Barath steps up but still falls down
Chris Gayle's absence from the dressing room has been the biggest talking point around West Indies cricket for a year now. It only got bigger as Gayle hit a blistering 128 off 62 deliveries playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. Again the question was asked: Why on earth is he not wearing the maroon cap at Lord's instead of pulling on a tacky gold helmet in an Indian domestic Twenty20 tournament?
Rather than debate the Gayle situation, however, it might be more rewarding to divert the attention to the diminutive Adrian Barath, a man who began his Test career opening alongside Gayle. Barath was the second highest scorer for West Indies on an eventful day at Lord's and was instrumental in the tourists finishing on a much brighter note than had been forecast in the morning papers.
But as much as it was valuable, Barath could look at his 42, the sixth-highest score of his 13-Test career, in two ways: either as a small victory for self-belief or another waste of effort. Having worked hard to put in place the pillars to raise a solid platform, for both himself and the team, he again dismantled it with his own hands in a heady moment.
Despite his failures in the Test series against Australia in April, when he made 65 runs across six innings, Barath got the nod for the England tour based on the selectors' faith in his talent. So when he made his maiden walk from the Long Room, past the members, on to the Lord's pitch, Barath probably sensed the weight of expectation.
It was an overcast morning, nippy, too, as Andrew Strauss threw the new ball to James Anderson. Barath, to his credit, started off impressively. He played from deep in the crease, with a straight bat and still head, characteristics of a good batsman. His first five fours, coming in the first hour, were off the middle of the bat.
The first time he was lured into playing a false shot was when Tim Bresnan seamed the ball away from him. Barath, who had lunged forward to play the stroke, understood immediately he should have left the ball. It was an interesting phase in the first session. Bresnan's first four overs were all maidens. Barath had faced the last two, but part from that one moment of distraction, he stayed put resolutely.
Not that he was in the cage all the time. In the following over, bowled by Stuart Broad, he leaned forward to an over-pitched delivery to punch a handsome cover drive for his sixth boundary of the morning. In Broad's next over, Barath's outside edges twice ran to the third-man boundary to bring up the West Indies' fifty.
Barath grew more confident by the minute against Broad, with an inside-out cover drive adding another four to his tally. Michael Holding, the former West Indies bowler, remained unimpressed by Barath's footwork, however, especially his back leg sliding towards the leg side. It would prove to be a telling remark.
In the third over after lunch, having survived a close lbw call against Broad, Barath went for an unnecessary drive, away from his body, which was gathered well, albeit on the second attempt, by Anderson in the gully.
That mistake denied Barath fifty; it also nipped in the bud a steadily developing partnership between him and Bravo. Barath would have cursed himself as he looked on at the world No. 1 Test batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul gathering runs with gusto and patience. It is an easy word "patience", but it can come in many ways. For Chanderpaul, patience is not always about leaving the ball. What makes him equally dangerous is the ease with which he steals singles, frustratingly for the opposition, as Broad admitted later.
Barath, too, left a lot of deliveries, while he defended stoutly against those few that were at the stumps. But he gathered just six singles in his 101-ball stay. He admitted that was the difference in Chanderpaul's innings. "It was fabulous to look at. The way he goes about his innings, the way he gets set," Barath said. "While he is playing himself in, he still knocks the ball around and picks up singles, twos and so on and before you know it he is 20 or 30. That is the sort of approach the young guys have to look at and learn. Ninety percent of his game is mental. He does not want to come and blast the bowling around. It is waiting for the deliveries, and having the patience. He has the right set-up to make runs in these conditions. Everyone can take a page out of his book."
Barath's talent was never in doubt after he made a mature 104 out of a team total of 187 against Australia at the Gabba on debut. West Indies were following-on in that match and lost it by an innings and 65 runs. It was an outstanding performance from the then 19-year-old Barath, who his hero and fellow Trinidadian Brian Lara had described as the next Sachin Tendulkar. It was a brave statement from the West Indies legend.
On Thursday, Barath returned to Lord's, where Lara brought the 17-year-old as a guest in 2007 to acquaint him with the home of cricket. Five years later, the significance of that event might have dawned upon Barath.
Barath admitted he missed out "big, big time" by not batting for the rest of the day on this cherished ground, where even Lara failed to put his name on the honour's board. Lara met Barath on Wednesday and impressed upon the youngster the need to let the ball come to him. "He told me to focus on my scoring areas. He told me to let the bowlers bowl to my scoring areas," Barath said. Lara returned at lunch to inform Barath that he was batting nicely and he should carry on the good work. Except Barath lost patience.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo