Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Nothing has changed for West Indies

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Tony Becca, Contributor

The West Indies are still lingering at number eight in the Test match ranking, but after escaping with a 2-0 defeat instead of a 3-0 whitewash as was expected, they cannot complain.

The one Test that ended in a draw was probably due to rain but the West Indies did show, for a time, at least on four occasions, that with a good first-class tournament and good preparation, good cricket, and good captaincy, they can, with a little luck, battle with the best of them.

On the first day of the second Test, South Africa were going full steam ahead on 270 for two, and on the second morning, the West Indies struck back to restrict them to 417 for eight as they grabbed six wickets for 147 runs.

But for fast bowler Dale Steyn, who, coming in at number nine and hitting 58, it could have been worse for the world's number one team.

And when the West Indies batted, and after losing two wickets at 55 for two, they battled back. A partnership of 176 between Kraigg Brathwaite (106) and Marlon Samuels (101) left them sitting pretty on 231 for two.

Once again, however, the perennial problem of West Indies batting in recent times reared its ugly head and everything went crashing and splintering.

In 14 overs, the West Indies dropped from 231 for two to 275 for nine with seven wickets falling for 44 runs when rain finally ended the contest.

That was embarrassing, but at least there was a twinkling of light to give us, once again, a little hope.

On the second day of the third Test, for example, the West Indies bowled beautifully, particularly to Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, and later on, and despite Samuels' disappointing dismissal, he and Shivnarine Chanderpaul batted quite well.

The truth, however, is that as things now stand, the West Indies represent a weak team in Test cricket.

Uncompromising game

Test cricket is a tough and an uncompromising game, it lasts, or should last, for five days, it calls for common sense, and whether a team is weak or strong, it calls for batting first if you win the toss and all other things are normal, especially the condition of the pitch.

The truth is that you cannot run and you cannot hide. You either bat first when the pitch is usually in its best condition, or you bat second, and last, and at your own peril when it is more friendly to the bowlers and sometimes very difficult for batsmen.

Can it be, because of their poor batting, that the West Indies do not fancy their chances of survival if they bat first, particularly against a team that boasts a couple of good fast bowlers and one brilliant fast bowler and prefer to take their chances batting first even if they sentence their bowlers to a day or two of hard work?

In the first and second Test matches, the West Indies won the toss and in spite of a good Test match pitch, sent South Africa to bat. The scores at the end of day one of each of the Test matches were South Africa 340 for three and 270 for two.

The other truth surrounds the selection of the West Indies team.

A Test team should consist of the best players available, the best players in every aspect of the game, and they should be afforded enough time to find their footing.

In cricket, the best players, particularly bowlers, are not necessarily the ones who get the most wickets or score the most runs in first-class cricket, and in West Indies cricket, that is no different. The West Indies, however, has a tendency of selecting bowlers mostly on instincts, and most times, those instincts are not right.

Promising bowler

Sheldon Cottrell is a case in point.

Cottrell has been considered by the experts as a bowler of promise from the time he came into the Jamaica team a few years ago although his figures are far from earth-shattering.

Two years ago, in 2013, he went to India, played in the first Test, and never played again, neither against India nor subsequently on the tour of New Zealand. And this year, after picking up an injury, after the West Indies selectors asked Jamaica to play him in a match during the regional tournament, after picking up five wickets, and after collecting five wickets against a South Africa X1, he was selected for the first Test.

In that Test match, he bowled 28 overs, got one for 124, and was dropped for the second Test.

In the first Test, Cottrell played along with pacers Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor and spinner Sulieman Benn. In the second Test, there was no place for him, even though the West Indies used five bowlers in pacers Taylor, Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel, and Kenroy Peters, and Benn.

Peters, who, at 31 years old, was not in the original squad, was selected instead of Cottrell, who was also not selected for the third Test, just as was the case in India just over one year ago.

The situation with the batting is not much different. Remember Jermaine Blackwood? He was selected instead of Samuels after the first Test against New Zealand at Sabina Park last year, he made 63 on his Test debut at Queens's Park Oval, and he was dropped for the following Test at Kensington Oval as the West Indies, in their wisdom, brought in a spin bowler, who they had omitted after Sabina Park, and dropped a batsmen..

The West Indies lost the first Test by 183 runs, won the second by an innings, and lost the third by 53 runs.

In the first Test against South Africa, the West Indies played six specialist batsmen, including Blackwood, one wicketkeeper, and four bowlers and were dismissed for 201 and for 131 and lost by an innings and 220 runs.

In the second Test, the West Indies dropped Blackwood, played with five specialist batsmen, one wicketkeeper, and five bowlers and South Africa again eased to a wonderful start of 270 for two while the West Indies collapsed to 275 for nine.

Blackwood was back again for the third Test as the West Indies continued their confusing selections.

Based on the performance in the current one-day series, the decision to bat first or last in the Test series would hardly have made any difference to the outcome, and neither would the selection of the team. Somehow, the West Indies have to improve their level of play in all aspects of the game if they hope to win Test matches against good teams. The beatings are becoming unbearable.