Indian pacers seek out West Indies' technical faults
Batting is simple. If it's full, you go on the front foot. If it's short, you go back.
Batting becomes increasingly difficult as you move up the quality ladder and come up against bowlers who test your judgment by hitting an in-between length with increasing frequency. At Test level, bowlers do this more often than anywhere else. Batsmen who get that far are the ones most adept at dealing with this challenge. They judge length better, and are better able to identify which balls pitching in that great grey area known as a good length need to be negotiated on the front foot and which ones by staying back.
On Saturday, faced with the task of surviving 87 overs to save the third Test against India, West Indies kept failing this test.
India bowled well to bowl them out, but at times it felt like they only had to keep hitting a good length to induce errors from the batsmen. It is exactly how a team must bowl on a pitch such as this one, with true pace and bounce and offering no extravagant seam movement or turn. Yet, even bowling at their best, India must have expected to fight for their wickets, expected the fight to last at least halfway into the final session. Instead, they bowled West Indies out in 47.3 overs and won a match that lost an entire day to rain, by 237 runs.
West Indies' troubles started right at the top. Kraigg Brathwaite is among the more solid batsmen in West Indies' line-up: patient outside off stump, willing to wait for balls in his strong areas, and can bat long periods. But his technique isn't without its faults. Bhuvneshwar Kumar exposed two of them with a full ball angling into the stumps and straightening just a touch. The ball was certainly full enough to play on the front foot. Brathwaite did not make any kind of stride towards the ball and remained camped in his crease.
To add to his problems, Brathwaite plays with open shoulders, and is nearly chest-on to the bowler at times. This leaves him at risk of playing across the line even when he is notionally trying to present the full face of the bat. He certainly attempted to do this against Bhuvneshwar. But instead of starting roughly over off stump, or even from the direction of first slip, and finishing pointing down the V, Brathwaite's bat came down from third slip and finished pointing wide of mid-on. A bit of movement and the ball missed his outside edge and would have the stumps. End result: out lbw.
The lack of footwork compounded the skewed alignment. Had Brathwaite been closer to the pitch of the ball, he would have been at less risk of missing it, or even edging it, even if he had played slightly across the line.
Marlon Samuels is another batsman who camps in his crease. On Saturday he camped in the crease and made life more dangerous for himself by attempting limited-overs shots. Against Bhuvneshwar, he tried a shot straight out of the T20 manual: clear front leg, ignore the length of the ball, and biff it over the top. He was lucky to miss, and lucky the ball was wide of the stumps.
Then, having somehow survived 26 balls, he tried to cut Ishant Sharma off his stumps. The ball was at that in-between length, seaming in towards off stump, and Samuels has often had trouble playing those kinds of balls even with a straight bat. He tried to cut it, with his back foot staying stuck on leg stump, and did this with his team trying to save a Test match. Samuels missed, Ishant hit.
Ishant does not hit the stumps anywhere near as much as he should, and has often been criticised for it, even in the days leading up to this Test match. It is only appropriate to praise him, then, on a day when he bowled a length and line that allowed him to threaten the stumps far more often.
In the first innings of this Test, Ishant's pitch map against right-hand batsmen showed most of his deliveries distributed along a line parallel to the pitch, outside off stump. In the second, his deliveries were distributed along a line slanting into the stumps, suggesting he was frequently bowling from wider on the crease. By doing so, he created an angle that exaggerated the movement of his incoming delivery, and heightened the effect of the odd ball he could straighten. He was, quite simply, at the batsman.
In the second Test in Jamaica, Roston Chase had been able to leave 17 of the 38 balls he faced from Ishant during the course of his unbeaten, match-saving second-innings 137. Here, all but one of the eight balls he faced from the same bowler were on course to hit the stumps, or threatening to hit them. The eighth ball actually hit them, after seaming in and finding the gap between bat and pad.
Once again for a West Indies batsman, Chase's footwork was at fault. Pause the replay of his dismissal at the point where the ball goes past his inside edge and note the position of his front foot. It is coming forward, but the stride is short, and it has only just landed, on its heel. Chase was a split-second slow with his footwork. Other batsmen may have transferred their weight fully on to the front foot by that point, and narrowed the angle of the seam movement enough to be able to negotiate it.
It was perhaps the least worst of the errors West Indies' batsmen committed on Saturday. But in conjunction with the rest, it painted a troubling picture.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo