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A hello from Headingley; lasting lessons for WI to learn from Australia’s loss

There is never, I don’t think, a good time to lose a Test match—especially if you really don’t have what Viv Richards liked to call the winning habit.

But if learning is the name of the game, then the management of Jason Holder’s West Indies side should be grateful that they contrived to lose yesterday’s First Test against Virat Kohli’s India before the close of Day Four.

It would, of course, have been nice if they, oops, if we had not lost. Or if, in losing, WI had not capitulated ignominiously, the even 100 being the sixth-lowest West Indian total ever against India. But it was nice of them to earn a day off by not extending the agony into today—if, of course, learning is the name of the game.

West Indies Kemar Roach
Photo: West Indies bowler Kemar Roach looks at India batsman Hanuma Vihari during day four of the first Test cricket match at the Sir Vivian Richards cricket ground, North Sound, Antigua on 25 August 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan/Wired868)

If learning is the name of the game, the lessons likely to have been available to Holder’s soldiers on the field of play on Day Five today are arguably less urgent than those which will, one hopes, be made available to them beyond the boundary on Day Five.

If learning is the name of the game, I imagine that, even before Kemar Roach and Miguel Cummings came together to double the eventual score with their 10th wicket partnership, Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan would already have made the point to the right people. And so, Messrs Steven Sylvester, the team’s sports psychologist, and Dinesh Mahabir, its analyst, would in turn already have spoken to the right people. Someone in authority would already have, I imagine, announced the intention to commandeer the full 14-member squad for a full-day session today.

It would be understandable if Strength & Conditioning Coach Corey Bocking and/or Physiotherapist Denis Byam requested that Rahkeem Cornwall be excused from the proposed session; he has, they might point out, rather more urgent problems in other areas, problems which, for the moment, realistically make his chances of actually making it on to the team slim to none.

But if learning is the name of the game, I would expect Sylvester and Mahabir to insist that no problem is more urgent for the team as a whole than understanding what it takes to give yourself a chance to win. That somebody understands that is not in doubt, the reasons given for the presence of Lara and Sarwan in the pre-match camp being all the evidence we need.

Captain Holder who, in his public utterances, rarely shines enough light on his leadership role for my liking, may well raise an objection. His record, he may observe, shows that his teams do know how to win; nine victories out of 28 matches, it might be pointed out, yields a better percentage than, for instance, Lara’s 10 of 47.

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder has a word with his teammates during a training session.
(Copyright CWI)

And Sarwan didn’t last more than a handful of matches as captain, it may also be pointed out, so what does he know about leading successful teams?

I hope the team officials will listen politely but not be persuaded. And gently, diplomatically remind Holder of the WI, not I lesson. (“[The defeat] definitely doesn’t dent my confidence personally and the group I think should be out lifting themselves.”)

Time was, remember, when the West Indies, with their pace-dependent attack, were plagued by a problem of no-balls. Those days, one hopes, are long gone and Messrs Sylvester and Mahabir will have the testicular fortitude to take a firm position.

If learning is the name of the game, one hopes they will insist, looking at the film of what happened at Headingley yesterday trumps anything else the players might consider more important on their day-off. They might want to take in the new Morgan Freeman movie that is on in the Antigua equivalent of Movie Towne. Or play a round of golf.

Or just put their feet up and take it easy after their strenuous exertions yesterday. I think they can be permitted, even encouraged to put their feet up—provided they are prepared to open their minds and put their thinking caps on.

England, it bears repeating, made a mere 67 in their first innings. And, having been asked to get more runs than they ever have in a successful fourth innings chase at Headingley, they started Day Four on 156 for 3, needing just over 200 to win.

Ben Stokes scored two runs off his first 70 balls and seven off his first 80. The boundary he hit off the last ball took him to 135. Not out. Surely there is an important lesson in that.

Stokes has raised questions about the trustworthiness of the technology. (“DRS has got that completely wrong because it flicked my front pad first. (…) I still can’t believe it was three reds.”) It remains nonetheless true that, without the eleventh hour West Indian contribution, his heroics would not have kept England in the fight for the 2019 Ashes.

Photo: West Indies wicketkeeper Shai Hope eyes a shot played by India batsman Ajinkya Rahane during day one of the first Test at the Sir Vivian Richards cricket ground in North Sound, Antigua on 22 August 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan/Wired868)

But with five batsmen bowled, four caught and only one LBW, even if Joel Wilson was officiating at both ends, WI would still have been embarrassed at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground…

…and will continue so to be unless and until they—the indisputably talented Shimron Hetmyer in particular—learn the essential lessons of the Stokes innings:

(1) you cannot make a single run when you are back in the pavilion.

(2) in cricket in general and in batting in particular, the race is not for the swift but for he who endureth to the last.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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