Hammered by the Proteas, where exactly are West Indies Test batsmen lagging? What went wrong?
Cricket is a funny game, they say. Fortunes can be made and destroyed inside a single game. In the imminent future, it could very well be that the West Indies get the edge over the visiting Proteas in the T20 series that’s begun. It’ll be only brilliant given the T20 World Cup is fast approaching and the hosts, also double world champions in the format, get into some form. But then again, what’s also true about cricket is that you are only as good as your last game. And that basically means, the West Indies are in trouble, unless you are very much living under a rock.
The trouble isn’t with the bowling as such, the likes of Roach and the returning Gabriel, and the newbie Jayden Seales have shown fine promise. Making a lightwork of the dominant Proteas in the final inning of the Second Test was evidence of the seamers packing a punch in tandem. Though make no mistake; they bowled 50 extras- really unpardonable- in the Second Test of their St. Lucian routing.
But where the batting is concerned, the lesser said the better. For that is what ails the West Indies. A collective team failure, evidenced by the fact that not once in their last four innings against the South Africans did West Indies even touch a team total of 200 is just the tip of the iceberg.
But then again, this only points to the problems, doesn’t highlight what it is.
Where did the West Indies batting got it all wrong?
So let’s try to analyze. Ahead of what was to have been a ‘high octane’ Test series, which eventually became a one-way street, head coach Phil Simmons emphasized on a few key mantras if the team fancied a triumph.
He highlighted on-
- The need to build partnerships
- The need for the captain to lead from the front
- Bat out sessions
Though what transpired was anything but the above. How?
The highest partnership that the West Indians managed throughout the series was a lowly- given the longest format warrants a lot more- 64-run stand between Powell and Mayers for the third wicket in the Second Test. That the next-best stand was a 46-run alliance between Chase and Blackwood (final inning) in the First Test explains how they fared on the advise offered by the coach.
Moving on, the captain, not an abysmal batsman by any chance, someone with 4000-plus Test runs managed a best score of 17 didn’t exactly end up leading by an example.
And the final nail in the West Indies coffin, though self-administered, was the total failure to bat out sessions. This was clearly established by the fact that when the coach urged his eleven to bat long and take each session at a time, all that the side lasted for in the final Test were no more than 111 overs, having being bundled out for 54 overs in the first inning.
On the other hand, South Africans batted for 165 overs in that same Test to expose with cruelty the chinks in West Indian batting.
And the scant runs, the failure to spend barely any sizeable periods of time in the middle and the lack of partnerships, all of which pushed the hosts to the backfoot didn’t stem from a lack of talent.
How can it ever be?
This was a team that featured a captain with a top score of 212 against a team like England. It featured Shai Hope, one of only the tenth West Indian to have scored a hundred in each innings of a Test. It was a side that had Powell, who went as far as the United States to cover a stint in Baseball only so he could improve his hitting technique. Moroever, it had batsmen like Blackwood who starred in two of the most impressive wins over England, one each in 2015 and then, in 2020’s maiden Test against England courtesy his 95. It had Jason Holder, one of the best all-rounders around.
Yet, the failure of the batsmen to come to terms with the South African triumvirate of Rabada, Nortje, and Ngidi proved to be their great undoing.
One of the prime reasons for their failure could simply be the fact that the West Indies Test side has hardly played South African quicks. As a matter of fact, the last that a bi-lateral series was conducted between the two nations featuring Test matches was a decade back in time.
But by the same logic, you’d note, the Proteas batsmen had the same issue- right?
So how come they dominated their opponents, having never played on the Caribbean turfs whilst the hosts, clearly aware of home conditions, faltered and woefully so?
If you happen to delve deep into the West Indies batting, you’d know the obvious difficulties in facing raw pace of Rabada and the moving deliveries of Anrich Nortje proved to be their downfall.
The First Test serves ample evidence.
Out of the 22 dismissals, that 7 were down to LBW and being bowled (combined) highlights the difficulties the Windies batsmen face in reading deliveries that come in and aim for the stumps.
Furthermore, it also highlights a clear technical glitch- that the West Indians struggle to read the line of the deliveries. Not acceptable at this level of Cricket.
Is the brutal in-swinger, used impressively by Nortje their great nadir?
So unless someone manages to get a home-grown hero like Chanderpaul to speak to this struggling lot, can a possible solution be to make the likes of Hope, Chase, Brathwaite, and Blackwood speak to a Rahul Dravid?
In 2004, when Younis Khan was struggling in the Champion’s Trophy, the Pakistani batsman approached Dravid, who himself initiated the talk without Khan ever having to chase the legend.
In a West Indian context, it might sound like overshooting the problem, but it isn’t since the West Indians, likened to power hitting and playing strokes with flair, aren’t really accustomed at grinding the bowlers.
Something needed at the Test level. Something, if they’d done to good measure, especially in the Final Test, would’ve seen them avoid the harrowing loss in the final game.
In an age where communication is drop-dead easy and can happen over a video call, it won’t be Mission Impossible to approach someone like Dravid for counselling.
But that’s not all; to compound the problems, the batsmen did themselves no favour, whatsoever, by opting for poor shot selection.
For instance, Kyle Mayers (final innings 2nd Test), who was so well-set with Powell at the other end, decided to go for a pull stroke on a shorter ball pitched well outside off. It was a shot that never really should’ve been attempted.
Poor shot selection by West Indies
Mayers, well set on 34, departed gifting a wicket to Rabada.
In hindsight, his departure only pressured Powell, one of the two batsmen to have scored a fifty in the series. For no particular reason at all, the leftie, a vastly superior batsman you’d think over Campbell, holded out to deep mid wicket, falling to Maharaj just before lunch, when he’d demonstrated patience all throughout.
And finally, the biggest of all banes surrounding West Indies is their abject surrender to spin.
This is a problem both surprising and unavoidable. Here’s why.
When the same team beat Bangladesh, in the turning sub-continental conditions, without having even Hope and Chase in the line-up, how did they end up failing miserably to Maharaj? How can it be that you face Shakib, Mehidy, Taijul and Nayeem and conquer a stern Asian opponent on its own turf and fail to read a single spinner on your own home conditions?
With all due respect to the hat-trick clincher, Maharaj’s no Warne. Not the biggest turner.
The kind of shots both Da Silva and Holder offered, playing against the spin, and fiddling with deliveries outside the leg-stump- the classic mistake you simply cannot make at that level- worsened the West Indians.
All of the above suggest a plethora of Windies’ problems are self-dented blows, mistakes they make time and again, displaying a casual attitude in a format that demands seriousness and focus.
Of their 165 in the final innings, 27 runs came off Roach’s bat. Does that also show a lack of intent?
ALSO READ: WI nail T20I batting template
WI batsmen in last 4 Tests:
|Runs In 1st Test
|Runs in 2nd Test
|Highest Score in Tests v SA
|Runs v Sri Lanka Tests (2)
|50s, 100s in Last 4 Tests (SA, SL)
|15 and 17
|0 and 6
1 fifty, 1 century vs SL
|1 and 13
|49 and 25
|DNB and 15
|5 and 51
|Did not play
|Did not play
|Did not play
|15 and 12
|43 and 2
|Did not play
|8 and 62
|4 and DNB
|Did not play
Joshua Da Silva
|0 and 9
|7 and 0
|46 not out vs SL
|20 and 4
|10 and 0
|71 not out v SL
Lack of intent?
It’s not that the West Indies cannot bat and make it count. Of the 348 deliveries West Indies lasted for before throwing in the towel, Kieran Powell played 116 on his own showing he doesn’t lack the temperament needed at this level.
But where things go wrong is when your vice captain offers catching practice to short mid off, at a time where a stand is really needed, knowing clearly that Roston Chase is holding onto an end and support is needed.
One wonders, if Blackwood has pardoned himself for that obnoxious shot he played in the final inning of the First Test?
Cricket, however, isn’t decided by the fictitious; the what-might. It’s a sport wired in the ‘now!’
It’s what you do that matters. And what the West Indians need, ever so urgently, is the realization that right now, they need to group together, watch repeat dismissals of their downfall. Where they failed and how they did so. Video recordings offer exactly what they’d need to know.
The only question is- is there a will to learn and get better?
You cannot travel a mile in Test cricket sans intent. Where’s the West Indian intent gone? For what’s evident is meek surrender!