November 11, 2011

West Indies have flubbed their best chance

They seem to be trapped in a mindset that dooms them to failure. As for India, they managed to get out of jail

West Indies played the role of the challenger really well but you always knew it was a question of when, rather than if, they would fall away. It is thus ordained in the book of life for people who are incapable of, or are prevented from, growing beyond their role. West Indies need someone on the field to show them how to win, for at the moment they give the impression it is out of bounds. Sometimes when you fear the inevitable, you invite it.

There is much promise in this side but it is on a long downward spiral, and the new talent coming in will take the shape of the mould it is cast into. It is the mould, the air they breathe, the acceptance of defeat, that needs to be demolished. It can start with the administration picking the best possible team, and a captain who can inject belief. There is something about Darren Sammy. He is better as a leader than most thought he would be, but he is a cricketer who makes up the numbers. You need that kind too, those who play solid supporting roles, but West Indies need a leader - someone who says, in words and in behaviour, "Come follow me."

And so India got away in the third innings of the match, after having played a poor second. A team that knew how to win would have sealed it in the third. Two hundred and seventy-five was not enough, especially on Indian pitches that are showing a peculiar tendency to ease up as the game goes along. As India's impressive debutant Ravichandran Ashwin suggested, it was not a pitch on which you could run through a side. Ashwin himself passed his first test with flying colours. There will be many more, tougher and heartbreaking, but that thought is for another day. To celebrate the present is as much a part of the game as is worrying about what the future holds.

Ashwin has come up bowling on pitches in India that are, most times, designed exclusively for batsmen. They help no one, certainly not the batsmen. But they test a bowler's heart and allow him to hone his craft. That is what the great spinners of the past did, and that is what Harbhajan Singh will have to do: go back and have the patience to become the classical spinner he was. At some point in life, all successful people go back to school, and maybe this is Harbhajan's opportunity.

It was good to see Pragyan Ojha come good too, for the throwers of the dice in Indian cricket have been a touch unkind to him. At the IPL he seemed disturbed when I met him, but the calmness seems to have returned. On Indian pitches he will always be a handful, and a bowler who turns the ball away from the right-hander is an asset most good teams seek to have.

India benefited, too, from good starts. It is always nice to have two pedigreed openers walk out, both of whom are excellent players of spin; maybe a touch arrogant but who, on their day, can demolish opposition tweakers. The new ball is not always the most crucial period of play on the subcontinent (as it is in England, where India lost the series in those passages) but a 70- or 80-run start just gets the innings going and allows the masters of these conditions to plunder runs down the order.

India's batting looked a little less than ready in the first innings, and that is why VVS Laxman's second-innings effort was just the right performance. So too with Sachin Tendulkar, whose 76 was a fine exercise in rediscovering rhythm. Currently his biggest problem is not the opposition bowling but his supporters who strangle him with their love and virtually coerce him into delivering that century.

I fear this was the best opportunity West Indies could have had, and they didn't have the mindset to take it. The players they need are either unavailable or persona non grata. They seem to have too much stacked against them, on the field and in the committees. I hope they can prove people wrong, for they are popular tourists, as the engaging players from Trinidad and Tobago found out in the Champions League.

But it will require a brave man to bet against India after the first Test.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2011, 6:12 GMT

    What a pathetic article. I thought I was reading an article about WI, and as usual, it turned out to be about India. Grow out of it Harsha and for once, be an objective commentator!

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2011, 3:29 GMT

    Harsha, are we to conclude that Michael Clarke is not a good leader? But Aus. retained Ponting

  • Andy on November 12, 2011, 21:16 GMT

    WI improved a lot with their bowling, but who is the backup for Fiedel Edwards ? Once u take Edwards out of the squad, it looks a miserable attack. I think WI must get back few senior players back into the squad and groom youngsters around them rather than grooming under 1 legend of Chanderpaul. Pollard is useless for tests, Dwayne Bravo might be a good choice. Its WI batting that's looking more worry some. WICB must be careful in protecting their bowlers. @mrhamilton, sarwan was dropped by selectors for not signing contract probably.It wasn't sarwan who opted out of the tour. @Jose Puliampatta: your exact problem sire ? I could dare your own English team to win a single test with in India, I would say they could draw it but not win on Indian dust bowls, remember what happened to your Cook's men in ODI my brother ?

  • ERROL on November 12, 2011, 20:27 GMT

    I do not agree with the author because India is a better team and were expected to roll over WI. Under Gayle WI won two tests [SA and ENG] and lost quite a few. Sammy has lost three test as captain but he also has won two. So TWO WINS in the last eight tests is not a team that have forgotten how to win, but a team who is starting to win again

  • Allan on November 12, 2011, 18:01 GMT

    @Nampally - I totally agree that the 3 spinners Ashwin, Ojha and Rahul Sharma are India's best spinners at the moment, but I despair that BCCI will take Bhajji to OZ and play him as solo spinner, at least for first 2 tests. Bhajji does up his game for the OZ, but I'm not convinced he will be effective this time. In fact he wasn't effective last time either, except getting under their skin, and admittedly putting in a few good batting performances.

  • Milind on November 12, 2011, 17:50 GMT

    India is finally emerging from the shadows of the Eng tour. Good to see the selectors making some bold decisions in the bowling department. India still needs bench strength in batting, which they will need once the stalwarts begin to retire.

  • Allan on November 12, 2011, 17:19 GMT

    I once jokingly suggested that WI play 10 bowlers and Chandrapaul. Well, I suppose you need a wicket keeper, but you get my point. It's like the line from the Karate Kid: Walk on left side of street - ok, walk on right side of street - ok, walk in middle - squish! just like grape.

  • Ashok on November 12, 2011, 16:46 GMT

    @mrhamilton: Sir, you don't need to get sick. You have 2 of your input comments already in. If you read between the lines, Harsha is just stating the facts. WI needs a hero like figure - a model- who inspires them to produce their best. Sammy may be a good captain who unites the team, but he cannot give such inspiration. Take Gary Sobers for example. He could swing the game in a matter of an hour with either bowling, batting or fielding. Chris Gayle, although not Sobers, can produce fireworks which demolishes most bowling. He can do it over a long period. That alone leads the players to believe in him and produce their best.Dwane Bravo & Pollard also have that magnetism to some extent but they are not as consistent or domineering as Gayle. So WI is missing a magnetic" leader" (not captain - @ 44Johter) to finish the job once the team is on voctory path. Team follows this guy's lead magically.Can Sammy produce that magic? India missed that leader in England tour & got Whitewashed!.

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2011, 16:10 GMT

    Dear Yorkshirematt. You ask India to watch out for the English Team. We already did that over 5 matches, over 5 different days, at 5 different venues. Perhaps you didn't watch. Recordings may be available.

  • Dummy4 on November 12, 2011, 11:27 GMT

    @ Giovaughn Wilson you made alot of sense with what u said there, i can tell u know ur cricket... WI bowling has Improved,the attack is good now, so why not play their best batsmen.........this is all on the WICB....WEST INDIES CIRCUS BOARD

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