One Swallow Windies back to normal service

Sun, Sep 10, '17



So one swallow did not, after all, make an English summer for the struggling Windies. A whopping innings and 209 runs defeat at Birmingham and a nine wickets defeat at Lords bracketed the truly marvellous 5 wickets comeback at Leeds.

But those, including head coach Stuart Law, who were prematurely singing praises and seeing yet another corner turned for Windies, ignored the harsh reality of the Leeds success: three of 11 batters -- Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope and Jermaine Blackwood -- accounted for a massive 79 per cent of the Windies runs. Not a good omen. When those three fail, as two of them did at Lords, the result is likely to be very ugly.

Why the lopsided Lords defeat? Because the basic mistakes of Birmingham, evident to all but the coaching staff, have not been corrected. The bowlers continue to believe that pitching well outside the off stump and hoping to tempt the batsman into error is a winning strategy. But note: James Anderson, the kind of swing, in the Lords Test achieved 500 Test wickets with his best-ever performance (7-42), shattering the stumps four times, the way fast bowlers are supposed to do. His 104 "clean bowled" dismissals is the highest among all fast bowlers, better even than the great Brian Statham, the original "you-miss-I-hit" marksman. Note also: in three tests England bowled 8 no balls and just three wides; Windies helped England along with 11 wides and 28 no balls, including wides to batsmen new at the crease.

The management of the bowling also left much to be desired.Sample: in the three warm-up matches the Test certainty Roston Chase, an offspinner coming up against an England lineup with as many as seven left handers, was allowed a mere 14 overs. Test possibles, medium pacers Alzari Joseph and Miguel Cummings, were given 34 and 37 overs respectively. The result: an under-cooked Chase ended up the top wicket-taker (4) for an expensive 113 runs in 26 overs in the first Test, bowling as many overs as the quicker bowlers.

Despite hiring a fielding coach there has been no noticeable improvement in the throwing.

Jason Holder still plants his front foot straight down the pitch and wafts at deliveries a foot and a half away, making him a prime candidate to snick Moeen Ali/Joe Root's straighter one. Chase still bats deep in his crease, refusing to negate bounce and swing as Shai Hope does by batting out of his crease. Blackwood is at sea to the bouncer.

The sad thing about all these failings on the field and in the selection room is that the international scene is ripe for a Windies revival. England,Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka have all lost a host of top players in recent years and are in the rebuilding process. Bangladesh seems poised to take advantage of this temporary hiatus.

A proper Windies team could beat some of these countries now. But it won't happen because to do so the selectors, coaches and the Board would have to admit they have made horrible mistakes.

Most fundamentally, the selectors would have to get rid of the idea that because some players have done well in limited overs cricket means they are not Test cricketers (Keiron Pollard, Samuel Badree, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse to name a few).

Then they would have to recognize that picking three "rabbits" -- Bishoo,Roach and Gabriel -- is a recipe for failure with such a shaky top order and even if the top order is solid. England picked only one rabbit -- Anderson -- who was worth his weight in wickets.

Then they would have to drop those who failed so miserably at Birmingham and Lords. That's half the team!

Kyle Hope: backing up at Leeds, he saw the ball being hit back to the bowler. The first instinct of 99 per cent of the batters I have known (at any level) is to regain your ground. Instead he watched the bowler to see if he would take the catch -- which he didn't -- only for the dropped catch to richochet onto his stumps. He didn't even make an attempt to regain his ground! Then at Lords he couldn't even execute a proper Courtney Walsh style "leave alone" outside the of stump, the ball hitting the improperly withdrawn bat. Schoolboy stuff. Second XI schoolboy stuff. His scores: 25,12,3,0,0,1. No matter how far we have sunk you cannot bat at number 3 for West Indies averaging 6.83! Sorry Kyle. You made a footnote to Windies history as one of the few brothers to wear the maroon cap. Thanks.

Shane Dowrich: not a Test batsman in an age where there is no room for a purely specialist keeper. His scores in 2017: 14,1,0,0*,5,4,2,20,2,29,0,56. The kindest thing one can say about his 'keeping is that if I were his best friend I wouldn't tell him any of my secrets. But he seems the kind of 'keeper dear to Courtney Browne's heart. Wonder why? Thanks.

Devendra Bishoo: leggies are going to bowl their share of bad balls but he bowls too many, dragging down at least one long hop an over. Besides, without a googly or topspinner, he is just too predictable and thus expensive. See you later.

Jermaine Blackwood and Shannon Gabriel should be read the Riot Act. Blackwood has some talent and is good in the field but he is headstrong and his impetuosity has now reached recklessness. He wants to do what none of the greats -- from Don Bradman to Brian Lara -- have ever done: smash every ball, from every bowler, at any time, on any pitch, at any stage of the game... even before he has assessed the conditions, got his feet moving and is seeing the ball clearly. He has to be told by coaches and selectors -- very bluntly -- that if he doesn't change his ways he can take up carpentry.

Gabriel has improved his accuracy and is genuinely fast but he has to be told that he will not be selected unless and until he puts his foot behind the line. No more no-balls, especially those that get wickets.

So my Test team would be:

Darren Bravo
Shai Hope
Chase (offspinning allrounder)
Dwayne Bravo (medium pacer)
Holder (medium pacer)
Chadwick Walton or Denesh Ramdin (batsman/'keeper)
Ashley Nurse (offspinner) or Samuel Badree(leggie)
Roach (paceman)

Alternates: Powell, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Nikita Miller.

Of course, this will never happen... so normal service will continue.


Errol Townsend, a veteran sports journalist, lawyer and cricket administrator, has been selecting, managing and coaching teams over the past 60 years. He writes from Toronto, Canada.