Mon | Jun 24, 2019

Tony Becca | Something to celebrate

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:31 AM
Shannon Gabriel

The latest Test series between the West Indies and England is now history, and following their fairy-tale performance, or the slingshot attack of David on Goliath, the lowly Windies are basking in the glory of knocking off the highly fancied England, and against the odds at that.

And although it should, it mattered little to the West Indies that in the end the ecstasy was marred by their captain, Jason Holder, missing the final Test; by the injury to stand-in fast bowler Keemo Paul; by England stealing a consolation victory; and by fast bowler Shannon Gabriel being fined and banned for four ODI matches.

All is well that ends well, however, and after so many years of failure against the top teams, the 2-1 scoreline deserves high praise and is something to really celebrate.

In another era, calypsonians would by now be singing their praises and immortalising the West Indies, not only for the brilliant batting of Holder and Shane Dowrich, but also for the wonderful and fearsome bowling of Kemar Roach, Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, and Holder, not to mention the bowling and batting of Roston Chase.

For the West Indies, after being in the cellar of international cricket for so long, the victory was great for two reasons.

One reason was because the West Indies-England contest, which brought together the team number eight and the team ranked number three, was like that of a top heavyweight boxer taking on an average fighter, blasting him with a flurry of big shots, and scrambling his brains before, surprisingly and astonishingly, knocking him out in round one or two.

The second reason was that the contest, as exciting and as interesting it was, looked like a well-hatched plan which the West Indies followed to a ‘T’ to systematically destroy England day by day, and left them drooping over the ropes.

From day one, or day two, the victory was on the cards as the West Indies opened their innings with a dasher and with a batsman prepared to bat forever. They shifted the young and dashing Shimron Hetmyer down to number six, and the batsmen, most of them for a change, batted sensibly, choosing what to hit and defending what they could not hit, or decided not to hit, for caution’s sake.

Kraigg Brathwaite was his usual dour self, but the usually free-scoring Darren Bravo’s innings in the second Test was a perfect example of careful, watchful batting at certain stages of a game, especially on the bowler-friendly pitch in St Antigua.

As well as they played this time around, and as promising as it is, however, the West Indies have not yet turned the ‘corner’. There is work still to do.

It was good to see the batsmen showing a level of responsibility and acknowledging the importance of defence and shot selection; the bowlers, even though the pitches were good for bowlers, looking more committed and giving everything; and the fielders, despite a few lapses, running around for the duration of a day’s play.

England’s problems

Looking back at the series, many have been the reasons put forward as to why England lost to the West Indies, and they included one which seems reasonable, or a good excuse.

It is, as was said of India recently, that England, in their preparation for the Australia and the ‘Ashes’ series, planned to use the series against the West Indies to ‘test’ some players as they planned for Australia.

And looking at the team, at who were the opening batsmen, who were the fast bowlers, at the omission of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, or Mark Wood, in the first Test, at the inclusion of spinner Adil Rashid in the first Test, and the presence of three wicketkeepers in the eleven would support that position.

If indeed that was the thought process going into the series, it backfired as England were totally outgunned and blown out of the water. In fact, they were totally embarrassed.

While it may have been a sense of superiority that caused the downfall of England, however, to me, England’s poor performance had nothing to do with their assessment of their own level of cricket or that of West Indies cricket, but more to do with England’s general attitude.

England’s cricket, it seems, is at a stage where instead of producing batsmen good enough to play Test cricket, they are now producing batsmen who are only good enough to bat for a few overs while making 30, 40, or even 50 runs now and again.

England’s batsmen are batting out of position, they are batting too high and in positions where their lack of technique is exposed, and on top of that England are selecting bowlers who can bat a little in order to strengthen their tail.

While such bits and pieces cricketers will work, or may work, in limited-overs cricket, that is just not what the doctor ordered for Test cricket.