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Without Chris Gayle, West Indies' top order is inexperienced and on a sluggish surface in Delhi their lack of nous was sorely exposed
November 9, 2011
Given his size and presence, it wouldn't be wholly inaccurate to call Chris Gayle the elephant in the West Indies dressing room. As the match slipped away on the fourth morning despite a fiery spell from Fidel Edwards, the mind went back to the final session on the second day, when West Indies came out to bat 95 runs ahead. In the 14 overs available before stumps, they reached 21 for 2. Had Gayle been around, and had he survived, more questions would surely have been asked of an inexperienced attack, especially with R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha sharing the new ball.
Gayle's continued exclusion has little to do with cricket and everything to do with a clash of egos. "Disciplinary issues" crops up from time to time when he's mentioned. Usually, that phrase is associated with a lack of performance. When it comes to Gayle that is certainly not the case.
Before being ignored in 2011, he had enjoyed two of the most prolific years of his career, scoring 1569 runs in 18 Tests at an average of 58.11.
Six of his 13 career hundreds came in that time, including a second triple-century, in Galle last November. What's more, none of his hundreds came against minnows. There were two apiece against England and Australia, neither of whom were constrained by popgun attacks.
For the current West Indian dispensation, however, Gayle is persona non grata. Ian Bishop, fast bowler-turned-commentator, who was in Delhi for the game, sighed wistfully when asked how much more West Indies might have pushed India with Gayle and Dwayne Bravo in the side.
"Building for the future" is the constant refrain these days, but the difference in this match was the huge gulf in experience between the two sides. Shivnarine Chanderpaul aside, the specialist batsmen had just 57 caps between them, 35 of them to Marlon Samuels, whose chequered career began in Australia more than a decade ago. Kirk Edwards has two hundreds from four Tests, and big things are expected of Kieron Powell, but on a sluggish surface where the ball never came on, their lack of nous was sorely exposed.
West Indies have traditionally struggled on slow and low pitches. Even 24 years ago, when Narendra Hirwani spun them to defeat at Chepauk, the batsmen didn't know what approach would serve them best. "As long as I've known, spin has been our problem," captain Darren Sammy said after the game.
"Losing 15 wickets for 220 odd runs [10 in the second innings, and the last five in the first] ... had we scored another hundred, knowing that India hasn't scored more than 300 runs in their last nine innings, it could have been a different ball game. We need to find a way to score against spin and not let them get us out."
There were enough clues in the outstanding batting of Chanderpaul. His positive intent, along with that shown by Sammy, was just about the only redeeming feature of a desperately meek second-innings display, and Desmond Haynes, the batting consultant, has a task on his hands to turn things around before action recommences at Eden Gardens on Monday.
"He used to play spin well," Sammy said. "He has been working hard with us. Most of the time, we have been out lbw, playing with our pad instead of the bat."
He suggested that the mindset against spin could also change, taking a cue from the manner in which Chanderpaul refused to be tied down. "As soon as the spinners settled, we went into a shell. Maybe we could bat a bit more positively, like Shiv showed us."
Given how hard they pushed India, there will be no panic buttons pressed before Kolkata. "We still have a young batting line-up with Chanderpaul leading the pack," Sammy said. "It's just a matter of them going out there and applying themselves. We have two young openers who have six or so [seven] Tests between them."
A fully fit Adrian Barath will come into contention for the second Test, and West Indies will hope that he can provide some of the impetus that the openers failed to when needed in Delhi. But no matter who they pick, that Gayle-sized hole at the top will be hard to overlook.
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