December 19, 2000

The West Indian batsmen fail their team - again

Many people have suggested that this "was the best game for the West Indies." Somehow, I am not so sure. While they certainly showed that they are capable of playing very good cricket, the West Indians also showed, especially the batsmen, that they could not stay the course when it really mattered.

I have always maintained that when a cricketer reaches the Test side, there is much less reliance on physical ability (even if it is of the special kind, of a Warne or a Lara), than the absolutely necessary mental agility; the means by which winners turn losing positions to triumphs. That has been the difference in the third Test. Australia, especially the batsmen, outlasted the West Indies mentally.

In my mind, the Test match was lost and won in the first innings. Here the West Indies did the right things initially: winning the toss and electing to bat on the wonderful Adelaide Oval pitch. Indeed, thanks to the hardy efforts of Lara in particular (that 182 was timed to perfection, the stroke-play and the acceleration perfect in every way), and to a lesser extent his captain, the somewhat rejuvenated Jimmy Adams, the West Indies were soon 269-3. They seemed to be motoring along with some renewed confidence. A score of at least 400, more like 450, should have been envisaged.

Then Adams went, late on Day one and the West Indies closed on 274-4. The bottom, literally and figuratively, then fell out from beneath the West Indies. While Lara pummelled away for his 182, and new boy Marlon Samuels did manage 35, the West Indies fell well short of their should-be total of 450. That 391 was certainly not enough. Worse, even though it was their best score to date on this tour, the West Indies knew that too.

Australia must take some kudos for sticking to their guns. As stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist intelligently suggested at the end of the game: "We knew that it would not be one of those pitches where we could blast the opposition out, but we maintained the discipline and kept the batsmen at it at all times. Sooner rather than later, we had to have a break through."

I tell you something. Gilchrist has my vote when Steve Waugh is done. The guy knows his stuff, despite a few stutters. He did very well for his first outing!

Once Lara had departed at 354-6, the resistance effectively ended and that was that. The West Indies not only did not get to 400, but the entire innings was completed much ahead of the time that it should have done. That meant that the Australian batsmen could come out on that second afternoon and flay away.

Jason Gillespie bowled very intelligently in the first innings, using every aspect of the fast bowler's game to cajole his five wickets out. Then Colin Miller obliged, just suggesting, even then, that as the pitch became older, he would be a handful. He did not disappoint. Even with 391 on the scoreboard, the West Indies were already behind.

The energy put into their opening partnership suggested that Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden had a definite plan; to allow Australia to pass the West Indies score by mid-way on Day three, so that Australia would have at least a lead of 150 going into the second half of Day four.

Up to this point, the West Indies, psychologically, were hanging in there, especially when they jolted Australia for those three quick wickets at the end of Day two. Then, the Australian nerve, professionalism and confidence all came through at once.

The team never panicked, but played the cricket that is required of winners. From 187-4, similar to the West Indies initial effort, Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting, guys who, like Lara and Adams, had shown themselves capable of handling a crisis, produced the match-winning partnership. Had the West Indies removed one of these quickly, they would have won the game.

That both Ponting and Waugh survived the best pressure that Adams and his troops have effected for the series also showed that they are not easily rattled. That comes from the confidence of winning regularly. A winning team always expects that some pair will pull them out of the mess. Waugh and Ponting made sure that Australia not only reached the West Indies total, but past it, too.

Psychologically, that was devastating, as the West Indies found themselves realising that they had lost the best part of the batting track, and the initiative too, as they knew that they had made at least 50-75 runs too few.

By the time Lara was out in the second innings, as Colin Miller suggested, "the incoming batsmen had already seen, on television in the dressing room, that the ball was capable of doing anything." He was not wrong.

No West Indian batsman played any cricket after Lara was out in the second innings. The bodies might have been willing, but the minds had already been destroyed by the supposed changes in the pitch. Like the champions that they are, the Australians applied the pressure, through the same Miller and his off-breaks, and the West Indies buckled, being all out for 141.

There is a chilling graphic here to be noted for the West Indian batsmen. In the 13 Test matches that they have played in 2000 so far, 24 innings, they have made less than 200 (all out) on 11 occasions. That is as poor as could be.

Another four innings have been just over 200, while only four have been in the vicinity of 400. That batting inconsistency does not win games. It is as simple as that. These West Indian batsmen have a lot to make up for!

Even with Australia only needing that meagre 130 to win, the persevering bowlers tried their hardest, none more so than Merve Dillon. He certainly came of age for the West Indies, finally fitting into the slot he should have made his own so long ago. That marathon spell on the third day, when he bowled for almost two hours non-stop, was impressive enough, reminding me of perhaps me, in my time. Tremendous stuff.

Alas, even with that effort, the West Indies simply did not have the runs to play with. That first innings total was at least 50 runs short. In the end, that mattered most. The batsmen must now look at themselves and come up with the goods, at least for pride's sake.

It must have been so painful for them to realise that because of their lack of collective production, despite the superlative efforts of one B. Lara, that the West Indies again lost a game, a series and the opportunity to win back the Frank Worrell Trophy because they did not bat well.

Somehow, I believe that the West Indian batsmen would consider this game their worst so far this tour. No-one wants to be at fault for anything as painful as losing, again!

Overall, it was a good Test, both as a game and of skills. The West Indies, though now know what they will have to do. Some might even want to suggest that they can do it.