Monday, July 30, 2012

Reflections on West Indies vs. New Zealand at North Sound

The West Indies delivered one of their most convincing test performances in recent times, beating New Zealand by nine wickets to go one up in the 2 match Digicel series. There were several talking points for both teams from the first test.

  1. 350 plus is no longer a good first innings score in Test cricket. Following on from England's defeat to South Africa at the Oval, this was the second consecutive test where the team batting first scored more than 350 and still lost comprehensively. When making first use of a test pitch, 450 plus is now imperative.
  2. The fact that New Zealand even managed to reach 350 in the first innings owes a lot to Darren Sammy's captaincy. Allowing Chris Martin the batsman to share a partnership of anything more than 10 runs should be blasphemy for an international captain. That Doug Bracewell managed to add 43 with test cricket's worst batsman, had a lot to do with Sammy bringing himself on with Sunil Narine immediately after Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul took 3 quick wickets.
  3. West Indies have developed an alarming habit of letting tail-enders boost totals. It's a problem that will be ruthlessly exposed against better teams, as was the case in the recent home series against Australia. Like their fellow mavericks Pakistan, its quite conceivable that the Windies would have a much better test record if they didn't let the opposing tail off the hook so easily.
  4. Sunil Narine captured 5 wickets in his first test innings in the Caribbean, and added another 3 in the second innings on the way to becoming the first West Indian spinner to get a man of the match award since Lance Gibbs. An encouraging performance to build on, and a great addition to the test match bowling attack. 
  5. There were signs however that Narine is definitely going to find test cricket more of a challenge, especially against top quality batsmen. The variations are extremely effective in the limited overs format, but test cricket is about bowling to a plan, and using the variations as a surprise. If Narine can quicken the pace while maintaining good flight, he could possibly establish himself in the upper echelons of spin bowling.
  6. Martin Guptill is a fabulous talent. However, he has been in the test arena for long enough now to have graduated from being a mere talent. To his credit, Guptill showed application and concentration in both innings, only to throw both innings away recklessly. If Guptill is to become the linchpin of the top order, he has to convert the 60's and 70's into big centuries.
  7. Ross Taylor's batting in test cricket has been adversely affected since he has assumed the captaincy. Aside from his innings against Zimbabwe, Taylor averages 35 as captain compared to his career average of 43. The most disturbing aspect of Taylor's batting is the muddled pace of scoring. While it is natural that he wants to take on responsibility, Taylor makes himself more vulnerable when he slows down to a crawl, allowing bowlers to develop a rhythm. For the sake of himself and the team, Taylor has to find the right balance between attack and defence when he is at the crease.
  8. Chris Gayle showed what West Indies have been missing for 18 months in test cricket. Playing in conditions that were conducive to the new ball, Gayle set West Indies on their way, hitting 4 coruscating boundaries of Chris Martin's first over. The beauty of the innings was that Gayle played the way he has developed his limited overs game, going full tilt at any loose deliveries, and playing safe against the good deliveries. A master class in batting, and a phenomenal return to test cricket.
  9. The other positive of Gayle's dominance was the soothing effect it had on Kieran Powell. He was allowed to build his innings patiently before slowly increasing the scoring rate. In his brief sojourns at the crease on the tour of England, Powell did look the best player amongst the rabble that was the West Indies top order. He finally managed a substantial score after several pleasing cameos. Powell is a great manipulator of the wrist in the traditional Caribbean mould, and his driving through cover and straight down the ground was a sight to behold.
  10. While the opening stand of 254 between Gayle and Powell was monumental, it was what came after that is most encouraging for the Windies. Powell and Asad Fudadin added 50, then Marlon Samuels and Fudadin came together for another half century partnership. Fudadin was involved in another substantial partnership with Narsingh Deonarine, before Deonarine himself added another 50 with the skipper Sammy. These partnerships ensured that the start provided by the openers wasn't wasted.
  11. Fudadin and Deonarine displayed grit and patience in a crucial situation. They got together when the lead over New Zealand was meagre, and showed sensible application by taking singles, and most importantly the two southpaws attached a heavy price to their wicket, even playing out 6 consecutive maidens at one point. An interesting selection dilemma now awaits the West Indies, when Darren Bravo returns from injury to the middle order of the team.
  12. How the mighty have fallen. Daniel Vettori retired from limited-overs cricket to focus on test cricket, however the guile seems to have completely deserted the erstwhile leader of the bowling attack. It surely is a damning indictment when Kane Williamson creates more uncertainty in the batsmen's mind and takes more wickets. Vettori's average is slipping considerably and he could well earn the dubious record of having the highest average amongst bowlers to take 400 test wickets. 
  13. For all the anticipation, Neil Wagner's test debut was a bit of a damp squib. He rarely seemed to hurry the batsmen, and provided width on several occasions allowing the batsmen to score plenty of boundaries. He has the ability to reverse the ball, but the trait most on display from Wagner was an annoying tendency to engage in verbal battles with opposing batsmen. If he is to be the leader of the attack, Wagner will have to let his bowling do the talking from the next test onwards.
  14. Plenty has been said about Kemar Roach's indiscipline in bowling no-balls. On closer reflection, this only further enhances his claim to be the best bowler in the region. Bowling legends like Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop too struggled with no-balls, but in the larger scheme of things their strike-rates and averages always negated the extras. The same can be said about Roach. After seeing several pretenders in the decade since Ambrose and Walsh retired, Roach is the real deal. A true match-winning fast bowler who can lead the attack and win many more test matches for the West Indies.
  15. A cricketing legend such as Viv Richards deserves the honour of having a stadium named after him. However, the sad reality is that people in Antigua simply haven't taken to the ground in North Sound. A white elephant from the disastrous 2007 World Cup, the WICB needs to cut it losses, and take test cricket back to the heart of St. John's. The Recreation ground guarantees a true Caribbean atmosphere, and more importantly allows the cricket fans of Antigua to embrace their team and celebrate the game that they love so much in an affordable and convenient manner.