Windies' Seam Year in Review

Fri, Dec 7, '18



Windies’ Test year ended in disappointment on the subcontinent, but the spectacle of seam bowling by the Caribbean outfit earlier in the year should not be forgotten. Despite the whispers, the seam attack of Roach/Gabriel/Holder had quietly gone about their business in rather impressive fashion. The trio accounted for 61% (89 of 145) of wickets taken by Windies in 2018. This is despite at least one being absent for a combined nine (9) of a possible sixteen (16) innings in that period. A period in which there were a series of unforgettable (to those paying attention), head-turning and not least, match-winning performances.

In Windies’ first Test of the summer, things were evenly poised heading into the 5th Day at Port of Spain; with Sri Lanka having seven wickets in hand, two-hundred and seventy-seven runs away from victory. More importantly, the dangerous Kusal Mendis was still at the crease, within touching distance of his fifth Test ton. It was not yet to be known that the intelligence of Shannon Gabriel to remove Mendis, angling the ball into the right-hander by delivering from wide of the crease (only for the ball to kick off the surface, leaving Mendis to fail miserably in his attempted negotiation—simply unplayable from Gabriel), was to set the tone for a string of enthralling seam bowling performances for the remainder of the year.

A drawn outcome in the 2nd Test of the three-match series was highlighted (let’s ignore Chandimal’s ball-tampering) by Gabriel’s career-best figures of 13 for 121, the third best by any West Indian bowler. Gabriel, who began the summer with just two five-wicket hauls in Test cricket, finished 2018 with five. The dominance of the main three continued when Jason Holder led the charge in his backyard, under the lights, pink ball in hand. On a match day when twenty wickets fell, the captain returned to claim three of the remaining four Sri Lankan wickets, previewing what was to come under the floodlights a few hours later. Holder was unplayable in a spell which he accounted for four of the five Sri Lankan wickets to fall on the night, in the visitors’ quest of 144 runs to level the series. He completed his five-wicket haul in the first over the following day, but the pink ball didn’t have much to say in the absence of the moon and Sri Lanka went on to become the first Asian team to win a Test match at Kensington Oval.

When Bangladesh came a-calling a week later with a left-hand dominant top order; Kemar Roach must have been licking his lips and in a spell of 5 for 8, he had his fill to blow the visitors away for a mere 43. When he was unable to return for Bangladesh’s 2nd innings, it was Gabriel who stepped up to lead an evening onslaught in which he picked up four wickets, eventually completing his third five-wicket haul of Windies’ Test summer to prize the visitors out for 144, this after resistance from Nurul Hasan.

Windies were forced to disrupt the formidable trio for the first of five consecutive times when they travelled to Sabina Park for the 2nd Test without the services of Kemar Roach. However, as young Keemo Paul made his Test debut the narrative was to remain unchanged. After a first innings total of 354 in which Kraigg Brathwaite helped himself to his eighth Test century, following his seventh in the previous Test, Jason Holder took his time in finding his rhythm to claim his second five-wicket haul of this home tour to take his career tally to three. West Indies were rolled over for 129 in the second innings and Shakib and Mushfiqur seemed to be getting comfortable at the wicket in a half century partnership. However, Holder was there to swing his way into the history books with yet another superb effort; this time, picking up where he left off in the first innings to complete the best figures for a West Indian captain at home—11 for 103.

It was rather unfortunate that Windies never got the chance to showcase their first choice seam trio on their tour of the subcontinent following such an inspiring summer. Personal reasons meant Roach was unavailable for the first Test in Rajkot in India, while it was revealed that the captain failed a fitness Test following an ankle injury and was also unavailable. The wait for the Hyderabad Test provided time for Holder to heal, but Windies’ coach Stuart Law and company took it upon themselves to keep a fit and available Kemar Roach out of the XI. With the return of Holder to the attack, came the return of sting to Windies’ bowling. He handed the visitors the upper hand at lunch on Day 3, limiting India to 367 after the hosts began the day on 308 for 4. Holder, with help from Gabriel (3/107), had good support on his way to becoming the first West Indian seamer in 24 years to take a five-wicket haul in India. He finished with 5 for 56. Gabriel’s four wickets on Day 1 of the first Test in Chittagong rounded off a year in which Windies ‘long-run-up bowlers’ gave hope with red ball in hand. In West Indies Cricket 2018, I’ll take hope.