Saving face

KINGSTON, Jamaica –– West Indies enter tomorrow’s second and final Test of the short series against Australia in their usual possession of trying to save face after another abysmal showing in the first Test in Dominica.

They managed to do so successfully against England a few weeks ago at Kensington Oval, and will attempt to do similarly at Sabina Park in Kingston.

There was a time when a Test in Jamaica whetted the appetites of regional fans who anticipated their battery of fast bowlers to overwhelm the opposition on the fast Sabina track. But in Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, pace is the principal weapon of the visitors. Jerome Taylor is the home side’s principal pace weapon while Shannon Gabriel is still learning the trade. For all his promise, Jason Holder is likely to confound with bounce and seam, rather than pace. Kemar Roach has been a shadow of his former self, and though in the squad, looks unlikely to make the final XI.

Devendra Bishoo, now back in the spotlight after more than three years on the sidelines, has been thrust into the frontline after his excellent bowling performance in Roseau. His 6 for 80 were the best Test figures ever achieved by a West Indian leg-spinner. He will be key at Sabina Park, though it is not anticipated he will get the same assistance from that wicket.

Coach Phil Simmons optimistically declared on arriving in Jamaica that the series was still open and his side was looking to square the series. It will be a tall order but the squad remains hopeful.

“Defeat is a defeat; we beat England in three days too and they went back and they won the next Test match [against New Zealand]. So it’s how you take it [and] I think the morale in the team has been great and the guys are looking forward to the next Test match.

“It is still an open series, it’s a two match series… it is not over yet and we are looking to win the game in order to draw the series,” he told reporters in Jamaica.

However, Simmons quickly pointed out that for the team to win, the batting and fielding performances would have to improve immensely.

“We just need to bat properly in the first innings. I think the first innings sets up everything [and] if we bat properly and we get to 350-400 runs in the first innings, we have seen that our bowlers can put people under pressure. But we need to take all our catches. I think that was one of the differences in the last game — Australia didn’t drop a catch and we dropped a couple of catches at crucial times, so those are the two things that we need to make sure we improve on,” he explained.

West Indies will be hoping opener Kraigg Brathwaite gets going in the Test after double failures in Dominica. Darren Bravo continues to frustrate regional fans with the manner of his dismissals which in recent Tests have been the result of loose strokes. Marlon Samuels is the senior batsman in the side and much is expected from him. He was chided by captain Denesh Ramdin for the manner of his dismissal in the second innings of the first Test and will need to embrace the mantle of team batting leader. Newcomer Jermaine Blackwood has been a bright spark in the squad but his impetuosity has been his undoing too frequently in his brief career. Shai Hope is expected to open the innings once again but in two Tests has yet to convince fans that he is comfortable in that position, having scored all of his first-class runs in the middle order thus far.

Shane Dowrich (hands raised) at practice today along with Devendra Bishoo (left), captain Denesh Ramdin (second left) and Shai Hope.
Shane Dowrich (hands raised) at practice today along with Devendra Bishoo (left), captain Denesh Ramdin (second left) and Shai Hope.

Newcomer Shane Dowrich looked accomplished on debut and drew favourable comments from discerning observers following his 144-run second innings partnership with Samuels.

“He has taken it very well; I think he has showed his ability in both innings and I hope that he can go further than he went in the last innings,” Simmons said of the talented Barbadian wicketkeeper/batsman.

Despite the patience of regional fans wearing thin after two decades of sub-par Test cricket performances, Simmons has still urged Jamaicans to come out and support the team.

“It’s still the West Indies team that is playing and it’s a young team that is trying to get forward in Test cricket. We keep looking at things and saying that we don’t want to come because we lost the last match, but how many people came when we won the Test match before that? So you have to come out and support your team members,” he said.

The Aussies have few issues. They will be without first-choice opener Chris Rogers once again who is still suffering the effects of the concussion that ruled him out of the Dominica Test. This will give Shaun Marsh another Test match. After Adam Voges’ successful Test debut with a century, Marsh would undoubtedly have been on the sidelines if Rogers was fit to play. Neither Steve Smith nor captain Michael Clarke fired in the first Test and they will be looking to put that right starting tomorrow. For most of the Australians it will be a first Test outing in Kingston, with Johnson and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin the only two in the team to have played there previously.

Despite its pace history, the Sabina Park pitch has been assisting spinners in recent times and could do so again although there was a lot of grass cover on it during the week.

 Play starts at 11 a.m. Barbados time (10 a.m. Jamaica time).

Teams: West Indies (likely) Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shane Dowrich, Marlon Samuels, Jermaine Blackwood, Denesh Ramdin (capt & wk), Jason Holder, Jerome Taylor, Devendra Bishoo, Shannon Gabriel.

Australia (likely) David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Steven Smith, Michael Clarke (capt), Adam Voges, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

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