India v West Indies, 1st Test, Kolkata, 1st day November 6, 2013

Talented yes, but where's the nous?

West Indies' reckless batting granted India a huge advantage on the first day

Is there an experience more frustrating in cricket than watching West Indies bat in Tests? So beautifully they bat, so hopelessly they collapse. Kieran Powell, Darren Bravo and Darren Sammy should be kicking themselves after wasting their starts irresponsibly to be bowled out for 234 on the first day of a Test in India after they had the big advantage of winning the toss.

Some of the shots West Indies played today might have been worth the gate money alone, but they were followed by a severe lack of Test-match temperament or cricketing intelligence. Powell started the day nearly perfectly. The two punches - back-foot drives, if you will - defied a slightly two-paced pitch. First he rose with the bounce of a Bhuvneshwar Kumar delivery, rode it, faced it in front of his chest, and placed it wide of cover and watched it travel to the boundary on this quick outfield. Soon he repeated the dose, only this time he punched it straight back into the pitch, after which it bounced over the bowler's head for four. That's a signature Chris Gayle shot that they say people used to drive to Kingston to watch. Down-the-road punch, they call it.

Between them, they are the two most difficult shots to play. To ride the bounce, to keep the ball down, to get enough timing to send the ball to the boundary, to place it, is a clear sign of skill that warrants a healthier Test average than 30. He also laid down the gauntlet for R Ashwin by going after him effortlessly, punching him down the ground for a six and driving him over mid-on for a four in his first over. It was all settling down beautifully for Powell when Mohammed Shami came back and bowled a bouncer. The idea was good, but it was directed well wide outside off. And, mind you, it was the first bouncer of the day. Powell reached out, and played the hook to get out.

Unfortunately, those who saw him end his innings in similar fashion all over Karnataka during the A tour last month weren't surprised. In Shimoga, he had looked similarly good in scoring 33 before chipping the left-arm spin of Bhargav Bhatt down deep midwicket's lap. This was not a mis-hit, he never tried to hit it for a six. This was either a break in concentration or lack of match awareness.

I asked the West Indies A coach Junior Bennett what does he tell batsmen when they get out in this manner. This, after all, is no technical flaw that can be corrected in the nets. Bennett said he had waited for a day, and was now going to take Powell aside for "a one-a-way", show him the video, and ask him to explain what just happened there. Powell later spoke in a press conference about the need to concentrate harder. Not just him, other West Indies A batsmen too: there were 11 scores of 60-99 during that tour and just one century, that too in the second innings of a match certain to be drawn.

Whatever Powell might have gleaned from that one-a-way he didn't bring it back to India. It could well have been a break in concentration behind Powell's shot to get out, but West Indies also need to break their boundary concentration. Until Shivnarine Chanderpaul came in to bat, 112 of their 138 runs had come in boundaries, but their overall run-rate despite such a high boundary count was little over three. It was all block-block-block-block-block-boom. And back to block.

In India, not looking for the single plays right into MS Dhoni's hands. He loves employing in-and-out fields: four men catching and others protecting the boundary. And it allows his spinners to bowl continuously at one batsman and build pressure. Bravo was a willing party to these tactics. His 23 runs came in 10 shots yet his strike rate was 24. On nine occasions, he played out maidens. And then scored in spurts through shots that once again reminded you of Brian Lara in his pomp.

All this is no excuse for his headless running and then looking back repeatedly at Chanderpaul as he walked back as if it wasn't his fault, and his fault alone. The ball had been played behind square, pretty much straight to the fielder, it was Chanderpaul's call, and he never showed an inclination to run. Like Powell, Bravo turned out to be just another tease.

It might sound a little harsh to criticise Sammy for his holing out to long-off when some of his specialist batsmen sold their wickets at a garage sale, but this was a Test, if ever there was one, for the captain to put a price on his wicket. His being neither this nor that disturbs the balance of the team. If West Indies play six batsmen, they are left with three specialist bowlers and Sammy, who is a great trier and pretty accurate but is hardly a strike bowler. It can work in seam-friendly conditions but here in India you need an extra spinner. So today the captain made the choice to play the fourth specialist bowler, which should automatically call for more responsibility with the bat from the man who made that decision.

And Sammy had Chanderpaul to bat with. Dhoni spread the field out for Sammy, brought the field up, put spin on, and basically gave him singles all around the dial if he so fancied. Sammy, though, fancied clearing long-off. He failed, and Chanderpaul was left stranded. Surely the easiest bit of captaincy Dhoni has done?

Except for Marlon Samuels and Denesh Ramdin, none of the West Indies players expected to make runs can claim they got a special delivery or a special set-up or incredible pressure. It was good steady bowling from India, but hardly deserving such a massive advantage on day-one pitch. In all likelihood, West Indies are in store for a long day and a half in the field. Sometimes a leather hunt in the sun can teach lessons the best of the coaches can't.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on November 7, 2013, 7:04 GMT

    While I agree with Mr. Monga's anaysis, I think there's also one mitigating factor: the lack of test matches. West Indies have played only two test matches this year, priot to this tour. In fact they have played just 9 test matches since their last tour to India two years ago. If test match skills are lacking, it could also be partly put down to inadequate recent experience.

  • James on November 7, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    We can wait to have the final words- let the Indian batsmen also deal with the reverse swing of the WI pacemen. As far as Powell getting out on the hook is concerned, no need to make it an issue. Powell is good at the hook- this is one of those occasions when he failed. Most other times, it would have been a boundary.

    Sammy's presence in the test team is indeed a serious issue. With his controlled bowling (which can never get a defending batsman out) and his ability to wield the long handle, he is certainly useful in T20s. In ODIs he would be a marginal selection, and in Tests, he spoils the balance of the team. This is especially baffling as there are lot of pace bowling allrounders in the WI at the moment.

    Ramdin's presence in the team is indicative of the lack of depth in wicketkeeping in the caribbean at the moment. Walton and Baugh are also average guys.

  • david on November 7, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    west indies dont want towin the guy who was making runs in the trial game is not in the team deonarine what more does he have to do we no the coach do not like him

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    Fine observations, Monga. For years I have been calling for a proper EXAMINATION of the INTELLIGENCE of specific players: Powell was on the top of my list. This is the FOURTH time that he has gotten out in this maner. Strange to hear his coach is nowgoing to take him for a "one way" video to ask what he was thinking? Te other player on my list was Samy. Then Bravo and man others, but we also have to ask the critics of Chandrapaul where is all the YOUTH and PROMISE of selecting these school boys to play a man's game ? It has been more than 5 years we are hearing the cry to select for the future and bypass the likes of Chanders. When should we expect these players to deliver? There is no evidence of any learning going on with Powell and man others. Monga said it correctly, block, block and lash hard....India shouldpost 700 over the next 2 days and send a point to Gibson and sammy.

  • Uday on November 6, 2013, 23:18 GMT

    The author mentions how recklessly a talented team batted without any mention of the debutant Shami who bowled so brilliantly that even the captain of the WI team acknowledged. This kind of praise reminds me of almost 25 years ago when Tendulkar as a debutant hit Pakistani battery of pace bowlers & also the likes of Abdul Qadir and earned praise from Pakistani team that India has got a star batsman who would go long way to play for India in future. This article is sadly but almost taking away the full credit from the hero Shami who has arrived on India's bowling scene and is to stay for many years. India has finally got a young fast bowler who not only bowls fast but also swings both ways (reverse swing). Shami also got praise from Australian team captain who said last week that he was surprised how Shami gets in the pace so late after the delivery is bowled. i.e the ball moves/swings so fast after it is pitched. SO SAD SO SAD that credit is not given when it is deserved.

  • Dennis on November 6, 2013, 21:29 GMT

    I struggle to understand that selectors keep going to Ramdin instead of johnson Charles who scores more consistently. West Indian top 5 MUST fire to compete in the 2nd innings. Sammy needs to put a price on his wicket as a Captain and a player cuz he just give his wicket away most of the time and cant bowl to run through any batting line ups. We the fans are tired of getting this kind of performance from its Captain and Senior players. I think that Deonarine instead of Sammy with Marlon as Captain for 2nd test and play the extra batsman

  • Mohsin on November 6, 2013, 20:56 GMT

    It all depends upon West Indien Bowling and fielding how they manage to restrict India from achieving big total. It is only the first day we will have clear picture by tomorrow by the end of the days play. If West Indies came into the series with the required bowling home work then we will see WI might be coming back into the game otherwise WI will be defensive during the remaining days of the test match.

  • o on November 6, 2013, 20:33 GMT

    I'm not being sarcastic but I honestly think Tino Best has the best batting technique in the West Indies 11 ! I'm not sure why he bats at 10, he has a solid defence and some good strokes for me I'd back him with the bat to last at the crease longer than Ramdin Sammy and the rest of the bowlers.

  • o on November 6, 2013, 20:28 GMT

    Kirk Edwards is a more technically and mentally solid batsman than any of the top 3 batsman playing here (as he showed in the India A tour). Someone told me Bravo cannot be dropped in the comments before this game I'm not sure why ? he cannot rotate the strike to save his life and consistently displays weak body language. After bogging himself down and running himself out the display he directed at Shiv was disgraceful and sums up why he isn't Test material.

  • Srinivasan on November 6, 2013, 17:18 GMT

    If any Indian player was dismissed the same way as Powell, the same author would be writing how poor his technique against short ball. The truth here is as soon as Powell saw the shortness of the ball, he went for the pull. Credit to the bowler, he beaten the batsman for pace and angle. I agree Sammy and Bravo threw their wickets away. Finally, you don't need 10 magic ball to bowl out a team. Give some credit to Indian bowlers. Indians bowled beautifully. Hope to see hundreds from Dhawan and Vijay tomorrow