Windies Hold Edge at Sabina
Fri, May 17, '02
The last game of the series gets underway at Sabina Park on
Saturday, May 18. This test will decide the series and both teams
should be optimistic about their chances in the test, particularly
the West Indies, for whom Sabina has always been a happy hunting
ground against India.
For their part, India will also be fairly confident, since so many of their batsmen have been scoring runs lately, and after their large total in the previous test, although it came on a complete featherbed. What should tilt the scale in favour of the West Indies is the pitch, which, by all accounts, is very grassy, and will suit the faster bowlers.
The West Indies go into this last test match knowing that the
batting is not as much of a concern as it has been for many years
now. For a very long time, the West Indian batting lineup has not
been clicking together. When Lara has been among the runs, as he
was in Sri Lanka, with the exception of Sarwan, Hooper and the
others failed. And when Hooper was performing reasonably, the rest
of the order did not get any runs, as was the case against South
Africa. At present, however, the entire lineup seems to be in
better than reasonable form.
Hinds has been among the runs, with a good 65 after his 175 in the first class match. But for the fact that he misjudged a delivery behind his legs, Hinds did look good for a few more runs at the ARG. Gayle has been underperforming. He is unlikely to lose his place for a game on his home ground, but surely there must be some questions about his place in the side now. The time is long past when Gayle could find a place on mere potential. He is at that stage now where mere indications of promise cannot hold him his place in the team.
In the last 25 test innings, Gayle has just four scores over fifty. His problem seems to be that he shows both technical weaknesses, as well as failings of temperament. From the way he batted in some innings in this series so far, it also seems that he is suffering from an identity crisis. Gayle the swashbuckling batsman scored a lot of runs, admittedly against weaker attacks, earlier in his career. The same attacking Gayle did reasonably well against Pakistan in Sharjah.
On the other hand, Gayle as the studious, careful opener, seems to find it difficult to go beyond 30 or 40. Perhaps the solution for Gayle is to play his shots, without indulging too much in his trademark nudges past the slips and gully. His strokeplay is definitely an asset to his game, and it is hard to see Gayle succeeding as an accumulator of runs.
Both Gayle and Hinds, however, should be really looking forward to this opportunity on their home ground. A big score here for either, or both of them, will not only help the West Indies immensely, but will also help them strengthen their places in this side. Gayle, particularly, must be aware that Hinds, in his first innings after his recall, as makeshift opener, got a higher score than he has done in this series so far. Should he fail to make runs here, Gayle may find it impossible to keep Devon Smith out of the team any longer.
Sarwan has been an ideal number three, coming in, settling down, and then opening up and stepping the scoring rate nicely. His only failing has been his inability to get that century, but in the context of the next test match, that is not too much of a worry.
Lara has shown glimpses of form, but has not been at his best. The drawn test at the ARG would have been an ideal opportunity for him to get back into his groove, but in all the drama surrounding the return of the injured Kumble, Lara got a good delivery and missed out on the run feast. As always, should Lara display his best form, or anything resembling it, the test match will swing West Indies' way immediately.
Happily for the West Indies, the rest of the batting order is playing well enough to ensure that Lara is not under too much pressure. In the last two tests, Lara has looked very relaxed on the field, both while fielding and while batting. Perhaps that lack of pressure will help Lara produce a big inning?
Hooper and Chanderpaul are in prime form. That, along with the runs made by Jacobs in the last test, should ensure that the West Indies do not have to worry too much about their batting. The West Indian bowling, on the other hand, has been good only in patches. It was only in the first innings of the Kensington test that the bowling really clicked. After that, it has either been a matter of taking early wickets, and letting the later order get runs, or or not getting through the batting lineup at all.
Cuffy has been the one bowler who has completely done his part. He has bowled with tremendous control, and with aggression at times. Dillon has looked the part of the lead fast bowler at times, but seems to relax after taking three or four wickets. The opening pair of Dillon and Cuffy is not fearsome by any means, but in the context of the next test match, West Indies will hope that they both play their roles adequately.
Pedro Collins, having dismissed Tendulkar early two times in the last four innings, seems to be set to retain his place in the team for the next test. Collins did trouble the Indian batsmen when he bowled around the wicket and made the ball leave the right hander late. Strangely, Collins bowls for a very long time over the wicket before reverting to this line of attack. Without having the delivery that comes back into the right hander in his arsenal, Collins does not look a long term prospect. But for this test, with the Indian batsmen rather susceptible to the left arm seamers, Collins could be very useful.
One hopes that Hooper and Collins will have learnt from the last two innings, and will have the offside adequately reinforced when Collins bowls to Jaffer, who seems to really relish Collins' off stump line.
The manner in which Sanford bowled in the last test will surely make the fourth fast bowler slot a matter of concern. On a pitch with some bounce but not much pace, Sanford got completely carried away, and bowled far too many deliveries that ended up at the boundary.
Sanford, like Gayle, does show some promise. If, however, a player is able to hold his place for test after test simply based on potential, it just shows how limited the options are. In spite of Sanford's unimpressive performance in the last test, there seem to be no ready replacements.
Had Darren Powell pressed his claims in the first class match played earlier at St. Lucia, he may have been considered. But he consistently seemed to have trouble with his line, and surely the West Indies will not want to depend on a debutant on this, the deciding test of the series.
There is some talk about the West Indies playing Ramnarine, the leg spinner. This would be a brave move. On turning pitches in India, Shane Warne was handled with ease by the Indian batsmen, who treat spin the way a good West Indian batsman would treat a medium pacer. The option of playing a spinner with three fast bowlers can wait till the West Indies play opponents who are not this capable against spin. Also, it may be to Ramnarine's advantage to play with a well-settled set of fast bowlers, as opposed to the present attack, which is very much an experimental one. As things stand now, Ramnarine may be a luxury the West Indies could do without.
Finally, the toss. The last two times Hooper has won the toss, he has elected to field. In Barbados, the move paid rich dividends, and India's collapse in the first innings handed the match to the West Indies. In Antigua, Hooper could claim that with India at 257/6, the move was not a complete failure. However, the ultimate effect of that move was to make the West Indian batsmen play in the face of a huge total, and had Hooper been given out lbw, or if Kumble had not overstepped on the delivery which was edged to short leg, the match could have taken a very different turn.
More pertinently, had Kumble not been injured, West Indies may have struggled to save the game. West Indian fans will surely not want to take anything away from the centuries by Hooper, Chanderpaul and Jacobs, but the fact is that the game looked very different when Kumble was making the ball jump and turn. He would not have been any easier to play with the wicket wearing further, and with the Indian total allowing him the luxury of having fielders close to the bat all the time.
With this being the last test of the series, the West Indies certainly do not want to chase a target in the last innings. Not only for the fact that their batting lineup tends to be brittle under pressure, but also for the fact that the Indian lineup is also notorious for failing to chase totals in the fourth innings. The surest way to dominate a test match is to bat first, handle the early life in the pitch and score a large total, and then apply pressure on the team batting second. The pressure of batting in the face of a large total seems to somehow bring about close run outs (as with Jaffer in the second innings in Barbados), brilliant catches (Sarwan in the same innings), and often, even dodgy umpiring decisions. The West Indies will want to ensure that they are the team benefiting from the pressure.
India has never won a series in the West Indies since 1971, and had not won a test since 1976, till they won the second test of this series at Port of Spain. The fact that they are even in the reckoning, especially considering their recent overseas record, will buoy them considerably. The Indian failing overseas has usually been the much vaunted Indian batting order, not the usually underestimated bowling. With Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Jaffer in the runs, and Tendulkar always a threat, India look capable of mounting a challenge.
The West Indies will do well to learn from their experience so far in the series. Dravid has looked very solid when set, but in almost each innings, has edged deliveries to slip early on. Either they have ended in catches, or have flown just wide of the slips. Both Ganguly and Jaffer tend to hit the ball in the air square on the off side, though both are strong in that area. Both Ganguly and Laxman can also be tempted into playing the hook shot in the air. Any of these may give the West Indies an opening, but the Indian batting is a very strong one. Unless they bowl well, the West Indies should expect this batting lineup to put together a good total.
Where the Indian bid is likely to fall short is in the bowling, with Srinath, Zaheer, Nehra and Harbhajan not posing too many challenges in the series so far. The Indian team is likely to rue the unavailability of Kumble, especially after he showed his mettle in the 14 overs he bowled at the ARG.
India is under tremendous pressure to win a series abroad. In recent times, this has had a very negative effect on their performance. The West Indies, on the other hand, go into this match with very few worries about their batting, and should be clear favourites for this game.
* Venky Maly is a special correspondent for CaribbeanCricket.com. His daily match reports and analysis will be appearing throughout the remainder of the series.