Gibson ponders all-pace attack
Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, has hinted at fielding a four-pronged fast bowling attack for the first Test against England at Lord's, which starts on Thursday. The seamer-friendly conditions and the fast recovery of his premier fast bowler Kemar Roach from a "twisted ankle" have given West Indies that option, Gibson revealed, saying he was confident the plan would work.
With the forecast predicted to be overcast on the match days, Gibson agreed the team management would think hard before playing offspinner Shane Shillingford. "Based on conditions, early season in England it is possible," Gibson said about there being enough temptation to play a four-man pace attack.
Roach, who became only the sixth West Indies bowler to bag a ten-wicket match haul during during the home Test series against Australia last month, picked up a niggle during the second tour match against England Lions at Northampton. West Indies suffered a ten-wicket defeat as Roach finished with three first-innings wickets and was unable to bowl in the second due to the injury.
After the rain had disrupted most of the play in the first tour match at Hove against Sussex, the Lions game was the first proper test for the visitors. Roach, who was the highest wicket-taker in the Frank Worrell Trophy against Australia, was inconsistent during the first innings against the Lions, conceding more than four an over. Nick Compton was his only top-order wicket but he managed some hostile overs during various spells. Ravi Rampaul was the pick of the bowlers, with 3 for 79, while Fidel Edwards struggled with his run-up and bowled eight no-balls two of which cost him wickets.
Today Roach started with some leg stretches, having decided against participating in the warm-up football but later returned to bowl in the indoor school at Lord's, after bad weather ruled out any outdoor practice sessions. "Everybody pulled up okay today. Roach was treated twice a day over the last couple of days. He had a little bowl today, bowled six overs, pretty controlled. No complaints at this stage. He is doing okay," Gibson said.
Gibson also brushed aside any scare to Rampaul, who did not bowl much during training. "Ravi just had a stiff neck from sleeping badly; probably staying up too late or playing Playstation. He is fine. And Fidel is fine also. Everything looks all right. All set for Thursday."
Gibson said he was not worried about his captain Darren Sammy having not bowled at all yet in the two tour matches. Sammy did not bowl in the rain-curtailed warm-up match at Hove and then was rested in the second tour match at Northampton. "The captain bowled a lot of balls against Australia, as did Kemar. The decision was made to give him a break, so we wanted have a look at the three seamers bowling together in a game," Gibson said. But he was happy that Sammy was doing his work in the nets and he was not a concern at all.
The one concern that has remained and has kept re-appearing like the dark clouds overhead has been the form of the West Indies top order. In the first innings against the Lions, the top three comprising Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards made an aggregate of 10 runs. In the second innings, Powell scored a resilient century but Barath and Edwards failed again.
But Gibson walked up to his players after the first-innings debacle and re-assured the batsmen that they should not brood too much over the failure. "They were a little bit disappointed and I had to step in and say 'look, you shouldn't be disappointed' because if we bowled first in those conditions on the first day, we would have bowled them out for a similar score. That is the reality in England in early May," Gibson pointed out. If West Indies had won the toss, Gibson was certain, things would have been more positive for West Indies.
"We batted in the second innings, and even if Adrian didn't get runs, Kirk didn't get any runs, but Kieran Powell played very well and got a hundred, so he is full of confidence now. He has got a smile on his face. Darren Bravo has been playing well for us for the last year-and-a-half; he played well, got two half-centuries. We know what Shiv is going to do in these conditions. Dinesh Ramdin got a good knock. Marlon Samuels got a good knock. So the second innings was more like what we know what we can do. We were 20-odd for 3 in that second innings but we ended scoring 400."
Gibson said that the team think tank had also thought about promoting Chanderpaul from his customary No. 5 to the top order but they wouldn't try and experiment at such an early stage in the series. But he felt Chanderpaul would support the team's decision, if the case was made for him to move up the order.
"That is something that we have thought about," Gibson said. "Our batting revolves around Shiv. He is very comfortable at the position that he is at the moment. And he is doing a good job for us. So without trying to upset the batting line-up too much, we've decided to leave it as it is at the moment. But it is something that we haven't completely ruled out."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo