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Brathwaite leads from the front but WI bowling fails to break through against S/Lanka

After Kraigg Brathwaite West Indies’ largely encouraging First Test performance, the selectors surprised many with the XI they announced for the Second Test against Dimuth Karunaratne’s Sri Lanka. But the unchanged side earned an honourable draw, entirely justifying the panel’s faith in them and reinforcing the idea that the best XI is not always the 11 best.

With 98 overs left in the game at the end of Day Four, Win Predictor put at 5% the visitors’ chances of winning and taking the series 1-0. Even before Friday morning rains cut a chunk out of that minimum number, the Sri Lankans must either have agreed with the guess or been satisfied with a 0-0 outcome. 

Photo: Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne took 176 balls to get to 75 runs in the second innings of the Second Test against the West Indies.
(via Outlook India)

With all ten wickets in hand at the start, they made no attempt to launch an assault on their albeit challenging 376-run target. A number seven ranking in the hand is presumably worth more than ten points in the bush…

Despite his best efforts, Man-of-the-Match Brathwaite found that, as a Wired868 story proclaims about Terry Fenwick’s Senior Football team, his main men had inadequate penetration. 

Which is why, presumably, they could not reproduce their Bangladesh heroics.

WI were put in to bat on a pitch thought to have enough residual moisture to aid bowlers in the early going. Opener John Campbell and Jermaine Blackwood—inexplicably and perhaps even indefensibly retained in the middle order—never looked the part. And the Law of Averages finally caught up with First Test Man-of-the-Match Nkrumah Bonner, who balanced his First Test century with his first duck. 

But, on a pitch that seemed to get progressively easier as the match wore on, WI recovered from 15 for 2 to post 354. 

Photo: West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite hits for four during day 1 of the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium in Antigua on 29 March 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)

After 271 & 287 for 7 last week following on 430 & 223 for 8 declared and 409 and 117 in Bangladesh, it was a score that gave traction to the novel idea that consistency and responsible shot-selection—the bane of West Indian batting post-Prince-of-Port-of-Spain—are not beyond a WI line-up. 

In fact, skipper Brathwaite added a 196-ball 85 to his sheet-anchor first innings 126, his ninth century in Tests. And thanks largely to Jason Holder’s 71 off 88 balls, despite a first innings lead of just 96, he was able to declare the second innings closed at 280 for 4 before the end of Day Four. 

That gave his bowlers an opening to claim a coveted win. And perhaps feed the doubtless premature but understandable feeling that a corner has been turned.

It was not to be. Despite astute management and thoughtful, imaginative field placement by Brathwaite, by day’s end, only Alzarri Joseph (10-2-33-1) and Kyle Mayers (6-4-5-1) had put their names in the wickets column. 

Photo: West Indies’ Alzarri Joseph bowls against England during the 2nd Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua on 31 January 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Rahkeem Cornwall, who bowled only three different spells in his first innings 15-5-25-0, soldiered on through six spells from both ends in the second but finished with 0/53 after 26.4 overs. 

Neither Kemar Roach (12-2-33-0) nor Holder (10-3-24-0) could add to their three- and two-wicket first innings tallies. Both finished with nine and seven wickets respectively, to be second and third behind Player-of-the-Series Suranga Lakmal, who captured 11 scalps in 92 overs.

Shannon Gabriel (16-3-37-1 in the first innings) managed only 5.2 overs in the second before a popped hamstring sent him packing. To be fair, though manifestly woefully short of work in the First Test, Gabriel looked a very different bowler in this game. He was not given the new ball on Thursday evening and had only one early 4-over spell with the newish ball on Friday morning before his crash came.

So no contribution of note came from any of the three players whose retention in the squad was arguably an issue. 

Photo: West Indies pace bowler Shannon Gabriel appeals for a decision.
(Copyright Cricketworld)

Campbell gleefully pouched both catches offered to him by skipper Karunaratne in the First Test last week, when he contributed 11 off 15 and 42 off 148. This week, with scores of 5 off 24 and 10 off 25, he raised his total yield to 68 runs off 212 balls. 

Notably, all four times he was caught at the wicket fishing outside off-stump.

The first ball of Blackwood’s four-over first innings spell accounted—through umpiring error—for the stubborn Dhananjaya de Silva. But despite the six overs a clutching-at-straws Brathwaite gave him on Day Five, success eluded them.

However, JB was the only WI batsman above number 8 to hit a six, one of only three in both innings. But he also contrived to fall victim to attacking shots on or outside off-stump in all four innings, his series aggregate of 42 runs off 106 comprising 2 runs off 7 balls, 4 off 29, 18 off 29 and 18 off 41. 

Bangladesh hero Mayers, in contrast, made another solid contribution with 49 and 55. And when on Friday Brathwaite belatedly called him up for a six-over spell, he looked likely to add a second scalp to his crucial partnership-breaking first innings one.

Photo: West Indies batsman Kyle Mayers on the attack against Bangladesh in his Test debut.

The WI stars with the bat, though, were Brathwaite himself and Cornwall. The off-spinner demonstrated hitherto unseen restraint in his shot selection to emerge as second-highest first innings top-scorer with an 11-boundary 73. And he shared a 103-run partnership with the skipper, last man out in the first innings and top-scorer in both. 

Brathwaite appears to be relishing his new leadership role and enjoyed continuous and vocal support from his predecessor Holder, whose voice rang through the stump mike, notably during the stubborn 75-run first innings partnership between De Silva and Dinesh Chandimal.

The end of that partnership underlined the degree to which Brathwaite’s team is slowly becoming a well-oiled machine. With the field set for a false shot, Gabriel, fit enough to deliver one 149kph-bomb to Chandimal, kept peppering him with fast short-pitched deliveries. 

Eventually, the batsman delivered. Hayden Walsh jr, on the field for the long indisposed Nkrumah Bonner, gleefully snaffled the chance some ten metres inside the boundary without moving a millimetre right or left. 

Photo: Barbadian cricket umpire Gregory Brathwaite.

A word about the umpiring. Joel Wilson and Gregory Brathwaite—‘oxymoronically’ styled, according to Samuel Badree, ‘non-neutral umpires’—came in for repeated criticism in this game. For me, none of it was deserved. 

Of the 16 decisions reviewed, three were upheld and five struck down. The other eight were all tagged Umpire’s call, making the decision, even if seemingly wrong, entirely justified under the circumstances. 

Whatever happens with the umpiring in July/August, when Pakistan come a-visiting for the first time since 2017, WI will still have bathwater to throw out.

But unless we see men able to do better on the penetration front, there’ll certainly be no baby.

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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