Tony Becca | Batting is more than swinging at the ball
The West Indies, the much talked-about, and, to a point, deservedly so, world champions of three forms of the game, the men's and women's T20 cricket and the Under 19 cricket, 50 overs, had their wings clipped in the United Arab Emirates recently, and disastrously so.
After winning the Under-19 competition on the back of a controversial, though legitimate, run-out, and after winning the men's T20 leg of the three by an unforgettable, superb, fantastic and never before four-sixes-in-a-row assault in the last over of the final by Carlos Brathwaite, the West Indies nosedived and crashed unceremoniously.
Playing against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, the West Indies lost the first match by nine wickets and 5.4 overs when they were routed for 115 and the second by 16 runs after Pakistan had hopped to 160 for four and then stifled the West Indies at 144 for nine. In the third match, the West Indies lost the match by eight wickets after they were limited to 103 for five and Pakistan cruised to 108 for two off 15.1 overs.
It must be noted that the West Indies were without Chris Gayle, their number-one batsman, and that they were also without their sometimes big hitter, their sometimes successful pacer, and their always brilliant and magnificent fielder Andre Russell, the man who so often pulled them out of trouble with a few big hits and with a couple wickets in 20 overs.
The West Indies knew this before they arrived for the matches, however, certainly when they spoke, time and time again, sometimes condescendingly, about not taking Pakistan lightly, only for Pakistan to turn around and rub their nose into the ground.
They may not have helped the team this time around, but the West Indies must have forgotten that there was no Gayle and no Russell among them. They were beaten badly, and there can be no excuse, regardless of anything anyone might give, for the performance.
The batting, according to coach Toby Radford, was disappointing and embarrassing. He did not say so, but obviously, he could easily have said that the batsmen played without using their head. They played without utilising what is generally called 'common sense'.
Radford did not say anything about them either, but the bowlers were hardly any better, certainly not according to the figures.
Everyone knows by this that the better team never always wins T20 matches, sometimes, not even does it win most times. A good T20 team is expected to perform in a manner that is not so disappointing, however, and especially so in its batting.
A good team is not expected to perform so badly, even if it is inconsistent, and certainly not in the T20 game.
The situation is simply this: the West Indies batsmen, except for one or two on their day, cannot bat.
They do not know how to plan an innings, long or short; they do not know the value, the importance of pushing the ball about when things are dicey; they do not know how to shift gears; and they do not know the value of taking the strike or of not taking the strike.
They play shots almost from start to finish of their innings. They, obviously, most times, show no respect for the bowler by playing shots above their capability and certainly not called for.
Most times, the batsmen throw away their wickets by attempting rash strokes. Sometimes, they even give them away by careless and suicidal running between the wickets.
Radford claims that they love to hit fours and sixes and that they mostly play on quicker pitches and slightly smaller grounds where it easier to do so.
Well if that is so, they must adapt to the slower pitches and bigger grounds. That is what international cricket is all about, and that is what good batting is all about. The truth is that the West Indies lose wickets in bunches and fall down in their own backyard as easy they do in a far-away country.
The T20 team in the United Arab Emirates does not have one good reliable batsman on the team, with the possible exception of the enigmatic Marlon Samuels and, probably the promising Evin Lewis, and not one of them, nor any of the top six, seven, or eight batsmen, but for one innings each from Dwayne Bravo and Samuels, has done anything worthwhile.
The exciting Nicholas Pooran batted at number six in the first match, his first match, and failed, then in the second match, while every other batsman retained his place and their positions, Pooran was eased down to number eight, where, like everyone else, the youngster failed again, and in the third match, he batted at number six again, and failed again.
LOSS FOR WORDS
Captain Carlos Brathwaite, like those before him, had nothing to say, at least nothing that makes sense.
Like those before him, he tried to find words, and all he could find, in reaction to the team falling away and losing once again, was that the 'batting let us down'.
"Today, it just did not come off for us. The better team won. Winning the next match is important," Brathwaite said after one, or after two of the defeats.
The batting is in a mess, and it has been that way for a long time, even despite the hiring and firing of so many coaches.
This criticism of the West Indies team in the United Arab Emirates has nothing really to do with the board or with president Dave Cameron.
As he said recently while in India, his role is to run the business and the players' role is to play cricket, and by finding the money to improve the salaries of first-class cricketers in the region and to play the domestic competition on a home-and-away basis, Cameron, at least, has tried to improve the standard of play.
Coaches must do job
In order to improve the level of batting, however, and the all-round play of the West Indies, Cameron now needs to do two things: he needs to see to it that the coaches which he employs do their work, or try to do their work, and he needs to see to it that the players focus on their job and listen to the coaches.
He needs to remind the selectors also that good batting is good batting, regardless of the type of cricket one is playing, and that is why, in T20 cricket, the good batsmen, or the great batsmen, were and are the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Kane Williamson, David Warner, Joe Root, Steve Smith, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, and company.
These batsmen are batsmen, and they are the best in the world, in T20, in ODI, and in Test cricket. Their drives, their cuts, and their hooks are strokes of beauty and sometimes awesome power, their fours are most times strokes of timing and elegance, and their hits for sixes, mostly over long-off, long-on, mid-wicket, or behind square-leg, are sometimes, and most times, well calculated and well played.
The hope now is that the West Indies, especially their batsmen, perform better in the ODIs, and that they will do much better in the Test matches.