No reports have so far emerged to tell us just how Jason Holder’s West Indies spent the bonus off-day they got on Monday following their 318-run four-day defeat by Virat Kohli’s India. But you don’t have to be a sceptic to doubt that some significant fraction of the extra 24-hour period they had off was used to watch Headingley videos and perhaps stoke the fires of a fightback in Jamaica.
We are the West Indies, after all; that’s just not how we do things—even if we are paying a substantial backroom staff and a couple of ex-players—to ensure that, turnaround or no turnaround, this team gets better sooner rather than later.
So those optimists hoping for an improved performance in the second Test, which starts at Sabina on Friday, are not unlikely to be disappointed. You don’t need to be Einstein to know that if you continue to do things the same way, you’d be crazy to expect different results.
Nor do you need to be prime minister of England to know that those who fail to learn from history, ancient or very recent, are condemned to repeat it.
Historian Hilary Beckles tells us that Brian Lara’s arrival on the West Indian cricket scene ushered in the Age of the Mercenary. And since then, earning rather than learning has been the name of the game. So I expect that what I have to offer today will be completely ignored in the West Indian dressing-room.
But, as TV6’s Joshua Seemungal commented right here on Wired868, old teachers are consistently striving to remain relevant. So why would such ig-NOR-ance stop me now?
Here, then, is ESPNcricinfo’s Andrew Fidel Fernando describing New Zealand’s Kane Williamson’s captaincy during the second Test in Colombo, which his side came back to win ‘not out of nowhere’:
“With fast bowlers tearing in, there is a short cover, a short midwicket, two slips spaced wide apart, a gully and a short leg. When the spinners are at the bowling crease, the infield is packed with more men than molecules—leg slips, silly points, catching mid-offs. Williamson would shove fielders up each of the batsman’s nostrils if he could. And as soon as a batsman appeared to work out a plan against a bowler, Williamson would swap the bowler out, or change the field.”
I recall multiple occasions on which the commentators, both on the television and on the radio, lamented Holder’s ultra-conservative field placing, even, it has to be stressed, when the most urgent need was a breakthrough. But in the five-day game, patience is often a virtue; that it did not prove to be so last week at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground is merely unfortunate.
Here again is Fernando, this time highlighting the approach of the batsman whose knock arguably set up the convincing Kiwi innings win:
“Tom Latham swept intelligently—almost always with the spin—picked the right balls to defend, pounced on the short deliveries, and fought his way to 154.”
You could peruse scores of stories written on Holder’s WI without finding anything comparable.
Batting ‘intelligently’? Ha!
‘… fought his way to …’ some score? Several of the current West Indies batsmen, I submit, would surprise few discerning observers if they dismissed any such description of their innings as ‘uncomplimentary’.
And here once more is Fernando, this time quoting Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne after his team’s defeat:
“When I say players should be free, I don’t mean that you just hit every ball that you see. It’s about keeping your mind free. If you at any time feel like you should play the reverse-sweep but you stop yourself, you’re restricting yourself. There are times when you can get runs from that shot and when it’s a safe option. It’s about being relaxed.
“Freedom doesn’t mean swinging at every ball. It’s about playing with confidence. At times, I felt our players really lacked patience. A Test is a very valuable thing, and batsmen should know how to play according to the situation. They should know how to handle that freedom.”
Read again. See how nuanced is the view, the language. It’s the language of leadership. It’s not sheer knowledge, it’s wisdom. It’s a critique rather than mere criticism. It’s not just generalities heard a thousand times before but offers a concrete example that crystallises the insight.
And the skipper does not spare himself either.
“It was a pretty good wicket in the first innings, and we didn’t execute our shots very well. The batsmen probably thought it was going to be a good, flat wicket and so the application wasn’t there. Even me, after getting 60 , I played a rash shot [in the first innings].”
Did Holder play a rash shot in the first innings? Probably not. In the second innings? Probably not.
What do we hear from him? That Jasprit Bumrah bowled very well in the second innings and he got him with a very good ball. Did he get anyone else with a very good ball or did all the other batsmen, including Roston Chase and the others who were bowled by Bumrah and Shami, all give their hands away?
Well, the WI skipper is silent on that detail. As usual.
The last word in today’s lesson goes to a former Australian skipper.
“That’s what it takes to get top-class batsmen out,” Ian Chappell warns in a piece in which he compares—for want of a better word—Steve Smith and Don Bradman, ‘prolonged, exceptionally good bowling.’
“Oh, and by the way,” he adds, “I would add: ‘You might have to do that for hours on end and it still may not be successful.’”
I think that, after Sabina, that issue is likely to come up in a way it has not yet since the whipping at the SVRCG.