Monday, August 6, 2012

Reflections on New Zealand vs. West Indies at Sabina Park

  1. Test cricket is most entertaining when a pitch has either bounce, swing or spin. While most other pitches in the Caribbean are playing slower and lower, Sabina Park continues to prepare pitches that benefit all types of bowlers and rewards batsmen who play with skill and patience. In the last 10 years at Sabina Park, bowlers average 25.92 a wicket with a strike rate of 49.77. Heart-warming numbers in the age of the batsman.
  2. While Ravi Rampaul has the ability to think batsmen out with his subtlety of swing and variations in pace, there is something altogether different to be appreciated about Tino Best's raw pace and aggression. Best averaged 21 with the ball, with an economy rate of just over 3. If Best maintains these figures, he could be the ideal foil to Kemar Roach with the new ball.
  3. Roach's 4 wicket haul in the first innings maintains the amazing consistency he has had this year. 39 wickets at 22.25 is an impressive record in any environment, let alone the dry surfaces of the Caribbean. If he isn't already, its only a matter of time before Roach is propelled into the top 5 fast bowlers currently playing.
  4. Martin Guptill continues to build nice little 60's and 70's and then get out. While he has been New Zealand's best batsman in the series, the team totals could have been significantly bigger if Guptill had converted these fifties into hundreds. He must be especially galled at being run out in the first innings after handling Roach, Best and Sunil Narine so well to record 71.
  5. This observer has previously reflected that Ross Taylor is at his best when batting aggressively. In the first innings, Taylor looked at his best after a long time on his way to making 60. However, there is a line to be drawn between aggression and recklessness. Going after a wide lifter from Best after a century partnership was unnecessary and stalled the Black Caps momentum. Even worse was repeating the dismissal in the second innings, off only the second ball he faced.
  6. Kane Williamson is the next big batting hope of New Zealand. After some encouraging performances against Australia and South Africa, Williamson came down to earth with a bump against West Indies. To truly establish himself in the middle order, the young batsman has to learn to play on all surfaces quickly. The next assignment in India isn't going to be any easier.
  7. It is great to see Chris Gayle bat maturely and put a price on his wicket. However, Gayle has proven over the past year that he can accelerate the strike rate and still show sound judgement to stay at the crease. In that regard his overly cautious stint at the crease when he scored just 8 runs in 55 balls demonstrated Gayle at his weakest. There are surely enough batsmen around Gayle to drop anchor for the swashbuckling opener to play his natural game.
  8. Trent Boult was a great addition to the Black Caps bowling attack. Eyebrows were raised when he was selected in stead of the veteran Chris Martin, but Boult justified his place with a brilliant display. While his second innings dismissal of Gayle was the highlight piece, Boult continuously troubled the Windies batting order, swinging it both ways with the new cherry and then reversing the old ball at a decent pace.
  9. There is much talk about New Zealand's paucity of spin options in the absence of Daniel Vettori. However, in conditions outside of the subcontinent, it makes no sense to select a spinner just to fill a spot in the team. An attack featuring Boult, Doug Bracewell, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee should do well for New Zealand in most conditions.
  10. For the West Indies on the other hand, the spinners haven't been this potent for a long time. Sunil Narine didn't have the same impact as he did in the first test. Nonetheless he fulfilled his responsibilities by wiping out the New Zealand tail in the second innings. Narine now has 12 wickets in his first 3 tests, a really good return by most standards. With Devendra Bishoo and Shane Shillingford in the reserves, the West Indies are really well-stocked in the spin department.
  11. The real bonus for the Windies bowling attack is Narsingh Deonarine's under-rated off spin. Since his return to the test fold in the series against Australia, Deonarine has snared 15 wickets in 5 tests at an unbelievable average of 19. Deonarine's biggest strength is the length at which he pitches the ball, often getting batsmen confused about playing him off the back foot or on the front foot. If Darren Sammy continues to use him smartly, Deonarine can become a crucial fifth bowling option for the West Indies.
  12. A quick word on Kemar Roach's batting during the second innings. After West Indies lost a well set Marlon Sameuls still 90 runs short of the target, there were obvious signs of tension in the camp. Sammy then sent Roach in as night watchman to protect Shivnarine Chanderapul. In stead, Roach played a fantastic innings, increasing the scoring rate with smart singles interspersed with some beautiful boundaries, enabling the Windies to make a tricky chase look routine.
  13. It's taken 42 matches, but finally Marlon Samuels won a test match for the West Indies. His century in the first innings was the defining knock of the match. While nobody else in the middle order managed to make even 20, Samuels showed excellent judgement to survive in tricky conditions, and when the opportunity presented itself he unfurled some truly exquisite cover drives. His 4 sixes to end the innings were crucial in making the deficit manageable, and his 52 in the second innings after Kieran Powell and Gayle were dismissed in quick succession, laid the foundation for a successful chase.
  14. It was fitting that Shivnarine Chanderpaul hit the winning runs for the West Indies. Starting his career while the West Indies were still the best team in the world, Chanderpaul has been one of the few shining lights in the last decade of despair for West Indian cricket. Chanderpaul deserved to be on the field the moment that West Indies secured their first 2-0 test series win since 2002.
  15. Darren Sammy has had to face up to almost constant criticism since he became captain of the national team. Despite all the pressure, Sammy has conducted himself as a thorough gentleman. More importantly, he has instilled a genuine team spirit in the camp, and there is a greater sense of purpose and discipline amongst all the players now. Even in the recent defeats against Australia and England, the West Indies had many good phases including Sammy himself delivering with bat and ball. A thorough dismantling of New Zealand in all forms of the game was just reward for Sammy, and it is now imperative that he uses the gains of this victory to inspire the team to even greater heights in the future.