Laurie Foster | Shannon Gabriel's heavy burden
With West Indies Test cricket falling into the barren state that it has, any whiff of hope or threats of resurgence can provide a solid reason for a show of expectancy.
The unreal takes on the image of reality and shots in the dark go after invisible targets. This is what is being played out as the team slides down that slippery slope to almost irrelevance. Coming from this, it is natural to seek solace in any event that takes the mind away from the obvious, that the once-revered island cricketers are just not good enough. The skills and the management thereof, that were hitherto taken for granted, have disappeared, and the struggle is on to bring them back on board. In situations like these, panic is known to set in and time that should be spent more productively, is expended on matters of questionable importance.
Recently, the West Indies lost a Test match and, with it, a series at home to Pakistan for the first time. These featured a few lower-order batting performances that had to be experienced to be believed. The always traumatic exercise resurfaced at the end of the third Test of three in Dominica. After defending stoutly for 21 balls, number 11 batsman Shannon Gabriel lashed out at the only remaining ball he was required to negotiate. Seemingly oblivious to this genuine last man in, the ball was pitched harmlessly outside his off stump and no physical action was required. He perished, as the ball took an inside edge and crashed into the stumps. The Pakistanis were jubilant, having outfoxed the obstacle standing in their way to a historic triumph on West Indian soil.
Out of that sorry situation for the home team, has come a hailstorm of argument as to who is to blame for this last-minute loss of sanity, as that is exactly what it was in the view of this columnist. However, with Gabriel's lack of status as a batsman, why should there even be the thought that the brunt of blame should fall on his shoulders? Players of Gabriel's dubious batting ability are always given a heavy burden to carry.
When a wicket falls in the closing stages of a day's play, they are sent in not to protect the next batting expert in the line-up, but the not-out player, who has the required expertise and is settled in, thus better able to withstand what the attacking bowlers have to offer. In other words, the less equipped is expected to monopolise the strike and have the better batsman hiding at the other end. What an injustice!
When is it that the specialist batsman is ever asked to bowl out a side when the true trundlers fail? Even if the captain tosses him the ball when all else seems unworkable, a couple of ineffective overs and he is withdrawn from the attack. No such luck exists for the specialist bowler when he is asked to shield or make up for the perceived weaknesses of a competent batsman. In all these circumstances, one should remember that this is the same bowler who is afforded little or minimal practice at
batting during net sessions. Yet, he is now asked to 'hang on' against some of the meanest opposing bowlers with fieldsmen crouching stealthily, like pickpockets in a crowded bus, preparing to pounce.
With all that in mind, when a series or a match is lost following the indiscretion of which Gabriel was clearly guilty, thoughts should be cast at the batting talents that counted for nothing in the 3-4-5-6 positions, at times throwing their wickets away, and spare the 9-10-11 of such adverse comments. They were not selected for batting prowess and were thrust into their unaccustomed and uncomfortable role by genuine batsmen who failed. One look at the batting failures in the middle order in the latest scenario and the point is made.
After doing that, one should pity the poor bowler since what he is being asked, is not the reason for his selection.
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