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May 20, 2012

West Indies cricket

Champion teams know how and when to defend

Samir Chopra
Viv Richards lofts Derek Pringle on his way to 189*, England v West Indies, Old Trafford, May 31, 1984
Viv Richards was not only about attack, he could defend resolutely as well  © Getty Images
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As I watch Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul bravely battle at Lord's on this Sunday morning, I am reminded yet again of an often overlooked fact: that the great West Indian teams of the 1980s, while always associated with dashing, hard-hitting batsmanship, were eminently capable of obdurate, defensive batting as well.

West Indies won a lot of Test matches in the 1980s (and later as well) not just because their fast bowlers blew away opposing sides (and contrary to the mythology perpetuated in Fire in Babylon, with more than just bouncers), but because their batsmen were often able to suppress an attacking instinct and put their heads down for the sake of the team. The image of the 1980s West Indies as all batting pyrotechnics, all the time, is one of the most persistent and enduring misconceptions of that great team. It is the converse of the suggestion that the West Indies fast bowling merely intimidated and battered the opposition into submission.

As but one example: During the 1984 Old Trafford Test, West Indies were 70 for 4 when Jeff Dujon joined Gordon Greenidge to put on 197 runs; Dujon batted at a strike rate of 44 to score 101 in six hours; Greenidge ended up with a 223 that took ten hours to complete. The West Indies won by an innings and 64 runs.

Consider for instance that Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were easily capable of riding out opening attacks from opposing sides, not by trying to belt the cover off the ball in the first ten overs of the innings, but by picking and choosing which deliveries to play. Both of these great openers were classical opening batsmen with rigorous defensive techniques, ones that enabled them to produce their stellar batting record over an extended period. Larry Gomes could be as sticky a customer as Chanderpaul, and Clive Lloyd, while capable of playing a furious match-winning innings in the 1975 World Cup final, was, in his later incarnation, a solid provider of cement to the West Indian middle order, eschewing the flamboyance most often associated with him.

The impression of the 1980s West Indies batting line-up as a bunch of carefree, calypso types is a function, I suspect, of the oversized role played by Viv Richards in the cricket fan and journalist's imagination. The King's body language, his persona, his frequent and successful playing across the line, his often-dismissive strokeplay, and his actual strike rate in many innings contributes to this. But Richards, too, was capable of reaching into his defensive arsenal, and pulling out spells of defensive batting when required. It is not an image often associated with him, but it is a part of his cricketing self, and one that deserves acknowledgement.

No great Test team wins as consistently as West Indies did during their glory days by simply attacking all the time. The opposition's bowlers may be inspired, the pitch might be helpful, the scoreboard might indicate early crisis; the reasons for circumspection and discreetness in strokeplay can be manifold in a Test. West Indies won again, and again, (and then again), because they had so many batsmen in their line-ups who had successfully internalised both attacking and defensive modes of play. Acknowledging the defensive facet of the 1980s West Indies does not diminish them in the least; their defensive ability was an essential component of their greatness.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Robertson S Henry on (June 22, 2012, 21:43 GMT)

Very good article on that overlooked ability of the 1980s team. Another example to reinforced the point is the Port-of-Spain Test match during the 1976 India tour of the Caribbean, when Richards put his head down to score 120 on a turning wicket in ensuring the hosts had a challenging total. Had it not been for over six dropped catches, West Indies would have won that Test match.

Posted by gladstone on (June 21, 2012, 14:37 GMT)

The west Indies selector is at fault for all the problem the team is having because the they don t know the players abilities and to place them into the right areas when mostly needed also the coach to me is not knowledgeable enough coach that team instead of grouping the players together he trying single them out for faults and cause division among them they players cannot play the game as a unit they have to be teach I have heard and see many people are saying that this team cannot be the team like the great players of 70s and 80s we have to remember those players had leaders that will lead by example also they know that if they make a mistake is their responsibility to back and work on their skills

Posted by `bernard Williams on (June 14, 2012, 22:59 GMT)

west Indies now have the fire power to regain their no.1 spot in world cricket. However,the selectors need to pick the correct team.The one-day team they pick to play England should have been the test team with the inclusion of chanderpaul and Roach and the exclusion Charles. They keep saying that Pollard and Dwayn Smith are not ready for test cricket but the present crop of men are not winning thus we need to operate outside the box and try other things.My 14man squad for New Zealand would be: Gayle,Dwayne Smith,Darren Bravo, Samuels,Dwayne bravo,Pollard,Ramdin,Russell,Sammy,Roach,Narine,K Edwards,Shillingford and Rampaul

Posted by Randy Bridgeman on (June 12, 2012, 1:55 GMT)

Good article.The bowling was the key for us,though the batting played its part admirably.To have 2 fearsome flamethrowers coming at you constantly wasn't an easy thing for opposing batsmen. Whereas one would hope for a little respite when Lloyd made the first change,it never happened that way. First Garner was thrown the ball then Croft would come on at the other end as second change. Pure fire and venom! These fellows were after you and they left no doubt in the batsman's mind that they were. Of course this constant,lethal attack would wear down even the most obdurate of batsmen. Therein was the WI trump card: the dreaded 4-prong! Our attitude as a team then was if we scored 150,the most the opposition will get is 149. I remember one series in'88-'89 against Pakistan when both Salim Yousuf & Abdul Qadir were competing with the square leg umpire for space,such was Marshall's ferocity!! Yousuf actually complained to Richards who simply told him to go and face the music like a man.

Posted by Clive on (May 25, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

The scoring rate has a lot to do with the type of wickets. If the West Indies players of the late 70s through the 8os had the tracks on which cricket is played today, thousands would be made in some innings. Look at the class of Dujon batting at number 7. I remember when the coaches were trying to get him to stop playing this square drive, frontally facing the bowler, on his toes, a right hander looking over his right shoulder as the ball, cut the grass on the way to the square cover boundary. The shot was just spell-binding. You cannot COACH that!! There are some shots that coaches do not know, believe me

Posted by UmeshD on (May 24, 2012, 20:49 GMT)

Been a pleasure reading this article. Many thanks Samir for bringing back the memoirs of yesteryears and the WI masters.

Posted by Raj Datta on (May 24, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

I once read an interview of the great Viv where he said that in his school days he was not an out-and-out attacking batsman. He had worked on his technique from a very young age (5 or similar), and only in high school he got comfortable playing unorthodox attacking strokes. I remember his words: "Before you start breaking rules, you have to know what they are"

Posted by Malvern on (May 24, 2012, 17:48 GMT)

Couldn't agree more with the foregoing analysis and commentary. I would also venture to say that the problem with many on the current team is that they have no idea how to "craft an inning" even when being paired with Chanders whom they might well wish to emulate. I suspect the problem is that they really don't know how or lack the ability to do so. This brings up the question for the upcoming two Tests on the inclusion of someone such as Nash , now playing county cricket, who understands what is required in the middle order and can usually be counted on as a steadying force there as well as being able to contribute a 50 or 60 runs as well. With Gayle and himself in the lineup England could be fight.

Posted by Jeff on (May 24, 2012, 16:22 GMT)

Meety makes a great point above about run rates in the 80s.

Statsguru shows that the Windies average run rate in the 80s was 3.15. While this was higher than any other team at that time (next highest was India at 2.99) – it is actually LOWER than the Windies average run rate over the last 10 years (3.17) !!

In fact, EVERY test match team except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe has a higher run rate over the past 10 years than the Windies had during the 1980s.

It just goes to show the impact that ODI and especially T20 cricket has had on test match scoring rates over the past decade.

Posted by Kent Jones on (May 24, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

Very good article that illustrates the true depth of the W.I in 80s and 90s. Not just fast bowling but excellent sold batting as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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