Deserving win for WI
Despite a combination of defiant tail-end batting and intermittent rain, West Indies still managed to restore some faith in their supporters with a comprehensive ten-wicket win over New Zealand on the fifth and final day of the second Test at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad today.
After losing the opening Test by 186 runs inside four days at Sabina Park in Jamaica, West Indies played with a lot more determination and purpose, though enduring some frustration late on the fourth day and again in the first session today before triumphing with just over one session remaining.
They have now set the stage for what should be an intriguing battle in the final Test at Kensington Oval starting on Thursday.
Set 93 to win, West Indies took only 13.2 overs to achieve the task as Chris Gayle enjoyed himself in a Twenty20 mould with an unbeaten 80 off 46 balls including seven fours and six sixes, while Kraigg Brathwaite made 14 not out.
To be frank, however, hardly anyone would have expected the match to go into the fifth day after New Zealand, with a first innings deficit of 239, were struggling on 212 for eight on the fourth afternoon. It was then the 100th over of the innings and Kirk Edwards had just taken a superb catch at cover, diving low to his left to give a pumped-up Kemar Roach his third wicket – that of Tim Southee.
As it turned out, BJ Watling and Mark Craig battled to the close, taking the score to 257 for eight off 127 overs with Watling on 38 and Craig 29.
West Indies then dented their hopes of a swift demolition on the final morning with a few missed chances before New Zealand were eventually bowled out for 331 off 152.2 overs.
Craig, in his second Test and better known for his off-break bowling, top-scored with 67 in 184 minutes off 167 balls, hitting nine fours in a 99-run partnership, while Watling was unbeaten on 66 in 387 minutes off 216 balls with four fours.
It, therefore, meant that the last two wickets stuck around for 52.5 overs, adding 119 runs while taking up 223 minutes all told as last man Trent Boult batted for 39 minutes.
West Indies head coach Ottis Gibson said fatigue had played a part in the bowlers not being able to dismiss New Zealand on the fourth day.
“More tired than anything else,” Gibson was quoted as saying.
“Everybody, throughout the day when they were called on, really put it in. It meant that at the back end, a little bit of fatigue started to set in and fatigue sometimes plays with the mind. But overall, the guys stayed strong for most of the day. A really good partnership was formed between Watling and Craig and we just have to ride that out.
“That’s what Test cricket is all about. That’s what I have been preaching for a long time. Curtly Ambrose has come in and he’s saying the same thing. That’s why it’s called Test cricket. It tests your character, your fitness levels, your skills. The way Watling and Craig played this evening meant that we needed to be a little more skilful. The guys got a little bit tired, you could see that.”
While Gibson’s reference to fatigue has some merit, killer instinct must also play a part in such situations. He only has to turn to the same Sir Curtly Ambrose, now the West Indies bowling consultant, to drive home the point.
Ambrose was a true warrior and one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has known. Looking at his emotions during the final session on the fourth day, it was no secret that he felt the West Indies bowlers needed to be more accurate and pull the choke.
West Indies played three pacers in Roach, Jerome Taylor and Shannon Gabriel, in his first match of the series, along with one specialist spinner in left-armer Sulieman Benn.
In the New Zealand first innings of 221, Taylor and Roach each bowled 17 overs, Gabriel 12 and Benn 28.4. In the second innings, Taylor had 30, Roach 28, Gabriel 23.2 and Benn a whopping 58 with Gayle trundling 13 of off-breaks.
There was a marked improvement in the West Indies batting. Brathwaite, the 21-year-old Barbadian, played intelligently to record his maiden Test century in his 11th match and Darren Bravo rediscovered his form with his sixth hundred and first in the Caribbean.
Man-of-the-Match Brathwaite made 129, while Bravo scored 109 as the pair featured in a fourth wicket partnership of 182.
And half-centuries by Edwards (55) and debutant Jermaine Blackwood (63) were put together with confidence.
Brathwaite and Blackwood were among three changes made to the team, replacing Kieran Powell and Marlon Samuels, who both failed with the bat in the first Test, while Gabriel came in for off-spinner Shane Shillingford, who had a sore Achilles.
Both Brathwaite and the Jamaican Blackwood went into the match with good form in the regional first-championship, as well as for the Sagicor West Indies High Performance Centre (HPC) in the recent series against Bangladesh ‘A’.
While one should not get carried away with their performances, it again has to be pointed out that the presence of Sir Vivian Richards, the former West Indies captain and batting great, who worked as a batting consultant for the HPC in the series against Bangladesh ‘A’, has had a significant impact.
Brathwaite batted for 378 minutes, faced 258 balls and hit 13 fours. His detractors like to point out that he is limited in strokes but if they are honest, it should be agreed that he is gradually becoming more positive.
Bravo played some handsome shots, counting 11 fours and four sixes in his 155-ball knock. He conceded that he was inspired by the approach of Edwards, who took the attack to the bowlers, hitting seven fours and three sixes in his 64-ball innings.
And once he settled, Blackwood exhibited a lot of confidence as he favoured the drive. He was also not afraid to go over the top.
Taylor and Roach are bowling better and better, while Benn stuck to his task admirably and is clearly enjoying his return to the Test arena.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said West Indies deserved to win the Test, while his opposite number Denesh Ramdin described the victory as “fantastic”, noting that the conditions were tough for the bowlers.
The pitch at Kensington Oval will hopefully prove to be the best for the series.
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, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.