A winning team. You could safely describe Clive Lloyd’s late Seventies and early Eighties West Indies team thus. Perhaps the tag is also applicable to Vivian Richards’ 1980/90s team which indisputably had what their skipper called ‘the winning habit’.
A team that won. That tag befits Kraigg Brathwaite’s second-string side after their outstanding victories in the two Bangladesh Tests. They are only potentially a winning team.
But not yet.
That is, I submit, a nuance that has escaped lead selector Roger Harper and his panel, who clearly see Brathwaite’s unit as a winning team. Which is why they declined to change it substantially for the First Test against Dimuth Karunaratne’s Sri Lanka which ended in a draw on Thursday.
But it would be perverse to persist.
By the end of the first day, WI were all very certain that the right choices had been made. Having won the toss and inserted the opposition, Brathwaite had contrived to put his side in the driver’s seat. Thanks largely to an impressive 5/27 from Jason Holder, the man he had replaced as captain.
The new skipper’s handling of the bowlers and the field over the 70-odd overs the innings had lasted had been equally impressive.
He was going, it seemed, to extend his winning streak.
But Day Four ended with mere hope that WI could perhaps save the game. Because of the early loss of opener John Campbell, the chances of getting to 375, we told ourselves, were not particularly good.
And we all knew we would not manage it if…. We might not even avoid defeat if…
The if? If the character and new resilience Harper and co thought they had seen in this Brathwaite team turned out to be merely illusory.
Fortunately, it was not.
Early on Day Five, the skipper’s uncharacteristic pre-lunch hara-kiri deepened concern that WI might revert to type. In the event, however, we need not have worried.
Man-of-the-Match Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers, the pair whose level-headedness so raised our hopes and our spirits in Bangladesh, again delivered on the day. They steered their team to relative safety as the final session approached.
The Jamaican, the minor player in Bangladesh, stole the show with an unbeaten century this time around. Double-century-maker Mayers had to settle for 52 on this occasion but the 113 balls he used up in reaching the landmark were critical to his team’s eventual survival.
Despite Mayers’ dismissal for a hard-fought but well-deserved half-century, the feared WI collapse never came. Vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood’s struggles against the new ball were short-lived, But Brathwaite’s side took the game into the last hour without further loss and forced the still upbeat Karunaratne to concede a draw.
So as eyes turn to next week’s Second Test, WI don’t need rocket science; WI need not a telescope but a microscope.
And two critical questions arise. The secondary one is how did WI contrive to dismiss the opposition for 169 in the first innings and still secure only a 102-run lead.
And the primary one is this: how did WI manage to allow that decent lead to become a 375-run fourth innings target?
The answers are easy. Not, however, if the selectors minds are closed.
If I live to be 400, I’ll not understand how, given a choice between Blackwood and Darren Bravo, you could choose the Jamaican. I remain unconvinced by the argument of their last 12 innings.
No Blackwood innings I have seen even remotely suggests to me the existence of the class that has so often elicited comparisons between Bravo and his illustrious first cousin, Brian Lara.
And although that quality was emphatically not on offer in the 102 he stitched together in his recent ODI innings against this same opposition, he is still a better bet than Blackwood any day…
…unless Blackwood is the vice-captain and, therefore, logically, guaranteed a starting place.
With a First Test contribution of two off seven balls and four off 29 balls—plus one over for three runs—will that vice-captain status again earn him a place on a team that hopes to win?
That would be madness!
Campbell struggled for 46 in the first innings and got out when WI could ill-afford to lose a wicket at the end of Day Four. But given the 13 with which the selectors are working, he must keep his place in the XI if Blackwood goes.
As he must.
Without Holder’s first innings five-wicket haul, the WI positives would have been much reduced. True, he could not reproduce the heroics in the second innings but 22-4-40-0 does not do him justice.
No more than Kemar Roach’s first innings 16-2-47-3 for match figures of 43-5-121-6 are an accurate reflection of how well Holder’s Barbadian pace partner bowled.
Alzarri Joseph, four of whose seven spells over the two innings contained five or more overs, finished with unflattering match figures of 32-4-115-1.
But what of the T&T pacer, Shannon Gabriel? Well, Jomel Warrican can hardly do worse.
Holder’s two first innings spells were 7- and 11-overs long while he bowled seven separate spells of 3, 5, 3, 3, 2, 2 and 4 overs in the second innings.
Gabriel’s match figures of 27-2-89-0 in seven spells of 4 and 5 overs in the first innings and 4, 3, 4, 4, 3 in the second perhaps flatter him and tell us much of what we need to know.
The pacer needs to go. Quickly!
Brathwaite consistently provided better-than-adequate support for all his bowlers. If he erred at all, it was on the side of aggression—slips, leg-slips, short-legs and silly-points being often in attendance.
But the Vivian Richards Stadium is not Chittagong. So Rahkeem Cornwall’s almost 57 overs yielded returns of 4 for 162.
Modest but miles better than Gabriel’s who, unlike Roach and Holder, could make no impression.
So captaincy can hardly be faulted. Brathwaite did the best he could with the resources at his disposal. Even Mayers (11-2-30-2), called up at a crucial second innings juncture, contributed two important scalps.
So the ball is firmly in the selectors’ court. Should they lose their heads and retain last week’s starting XI for next week, we would be lucky to avoid catastrophe against a much more confident Sri Lanka, buoyed by their second innings resurgence led by a century-scoring debutant.
After all, the Romans long ago warned us that whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.