<
>

Throwing it all away

Patience is a virtue, even when you're pressed for time.

One of the distinctive characteristics of West Indies batting efforts so far in the Super Eights phase of this World Cup has been the almost indecent haste to push the score along, regardless of the quality of the bowling. It has already proven to be a costly adventure. No-one involved in the leadership or management of the regional side is going to openly admit it, but there was clearly a plan to go after Glenn McGrath on Wednesday, with disastrous consequences.

Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels both fell to skied catches in the first two overs from the champion bowler, and when he returned for a second spell to tighten the screws on a struggling home side, Dwayne Bravo joined in the succession of reckless dismissals by gifting his wicket via a mistimed drive.

Maybe they were influenced by the manner in which the Australians, and especially opening batsman Matthew Hayden, went after Shaun Pollock last Saturday in St Kitts. South Africa's most experienced and successful bowler was targeted for a merciless assault, leaving Graeme Smith in a quandary as to how to stem the tide and providing further evidence that, despite their status as the top-ranked team in one-day international cricket, the South Africans seem far too regimented and mechanical to navigate through moments when intuitive genius and inspiration are required.

But part of being a developing, learning team, or even an outside chance to lift the prize here in the Caribbean, is being able to think on your feet, to respond to the different challenges as they unfold and adapting to the changing circumstances that seem almost inevitable, especially in the shorter version of the game.

An element of that thinking process involves recognising the quality of the opposition and not simply going hell for leather just because that might have been discussed at a team meeting the previous evening.

There's no need to fear any opponent. But common sense dictates that a world-class performer should be respected. There is no question that McGrath falls comfortably into that category, so if the ball is not there to hit, the better option must surely be to acknowledge a good delivery, try to keep wickets in hand for the later stage of the innings and push for a competitive total. It was almost the same story yesterday, except that the consequence of impatience was 42 runs worse than the day before, when Australia romped to a 103-run victory. In the context of a determined, disciplined New Zealand line-up and a pitch that seemingly holds no terrors for the batsmen, the odds were obviously stacked against the home side denying the Black Caps a victory that would have further drained the already limited enthusiasm of West Indian fans for this vital stage of the tournament.

This mood of concern, bordering on depression, would not have been helped by West Indies selector and former fast bowler Andy Roberts openly expressing his bewilderment, in a lunchtime interview with Keith Holder on the CMC CricketPlus radio coverage yesterday, at the decision to include batsman Lendl Simmons at the expense of fast bowler Jerome Taylor. Such public dissension in the ranks cannot possibly help a cause that is desperately in need of unity, cohesiveness and for all the principals to at least be moving together in the same direction. The inadequate batting performance against New Zealand again featured dismissals defined by impatience, poor shot-selection and the failure to acknowledge quality bowling by giving it due respect.

Jacob Oram's success in removing Ramnaresh Sarwan, Samuels and Gayle to a succession of loose strokes seemed to have much to do with a degree of mental relaxation by the batsmen at the fact that Shane Bond was out of the attack. The tearaway fast bowler's removal of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the pace he was generating early on were definitive statements of intent. That he was able to respond immediately when summoned again by his captain to remove Bravo, and then polish off the innings by knocking over the hapless Corey Collymore, underlined the value of a wicket-taking bowler.

Whether fast or slow, to be able to call upon such an individual with the expectation that, more often than not, he can provide the breakthrough is an invaluable asset to any team in any form of the game.

Much has been made over the past 15 years, especially since the decline of West Indies and the disappearance of the overpowering armoury of fast bowlers, about the contention that the "bits-and-pieces" performers - the assortment of medium-pacers who bat - are the way to go instead of the out-and-out specialists.

Well, that may be the case to an extent, especially when you want some depth in the batting line-up. But for all the talk about containment and limiting scoring opportunities, there is still no better way to arrest the run-rate than to take wickets, as Bond, left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and medium-pacer Oram showed yesterday at West Indies' expense.

Champion teams are still spearheaded by genuine strike bowlers, whether they rely on raw pace or sleight of hand. When faced with that sort of threat, it is up to the opposition to come up with a plan to counteract it. Swinging for the hills may be the macho thing to do. Yet as we have already realised, unbridled bravado may be exposed as a pitiful attempt to mask technical and temperamental inadequacies.