April 15, 2012

Barath's promise hobbled by injury and rashness

Injuries apart, Adrian Barath has failed to live up to expectations mostly because of poor judgement on the field

It was a long - longer than expected - day in the field last Tuesday for Adrian Barath. Australia's tail-end batsmen stayed out in the middle at the Kensington Oval much longer than he and his team-mates had expected. Michael Clarke's declaration after last pair Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon had pushed the total past 400 may not have been the most likely scenario in Barath's thinking.

Whatever his mental state as he and Kraigg Brathwaite went out to begin the West Indies second innings, clearly mind and body were not in sync. The little man's feet didn't move well enough as he drove at Ben Hilfenhaus and played the ball onto his stumps. The sound and sight of ball hitting stumps, bails falling to the ground and jubilant Australians running around must have been sickening for Barath. Dejected, his walk back to the Garry Sobers Pavilion, however, was just the beginning of his unease.

For the rest of the afternoon, as Brathwaite, Kirk Edwards, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, just before the end of the fourth day, Darren Bravo, joined him in discomfited silence in the dressing room, Barath might have reflected on the Pandora's box his early departure had opened for West Indies. That box would not be closed, not at least until Hilfenhaus and Harris, chief architects of Australia's fourth-day turnaround, had snatched victory on the fifth while the light was poised to fade away at the Kensington.

There was no disgrace in this defeat by three wickets for Darren Sammy's team. But for Barath, uncomfortable questions must have come up. His contributions in the game must be personally disappointing, galling even.

In the first innings, he cut himself short on 22, going after a Harris bumper with a hook shot he couldn't control. In between that effort and his brief second-innings stay, he also struggled to stay on the field because of thigh muscle trouble. In microcosm, Kensington 2012 summed up Barath's career to date - promise hobbled by injury and rashness.

As a 16-year-old, in just his second first-class match, for Trinidad & Tobago, Barath scored a hundred. In his first Test, against the Aussies, he did the same. He also notched up a one-day century in his sixth game. Now 22, since his West Indies debut in 2009, he has played only ten Tests and averages just over 26. Injury after injury robbed him of important time at the crease. He hasn't been able to build a rhythm, and often, when he has been playing cricket, it has been more of the Twenty20 variety.

In his most recent comeback, granted by the West Indies selectors after he scored a patient century for T&T in his first knock following a finger injury, Barath made steady contributions in the final ODIs against Australia. But Clyde Butts and his panel chose not to expose him in the T20s.

As a batsman, Barath is good enough for all cricket, a talent with the kind of dynamic strokeplay to bring crowds to their feet. But with just 26 matches in all forms of the international game, he is still feeling his way.

Poor starts and defeats are not unconnected. West Indies did not find their footing once Barath and Brathwaite departed early

Disappointed that his first century in regional cricket had come only in his second game, Barath is not a man short on ambition. However, more recently that ambition and his appetite for big scores have been undermined by poor judgement. Too often his innings, including the two in the first Test, have ended due to his own indiscretions.

Those failings will be a concern for Sammy. Substantial opening partnerships for West Indies have been almost as scarce as wins. Poor starts and defeats are not unconnected. West Indies did not find their footing once Barath and Brathwaite departed early. In the first innings, Brathwaite's four-and-a-half hour sojourn and his 76-minute stand with his opening partner set their side up, giving their captain the confidence to declare. But Test cricket can level you fairly quickly, and West Indies were knocked flat in three and a half days. Not for the first time, and probably not the last.

Collective second-innings meltdowns and difficulties in finishing off tail-end opposition again proved to be West Indies' fatal drawbacks in Barbados. They blotted what was otherwise an encouraging showing by the team Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson are shaping.

As a group, the players seem to believe in what they are doing and have been boosted by the way they have handled the Australians so far on this tour. The first Test loss will be a blow, but not a devastating one. To still be in the series after the second Test, however, will require more players - men like Barath at the top and Narsingh Deonarine in the middle order - to keep their heads and produce.

Trinidad's Queen's Park Oval, with its slow pitches, and bounce less true than at the Kensington, especially over the last day or two, will present a different challenge to both sides, especially the one batting last.

Once fit to play, it will be Barath's first Test at home. The perfect time and place to get moving again.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express