West Indies under pressure
Execution has become a key word in the vocabulary of West Indies captain Jason Holder.
And following a humiliating defeat by an innings and 92 runs inside four days in the first Test against India in Antigua, West Indies must seriously address their batting and bowling woes in the second match in Jamaica starting tomorrow.
In reviewing what took place at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Holder said it was the execution of the bowling attack’s plans which had gone wrong and not its composition.
India amassed 566 for eight declared after winning the toss and dismissed West Indies for 243 and 231 to register their first innings win in the Caribbean, and their biggest one outside Asia.
Those statistics alone should send a strong message to West Indies that they must immediately step up to the challenges in the four-match series. It looks like a rough road to travel.
“In hindsight you can say a lot of things. The combination we played had four bowlers and an all-rounder in Roston Chase, who bowls some off-spin. But execution is the name of the game. I don’t think we executed well enough.” Holder said.
The four bowlers Holder refers to are seamers Shannon Gabriel, himself and Carlos Brathwaite and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo.
“In cricket, it’s down to execution. We need to execute as bowlers. (In earlier matches), we have played five bowlers. To me, in this day and age, you need an extra bowler. But, having said that, it still boils down to execution. You can play five bowlers, you can play four bowlers, but if you don’t execute at the end of the day you will still be at the first stage.”
Gabriel took two for 65 off 21 overs, Holder, his new ball partner, none for 83 off 24 overs, Carlos Brathwaite, none for 80 off 25 overs and Bishoo, three for 163 off 43 overs.
Debutant Chase, picked mainly for his batting, had none for 102 off 34 overs.
As it turned out, occasional off-spinner Kraigg Brathwaite, the side’s No. 1 opening batsman, finished with figures which more resembled a specialist bowler of three for 65 off 14.5 overs.
Now, with the 19-year-old Antiguan fast bowler Alzarri Joseph added to the squad for the second Test and fellow uncapped pacer Miguel Cummins of Barbados also in the line-up, it is expected that either will play on what promises to be a hard, bouncy Sabina Park pitch.
Both Holder and Carlos Brathwaite are generally described as all-rounders, who bowl medium-fast and their returns will always be closely monitored. It is even felt in some quarters that more sting is needed in their bowling.
In three Tests, Carlos Brathwaite has scored three half-centuries and averages 45.25 but he has been picked mainly to take wickets. With just one scalp at an average of 242.00, he is the main target to be replaced.
There have been very interesting remarks by Holder about himself and Carlos Brathwaite.
“To be honest, myself and Carlos are going up to a certain point in terms of what our roles are, bowling areas together and pick up one or two wickets,” Holder said. “But if runs are leaking from both ends, primarily from the other end, it makes cricket a little easier for batsmen.”
In 14 Tests, Holder has 598 runs including one hundred and three half- centuries, at an average of 27.18, while picking up 21 wickets at 42.95 runs apiece.
Holder must be wary that patience can grow thin when results are not forthcoming and as a young captain at the age of 24, he needs his players to show more commitment.
Bowling apart, West Indies must also be very concerned about the batting. Jermaine Blackwood failed to score in the first Test and would be lucky to be retained with Leon Johnson no doubt anxious to take his place.
After 16 Tests, Blackwood has exactly 800 runs including one hundred and six half-centuries (ave: 30.76). On the 2015-16 tour to Australia, he was a dismal failure in the three-Test series with scores of 0, 0, 28, 20 and 10.
Effectively, therefore, Blackwood has managed just 58 runs in his last seven innings (ave: 8.28).
His manner of dismissals by way of loose strokes cannot be tolerated. And the same can be said about some of his teammates.
There is also a bigger picture as it relates to the likes of Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels. Both need to buckle down and score centuries.
In the first innings of the opening Test, Kraigg Brathwaite batted stubbornly to top-score with 74 in almost five hours and Shane Dowrich was fairly enterprising in his unbeaten 57.
Then in the second innings, there were half-centuries of 51 not out from Carlos Brathwaite and Samuels (50) but overall, it calls for occupying the crease for long periods and building big partnerships.
Once a team is defeated, pressure mounts. If we are to be guided by the policies of the new chairman of selectors Courtney Browne in relation to production, then there is no room for underachievers.
That is not to suggest that a panic button should be pushed but when one listens to members of the management team talking about having patience, it must be put in the right context.
Ever since the mid 1990’s, we have repeatedly heard about rebuilding the team and turning the corner. Young players have been given opportunities and while some having taken advantage, others seem to lack killer instinct.
As Samuels said a couple days ago, Test cricket is “big-man cricket”.
“Well, first and foremost, I’m not going to be here to tell you that it’s a young team. For me to say that is like finding excuses for the team. It’s a Test team, and Test cricket is big-man cricket, and the players should know that by now,” he said.
“They are here, playing Test cricket. So we all have to step up to the plate, and put up a very good challenge against the Indians. The Indians are a very good team, a very good unit, so what we want to try and build right now is a team spirit, and build a stronger unit in order (to move forward). Yes, we have new players coming in, but they still have to deliver. At the end of the day, you have to do that to keep your job here.”
At the age of 35 and having played the first of his 65 Tests roughly 16 years ago, Samuels is the most experienced member of the side. In fact, he is the only over-30 in the current squad.
Yet, based on body language on the field, one sometimes wonders how much motivation comes from him, especially when West Indies are under pressure.
It is time to answer Jason Holder’s call. Execution.
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 three-and-a-half 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. Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com