February 13, 2013

Little gain for West Indies' long journey

The win in the T20 is small consolation for the failings that were exposed in the ODIs

On Sunday, Johnson Charles survived a dropped catch and two encounters with the DRS. But he could not escape from his own self.

For nearly a full 37 overs at the MCG, the West Indies opener from St Lucia had been keeping his side in sight of the 275-run target. A win would have meant West Indies would escape a 5-0 drubbing. Off the 120th ball he faced, Charles guided Clint McKay to the third-man boundary, getting to 100, his first century at West Indies or even senior level. Victory was still 93 runs away. The job was not finished. But Charles was.

The next delivery, a short one from McKay, Charles decided to go for the pull. But it was more a waft, the tamely hit ball looping behind square for Ben Cutting to complete the catch. Charles, made his way off, walking slow and full of regret at a job nowhere near complete.

Maybe he could have taken an extra second or two to mark his guard again before he took that next, final delivery. Maybe he should have walked off the pitch, done some gardening, put the game situation in perspective before that next ball.

Charles had left Kieron Pollard at the crease. But, needless to say, victory never came.

The margin of that fifth defeat was only 17 runs, but it might well have been 170. The closest match of the series brought no real comfort to the West Indies camp.

Today's T20 at the Gabba reversed the trend of the ODIs, the world champions dominating Australia to win by 27 runs.

But West Indies will still this leave this short tour with little gained for the long journey. They did not need another 5-0 beating on their record, their sixth such in ODI series.

This was the first 5-0 for the coach-captain combination of Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson. They must have thought those bad old days were behind them. West Indies had, in the first quarter of 2012 actually shared ODI and T20 series with the Australians. And they went on to actually win half the 50-over games they played in 2012.

But that good start last year came in the Caribbean, on the slow pitches that did not allow for the same searching examination of technique that the tracks - in Perth, especially - provided this time.

Getting bowled out for 70 in that first match at the WACA set the tone for the series. Sammy's side was always playing catch-up, and taking a long time to do so.

The cricket West Indies played over all of 2012 showed that they had become a side with some spunk and more self-belief. It would be wrong, therefore, to conclude that they have suddenly lost those qualities. What is true, however, is that West Indies is still a side that struggles to keep its discipline in the longer formats.

Later in 2012, Sammy's side was outclassed in England, and they lost their ODI series in Bangladesh. In the Australia one-dayers, some of the failings from Bangladesh were again evident. There was not one innings Down Under in which the West Indies batsmen contributed as a unit. In five innings, they did not once bat their full 50 overs. In the first match, they lasted 23.5 overs; in the second, 38.1; in the third, 47.3; in the fourth, 49.4; and 49.5 in the fifth. They made a hash of managing their cricket over 50 overs. With regularity, the top order disappeared, leaving a lone batsman, on occasion two -- like the Bravo brothers, who both got half-centuries in putting on 114 in the third match, in Canberra -- to repair the damage. In T20 cricket, such a failing can be overcome more easily. Charles' half-century on Wednesday was enough to lay the foundation for a formidable score of 191.

Chris Gayle's failures before injury ruled him out of the last two games in the ODI series. That was one obvious source of the problems. Also, the void left by Marlon Samuels - the team's most prolific and consistent batsman in all formats last year - was not filled.

Ramnaresh Sarwan probably now wishes the West Indies selectors had not thought about taking him to Australia, as opposed to letting him get some form in the regional four-day 50-over series that has just begun. Like Gayle, he finished the series on the sidelines, but in his case it was because he gathered just 12 runs in the first three matches. The left-arm quicks, the Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, had him bowled or trapped lbw.

Sometimes technique was the issue; more often shot selection was. West indies again hurt themselves by failing to score off enough deliveries. And when they did get the Australians on the ropes, they couldn't keep them there

The swing, pace and accuracy of the Australian bowlers on the hard surfaces proved the undoing not only of Sarwan but his colleagues in general. There was no one batsman who consistently met the challenge successfully. And that will be the biggest worry and point of frustration for Gibson, now signed up for another three years.

Both Charles and Pollard got to three figures; Charles' came at the last opportunity and Pollard's in the penultimate match, when the series was already lost. Gibson would have much preferred it if Pollard had produced the calculated approach that marked his last two innings in Australia in the first two.

Kieran Powell enhanced his growing reputation with 83 in the second match in Perth. Darren Bravo did the same with 86 in Canberra. But the West Indian batsmen in general showed their best side too infrequently to give their bowlers good totals to work with. Partnerships were not often achieved in these ODIs.

Sometimes technique was the issue; more often shot selection was. West indies again hurt themselves by failing to score off enough deliveries. And when they did get the Australians on the ropes, they couldn't keep them there.

In game two, Australia were down to 98 for 6; in match five, the damage was 82 for 4, thanks to Tino Best and Dwayne Bravo. But in both instances, Australian century-makers emerged: George Bailey in Perth and Adam Voges in Melbourne.

Ruthless Australia seized their opportunities five games in a row. They sent West Indies home wounded, with much hard work to do, knowing with even greater clarity that bits-and-pieces cricket will not get results.

It is a case of all, or nothing at all.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express