Heading into the first test against the Proteas at the Darren Sammy Stadium, there was renewed optimism that this young Windies team was heading in the right direction.
The optimism stemmed from the recent results of a Test series win in Bangladesh, the defeating of Sri Lanka in the ODI and T20 series at home, as well as a drawn battling Test series against the said opponents.
However, the performance that unfolded on the field in St. Lucia can only be described as deflating, disastrous, and even dreadful.
I will assess the match in detail, where I believe things went wrong, and the glimmer of hope.
Head-Scratching Toss Decision
In the shorter format of the game, the West Indies under Kieron Pollard have notoriously opted to bowl first when they have won the toss.
Electing to bowl first has a two-fold benefit in that it allows the Windies to know how much they are chasing as well as gives bowlers the best chance to attack the opposition on a fresh pitch.
The decision to bat or bowl in Test matches is far less automatic. Before the toss, the captain and coaching staff must assess the pitch condition, the strengths, and the weakness of themselves as well as the opponent.
With this in mind, there needs to be an inquiry into why Coach Simmonds and Captain Brathwaite decided to bat first on a grassy pitch.
Looking on my high-definition television, you could tell that the pitch had grass that would make any fast bowler lick his chops to bowl first. The pitch generated bounce, the ball seamed and beat the bat time and again.
Imagine if the West Indies could have, in a similar manner, attacked the South Africans in that morning session. The Proteas’ weakness is their batting, and yet we decided to expose our perceived weakness by choosing to bat first.
It allowed them to inflict a heavy defeat after bowling the Windies out for 97 in our first innings. The West Indies team made history in the process by posting the lowest total ever against South Africa in Test Cricket. It was worse than the previous low of 102 all out in June 2010 in a 163-run defeat at Queens Park Oval in Trinidad.
Atrocious Batting Display
Making a head-scratching decision to bat first did not doom the West Indies; it was more what they did at the crease. The catastrophic collapse in the first innings started with Shai Hope, arguably the best batter in the lineup, getting a beauty that nipped back to knock his off stump.
Captain Brathwaite possessing one of the better techniques in the lineup, let himself down by leaving alone a ball that nipped back to bowl him. It was an almost identical delivery to Hope’s dismissal, and it exposed a lack of awareness by the captain of what the opponent was doing.
The batsmen also were guilty of ridiculous stroke play with Kyle Mayers playing a shot off the back foot and looping it straight up in the air. Cornwall also tried to bring some impetus to the innings but tried another big shot presenting another simple catch.
It would have served his team better if he played with a more measured approach in trying to extend the innings. The West Indies batsmen showed a lack of ability to leave alone deliveries with three edges behind to the slip cordon from Blackwood, Chase, and Da Silva.
The display exposed another long-standing problem with the West Indies batsmen. The regions’ batsmen tend to play better when the pitches are flat and slow.
However, when there is bounce, pace, and grass, which are hallmarks of the conditions in Australia, South Africa, and England, the Windies batsmen tend to fold quickly under pressure.
It is not surprising then to understand why we do not play well in tours of these countries versus tours of the subcontinent. In the second innings, the Windies batsman showed an inability to play balls aimed at the stumps, with batsmen getting out LBW with Rabada getting the opening pair of Brathwaite and Powell.
Blackwood and Cornwall gave away their wickets again through poor drives to short cover and mid-on. Another concerning aspect of their batting was the way the batsmen handled short-pitch bowling.
Bonner attempted a hook shot in the first innings but instead played the ball onto his helmet, causing a concussion. In the second innings, Da Silva had a hard time getting out of the way of some short pitch balls, with one striking him straight in the elbow. The young South African attack would have taken mental notes and receive a boost in confidence from the fragile nature of the West Indies batsmen.
Seales, Holder, and Chase provide a glimmer of Hope
Jayden Seales is certainly the glimmer of hope from an insipid performance from the host. The nineteen-year-old stepped up in his opening over by going past the outside edge and later getting Keegan Petersen to nick a ball to Jason Holder at 2nd slip.
He then got a 2nd scalp when he got a set batsman in Aiden Markham to nick to the wicketkeeper. Finally, he got Verreynne to slash a short ball to the wicketkeeper.
At a decent pace and with a good line, Jayden showed he is perhaps one for the future. Holder built on Seales foundation by capturing 4 wickets to restrict the tourist to 322. Holder and company will rue not getting out Quinton De Kock quickly before his man of the match century took the game out of reach.
Roston Chase was the only player to put up any resistance in the second innings as the Windies faced a massive loss. The key to Chase’s innings was the fact he was willing to occupy the crease.
He faced 156 balls, spent 202 minutes at the crease for his 62 runs. He mixed in solidity with aggression as he hit 7 fours and 1 six in the gritty knock. It was far from enough because he lost partners in quick succession at the other end.
It was an indication to his teammates of the type of dogged application that is required against quality bowlers in difficult circumstances.
Phil Simmons must impress these sentiments on the batsmen if the Windies are to level the series. The team must bounce back quickly if they are to keep their number 6 Test ranking intact ahead of the number 7 ranked Proteas.
Readers Bureau, Contributor
Edited by Jesus Chan
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