Disappointing, hurtful, spineless.
These were just a few of the adjectives used by West Indian fans as New Zealand romped to a comprehensive 186-run win with a day to spare in the opening Test at Sabina Park in Jamaica on Wednesday.
Simply put, the West Indies batting was a big let down. After New Zealand, with the luck of the toss, piled up 508 for seven declared off 174.3 overs by occupying the crease for virtually the first two days, save nine overs when West Indies closed on 19 without loss, it was generally felt that the pitch was placid and a draw was on the cards.
But the complexion of the game changed significantly as the West Indies batsmen failed to exhibit the patience and technique required against bowlers who probed and applied pressure.
The result was that West Indies, under new captain Denesh Ramdin, fell for 262 in 81.2 overs in their first innings. Notably, that effort was built around the two oldest players in the side. Shiv Chanderpaul, playing his 154th Test, hit an unbeaten 84 at No. 5 and opener Chris Gayle, clearly bent on a big score in his 100th Test on home turf, made 64.
Having conceded such a big first innings lead of 246, the task of getting back into the game was always going to be a monumental one and even though West Indies managed to reduce Brendon McCullum’s side to 14 for four at one stage in the second innings early on the fourth day, a total of 156 for six declared in the post-lunch session left them with a target of 403.
It was another heartless display as West Indies could only manage 216 off 47.4 overs. Of that, the last wicket pair of Sulieman Benn (25) and Shane Shillingford enjoyed themselves in a stand of 82 in 38 minutes with Shillingford slamming his ever half-century at this level and the second fastest fifty in Tests in terms of balls, scoring 53 not out off 29 balls with three fours and five sixes.
New Zealand’s win was only their second in Tests in the Caribbean. The other was a big one, too, inside four days as well by 204 runs at Kensington Oval in June 2002 with Stephen Fleming at the helm. Carl Hooper was the West Indies captain.
Ironically, Chanderpaul and Gayle are the only survivors from that match. The scores were: New Zealand 337 and 243. West Indies 107 and 269.
While credit must be given to the New Zealand bowlers for applying pressure, one is left to wonder about the temperament of the West Indies batsmen.
There has to be scrutiny in relation to those who failed with the bat. Opener Kieran Powell made 28 and 0; Kirk Edwards 0 and 14; Darren Bravo 0 and 12 and Marlon Samuels 0 and 0.
So when you get five “ducks” and three other low scores among the top six, the selectors must ask questions and find solutions. This is a three-Test series with matches being played back-to-back. Hence, tough decisions have to be made.
Since scoring centuries (117 and 110) in both innings against Bangladesh at Dhaka in November 2012, Powell’s highest score in 17 innings during which he made 315 runs (ave: 19.367) is 48 against India at Mumbai one year later.
His overall career stats show 1072 runs (average: 27.48) including three centuries and two fifties in 21 Tests and while he has been given opportunities, the manner of his dismissals left a lot to be desired.
In fact, his last four Tests – all against New Zealand – have produced only 132 runs (average: 16.50). Hence, he is a prime candidate to lose his place to Kraigg Brathwaite for the second Test at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad starting on Monday.
For all of his experience, Samuels, too, must come under the microscope. He has made only 151 runs in his last 11 innings, at an average of 13.72. A knock of 60 in the first innings of the second Test against New Zealand at Wellington last December is his only half-century and his confidence seems to be at an all-time low.
Even though his off-spin bowling is handy, Samuels is in the side mainly for his batting and that is where West Indies are failing.
Edwards has made 170 runs (ave: 21.25) including two consecutive half-centuries in his last four Tests, while Bravo needs to get back to the basics as he has also been inconsistent even with a career-best 218 against New Zealand at Dunedin last December.
While statistics should not be the only measurement in determining the fate of a player, when it comes to crunch time, they must be taken into serious consideration.
In the circumstances, it would hardly be a surprise if Jermaine Blackwood, the attacking Jamaican batsman who scored the most runs in the 2014 regional first-class championship and followed with two centuries for Sagicor West Indies High Performance Centre (HPC) against Bangladesh “A” in the two-match four-day series in Barbados as well as Leon Johnson, the Guyanese left-hander who has also been in good form for the HPC, are drafted into the squad for the second Test.
The West Indies bowlers had to toil but there was some satisfaction in the way they stuck to the task. After all, pacers Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach and spinners Benn and Shillingford were all returning to the Test arena after significant absences of one kind or another and with contrasting time lines, which have been well documented.
Taylor, playing his first Test since November 2009, sent down 38 overs for match figures of four for 65, while Roach, who had been sidelined with a shoulder injury for over seven months, bowled 41 overs and had two for 97.
As expected, the donkeywork was done by left-armer Benn and off-spinner Shillingford, who is not allowed to bowl the doosra. Benn bowled 69.5 overs and picked up four for 189, while Shillingford managed 59.3 overs and took five for 188.
They should, however, find more helpful pitches at Queen’s Park and Kensington Oval.
The centuries by Kane Williamson (113) and Jimmy Neesham (107) were well deserved. And one also had to admire the way opener Tom Latham batted in both innings to produce scores of 83 and 73, along with 89 by B.J. Watling and 55 from Ross Taylor in the first innings.
Fast bowler Tim Southee bowled splendidly and debutant off-spinner Mark Craig showed a lot confidence in the way he flighted the ball and varied his line and length en route to match figures of eight for 188, which earned him the Man Of The Match award.
It sounds like a stuck record but once again the pressure is on West Indies to step up.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket talk show Midwicket on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)