Talented yes, but where's the nous?
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