July 1, 2014

No backbone in West Indies' batting

Apart from the 21-year-old Kraigg Brathwaite, no other batsman showed much promise in the series against New Zealand

Kraigg Brathwaite, who looks more productive and able since his recall, lends stability to West Indies' line-up © WICB

Rain, rather than their batsmen, became West Indies' best hope of not losing the Test series once Brendon McCullum declared overnight and asked them to chase 308 on the last day at Kensington Oval.

Rain did not fall long enough to save them.

So for the second Test rubber in succession against New Zealand, and third overall, West Indies were losers. It was an accurate reflection of the way they played. But the tale of this series for West Indies was not so much what happened, but what did not occur in the three matches.

Kirk Edwards, batting at No. 3 averaged 27.40. At No. 4 Darren Bravo managed 37.00. Among the batsmen, only opener Kraigg Brathwaite, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul averaged 40 or better.

In contrast, New Zealand's one-down man, Kane Williamson, was the series top scorer with two centuries, 413 runs and an average over 82. Jimmy Neesham at No. 6 averaged 46.33. He was one of five tourists who managed better than 46.

West Indies' top batsmen, however, were yet again unsteady in their contributions. The result was a first-innings total of 262 in the first Test at Sabina Park that saw them concede a lead of 246, which ultimately condemned them to a 186-run defeat.

In that effort, Edwards and Bravo between them contributed zero. In the second innings, they combined for 26, while last man Shane Shillingford made a Test-best 53 not out in what was by then a lost cause.

Much better would come from both the top-order batsmen later on, with significantly better results for their side.

In the second Test in Trinidad, Bravo shrugged off the mental shackles that had produced a season of indifferent batting following his premature departure from New Zealand last December. He made a highly disciplined 109, highlighted by his studious judgement of the balls to leave. In combination with Brathwaite, who fashioned a refreshingly positive first Test hundred, Bravo set up West Indies' first innings that allowed the bowlers to put the side back in the series.

Edwards was also pivotal. His confident-but-not-chancy 55 in tandem with Brathwaite steadied a shaky innings at 16 for 2. For once Gayle and Chanderpaul were not key figures in a batting revival, although a typical Gayle onslaught finished off the match.

But even in losing that game because of a poor first-innings effort, the dogged New Zealand lower-order resistance from BJ Watling and Mark Craig, playing just his second Test, was instructive. It was the kind of approach that the visitors employed more often than the home team; the reason why they always seemed more likely to have the better of the series.

Edwards made 58 and 10 and Bravo 24 and 40 in the third Test. For the positions in the order they occupy and the time and hope invested in them as the backbone of the batting in the coming years, the series did not represent a genuine step forward for either player. Both still do not force the bowlers to come up with different plans to dismiss them, hence their patchy records.

While he was relatively steady with the bat, Ramdin's wicketkeeping suffered from lapses in concentration and his decisions about when to go on the defensive and when to attack

More encouraging was the way 21-year-old Brathwaite came back to Test cricket. An accumulator by nature, he suffered from not being able to score regularly while at the crease. But in recent months, Brathwaite, always the calm, patient type, has been working on getting the ball away more often, especially against the spinners, and his 129 upon his recall at the Queen's Park Oval suggested that a more able, productive player was now in position to give stability to the West Indies top order. So did his average of 72.33. Such a presence is needed more than ever now since Gayle, 34, and never fully fit during this series, looked to be getting closer to the end of his Test career at least.

West Indies at this point are not a team with a well-developed spine in their batting. They are like a man with brittle bones creaking under the weight of his body. The side needs spinal surgery. The repeated failures of Kieran Powell, dropped for Brathwaite after the first Test, must be an ongoing cause for concern for team management and the selectors.

The problems seem not so pressing when it comes to bowling. The new-ball pair Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor came back from long absences from the game to have satisfactory series. Roach, sidelined for close to a year with a shoulder problem, got better and better from first Test to third to end with 15 wickets after having not played a competitive match until the opening game at Sabina.

Taylor, whose rehabilitation was confirmed after he played a full season for Jamaica in the regional four-day tournament, started strong but did not finish as well as Roach. But he stayed healthy and his three-wicket spell on the second afternoon in the second Test created the first crucial swing in the match.

Like Taylor and Roach, the 6ft 7in Sulieman Benn was on the comeback trail against New Zealand. And he used his height and arm ball to great effect for 14 wickets with his left-arm spin.

In a perfect world however, Roach should not have been a starter at Sabina Park, nor been needed in this series at all. But he took the new ball ahead of Shannon Gabriel, who had played all season for Trinidad and Tobago. But given his chance in the second Test on his home ground, Gabriel bowled with the same lack of incisiveness that has marked his international career to date. It meant that the selectors felt compelled to turn to Jason Holder for his first Test in the final game in Barbados. He did his cause no harm with a creditable showing with the ball, but especially with the bat, getting his first 50 as the lower order delayed victory for New Zealand.

The decision to include a fifth bowler, Shane Shillingford, did not have the hoped-for impact. New Zealand even had the luxury of declaring in their second innings on the fourth day. Shillingford, back for a second time after problems with his action, and unable to bowl his doosra, was not the same bowler in the two games he played. And in this series, West Indies could not call on Sunil Narine once the West Indies board stuck to policy and did not consider him after he missed the pre-series training camp.

That said, when able to call on their best bowlers, West Indies have a unit that can cause the opposition problems. The difficulty however, as with the batting, is the reserves. There are not any of proven quality, save, arguably, for injury-prone Ravi Rampaul. It is an uncomfortable situation to be in, given the fitness history of 30-year-old Taylor and Roach, 26, and the scheduling of international cricket, which, as this series showed, can make T20 standout Narine a non-starter.

The selection panel, coach Ottis Gibson and new skipper Denesh Ramdin face challenges aplenty.

While he was relatively steady with the bat, Ramdin's wicketkeeping suffered from lapses in concentration and his decisions about when to go on the defensive and when to attack - especially when pressing for victory in Trinidad - were sometimes questionable. He was the antithesis of his counterpart, McCullum, in this regard.

Ramdin must learn fast from this series. But his players need to do so even more quickly. The signs though, like some of the weather in this last Test, are not too bright.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 5, 2014, 15:39 GMT

    I believe WI and NZ are actually not that far apart. The first test was actually decided more by dropped catches than the score line shows. This series boiled down to WI simply not sticking with the same line up in the last test due to a lack of confidence by the selectors. The Trinidad test was not a fluke. Even the final test could have looked very different if Ramdin was awake to catch Williamson when he was on 6.

  • Dummy4 on July 5, 2014, 1:07 GMT

    Maybe.... maybe not. But before you look inward and navel gaze Windies, understand that you get made to look bad when you play a better team. NZ is a far better test team (and only getting better and better) than you are. We don't have your issues of having several countries amalgamating and then everyone calling for their own.... When this should be an advantage really. Wanting to do well and applying yourself is not enough. Our examination is tougher than yours b/c we are better - it's not complicated. As the worse team, application and all that stuff does not come into it. We're better than you are... there's your reason for losing. Move on.. get better. Then you can whinge. Less IPL.. more love of real cricket.. fans remembering what proper cricket is.. those things will help.... You were outplayed because five days is too long for your gang mentally at the moment. And our bowlers are better. And some other stuff. NZ is top 3 in the world really anyway...

  • Dummy4 on July 4, 2014, 14:33 GMT

    Folks keeps talking about Narine.Narine is a 20/20 bowler.he has only 24 balls to bowl. Batsmen must go after him or any bowler for that matter.Thats the nature of the game. In tests there is no need to go after him. They can be patient and wear him down. I seem to remember another mystery spinner...Mendis where is he now?

  • charlie on July 4, 2014, 13:16 GMT

    I really want to hear something new from WI supporters ! First bring back Gayle ,Pollard ,Sarwan and Taylor and we beat the world IN T20'S .Get rid of Sammy he is upsetting the team balance ,but things remain the same .Now fire Gibson and selectors is the rallying cry ; this should do the trick . Wake up people and check WI winning records in the past 17 years and you'll find that the same thing has been going on without Gibson ,Sammy or these selectors . It's obvious you are missing the point here guys .

  • Dolly on July 3, 2014, 17:47 GMT

    West Indies management need to build a new team from the younger players and simply discard the recycled players. New Zealand went to naught and are now a competitive team after rebuilding. Drop Chanderpaul , Gayle, Samuels, Benn, Taylor, Shillingford and retire them now just as was done to Lara. Ask them not to return please.It is better to lose with a young , hungry team than to be humiliated with rich old prima donnas who "manage' their picks on the side.

  • Dummy4 on July 3, 2014, 14:55 GMT

    Why it is that there is no word from the coach? Is he in hiding? Sad.

  • Basil on July 2, 2014, 21:57 GMT

    Anyone else noticed Benns strike rate in Test cricket? It's almost 90. That's a wicket every 15 overs. That's about 30 more deliveries per wicket than most good bowlers. Selection, Selection, Selection. This just proves that the magnificent FC records for WI spinners are massively inflated, and get exposed when they hit International level.

  • Dummy4 on July 2, 2014, 16:50 GMT

    @Rally_Windies, please change ur name to Gibson_basher, before taking WI coaching job, Gibson had Eng bowlers ranked no.1 in test. @Brian Bradshaw Logie was fired by Canada (nuff said), test-battle experience? it was the inexperienced ones that produced. @imposter u dont pick a discipline team with Benn in it afterall its his discipline that kept him away from WI team since the WC. dropping Blackwood for Shillingford wasnt the reason WI lost, but captaincy, dropped catches and the fact that Holder only got 10 overs in each innings was the main reason for the lost.

  • Dummy4 on July 2, 2014, 16:47 GMT

    First of all, I must congratulate both teams for a very exciting Test Series. I'm keeping it simple and straight to the point: West Indies' decision to discard Narine from the playing XI(and the squad) was New Zealand's gain.I thought Brathwaite batted beautifully and more importantly, with a calm head. The selectors and Ramdin's decision to play 5 specialist bowlers in the last match backfired on them. Ramdin was not proactive and didn't even showed any signs of it. The Team's support staff also need some inspiration. Gayle showed us that he does not belong in the Test arena, Shiv is at the end of a productive career. 2 very large shoes to fill.Where will they find these "Progressive" rookie players from???Blackwood, Narine, Carter, Bishoo, Permaul, Johnson, Carlos Brathwaite. The key to West Indies' success in the future lies in the development of young cricketers, playing more First Class cricket, quality pitches favoring both batsmen and bowlers. And last, let cricket prosper.

  • Glenroy on July 2, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    Here once again the trini are covering the trini's. Ramdin shouldn't be in the team, he dropped several regulations catches in this series. He dropped Williamson when he was on 10, he went on and score 161. Poor captaincy was also a contributing factor. In the first test match, a Shillligford was given the ball last, even after Marlon. How many times in this series we see the ball flying through the vacant 3rd slips position. Nicolas Pooran should have been in the team. He is better keeper and a far superior batsman and he is 10 years younger. The fact is, Ramdin isn't the best keeper in Trinidad that honour belong to katwaroo.

  • No featured comments at the moment.