots might be more suitable to T20 cricket but not in Test cricket when a more intelligent approach is needed.
Bravo and Powell have displayed a more correct approach but invariably both seem prone to lapses in concentration that sees them undoing the hard work they put in to get to 30s and 40s and denying them the opportunity to push on to make much bigger scores. I don’t know what they practice in the nets, but clearly something needs to be adjusted if they are to bring a better approach to the field of play.
When one watches the West Indies, especially in this last Test, one never got the sense that they were focused on building partnerships. Those partnerships would have been key in helping them get to their desired goal of batting for 130 or more overs as Captain Darren Sammy alluded to in his post mortem of the atrocious performance of his batsmen, including his own dismal performance in the first innings where he clearly forgot that he was not in a T20 match trying to take 20 off the last over to win a match.
From the bowling side of things, I believe that you always pick your best bowlers. Numbers do not always compensate for quality. Kemar Roach was hurt, so why not bring in Narine instead of the ineffective and expensive best, who at his very best is not a Test quality bowler. A bowling line up that included Narine, Shillingford and Cotterell would have been more suited to this match, especially when one considers that the West Indies could have played an extra batsman and utilized the bowling of Marlon Samuels more.
As it was, the wrong team was selected and those selected under-performed so badly the team lost by an innings and 51 runs in under three days. This while chasing a total of 453, a par score for any Test playing team these days batting first on a pitch of even bounce. The West Indies batted twice and only scored 402.
There was a time when it was easy to blame the board for the ills of the West Indies, but in recent time the board under Dave Cameron has taken a more inclusive approach. It has embarked on new strategies that will ensure a better environment for the players and it has been working more closely with the West Indies Players Association to ensure that everyone benefits from a successful West Indies team. The board has clearly stepped up, now its time for the players to do the same.