Ineffective spinners and poor strike rotation! McWatt and ‘Reds’ suggest WI changes against Sri Lanka

“[…] The inability of both Rahkeem Cornwall and Jomel Warrican to be anywhere close to as effective as Sri Lanka’s spinners on the benevolent Galle Stadium pitch should now establish once and for all their inadequacy as Test match bowlers.

The same pitch on which they toiled so ineffectively to capture a mere seven wickets from 83.5 collective overs became a virtual minefield when Sri Lanka’s spinners were in operation…”

Toronto-based Canadian Cricket’s media relations manager Tony McWatt and veteran West Indies cricket commentator ‘Reds’ Perreira suggest changes after West Indies’ 187 run defeat in the First Test away to Sri Lanka:

Photo: Sri Lanka players congratulate spinner Lasith Embuldeniya on Day 5 of the First Test against the West Indies on 25 November 2021.
(Copyright AFP)

From its first session to the last, the eventual outcome of the 1st Test between Sri Lanka and West Indies at the Galle International Stadium was somewhat predictable. Sri Lanka’s victory, by a very comfortable margin of 187 runs, was a continuation of its record of never having lost a Test to the West Indies on home soil. 

For the West Indies, the eventual margin of defeat was much more respectable than seemed likely when they tottered at 18 for 6 in the second innings, while pursuing the 386-run target set by their hosts.

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From our perspective, the predictability of the West Indies’ eventual loss was evidenced almost halfway through the encounter. The debatable selections for the playing XI, the increasingly apparent ineptitudes of the two front-line spinners chosen to lead its bowling attack, and the wanting techniques of their top-order batsmen all contributed individually and collectively to the West Indies’ demise.

West Indies chose to enter the Test with a bowling attack comprising Shannon Gabriel’s outright pace and Jason Holder’s medium pace, along with the spin trio of off-spinners Rahkeem Cornwall and Roston Chase and left-arm spinner Jomel Warrican. They were expected to do the damage in capturing the 20 Sri Lanka wickets required to win the Test.

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

The choice of Gabriel, who lacks playing time due to injury, over the ever-reliable Kemar Roach or even the promising Jayden Seales was highly debatable. So too was the decision to play three spinners at the expense of a second fast bowler. 

As it turned out, Gabriel captured only two wickets in the entire match, Cornwall the same number and Warrican five in total. 

Warrican’s three first innings wickets, however, were all lower-order Sri Lanka batsmen. His two second innings wickets— Oshada Fernando batting at three and the number five Dhananjaya de Silva—were both taken against batsmen on the hunt for quick runs, not being at all choosy in their shot selections.

Having bowled wicket-less for 27 overs in Sri Lanka’s formidable 386-run first innings total, Cornwall had early success in their second. He captured the wicket of Pathum Nissanka (3) in only his second over and when the score was just three.

Photo: West Indies’ Rahkeem Cornwall bowls against India during Day One of the Second Test at Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica on 30 August 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

It wasn’t until 158 runs later, by which time Sri Lanka had progressed to 162, that he would capture his second victim of the entire match.

The wholly inadequate performances of Cornwall and Warrican were in stark contrast to Chase’s outstanding off-spin bowling. Supposedly the West Indies’ back-up spinner, Chase had figures of 5/83 from 28.5 overs in Sri Lanka’s first innings for his fourth five-wicket haul in Tests. 

Inexplicably in Sri Lanka’s second innings, Chase only bowled six overs while Cornwall’s wicket-less first innings off-spin was again preferred for 15.5 overs.

The inability of both Cornwall and Warrican to be anywhere close to as effective as Sri Lanka’s spinners on the benevolent Galle Stadium pitch should now establish once and for all their inadequacy as Test match bowlers.

Photo: West Indies spinner Jomel Warrican.
(Copyright Getty Images)

The same pitch on which they toiled so ineffectively to capture a mere seven wickets from 83.5 collective overs became a virtual minefield when Sri Lanka’s spinners were in operation. 

Except for Suranga Lakmal’s dismissal of Cornwall in the West Indies’ first innings, every one of the remaining 19 wickets taken by Sri Lanka to win the Test went to their spinners. They only required a total of 156.5 overs to run through the entire West Indies batting order, top, middle and bottom, twice by midway on the final day.

Except for Joshua Da Silva in both innings, Jason Holder in the first and Nkrumah Bonner in the second, the inability of the West Indies batsmen to play top-class spin was repeatedly and embarrassingly exposed. 

Were it not for Bonner and Da Silva’s second innings resistance in posting a 100-run partnership for the seventh wicket to help the West Indies recover from their precarious 18 for 6, the level of embarrassment experienced could well have assumed monumental proportions! 

Photo: West Indies batsman Joshua da Silva in action during the First Test against Sri Lanka in November 2021.
(via CWI Media)

One of the primary factors in the West Indies’ inept batting displays throughout the Test was their inability to differentiate between turning deliveries and those which straightened from the bowler’s arm. In the second innings, Shai Hope, Chase, Kyle Mayers, and Holder were all undone by playing for turn against straighter deliveries.

In contrast to the likes of England’s Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence—not to mention a certain gentleman by the name of Brian Lara—who all effectively utilised the sweep shot against Sri Lanka spinners during previous tours, none of the West Indies batsmen seemed inclined to try that stroke. 

Lara’s use of the sweep shot was a major factor in the 688 runs he compiled during the 2001 series in Sri Lanka against the off-spin of Muttiah Muralitharan in particular.

Another key component of the West Indies batsmen’s wanting techniques was their demonstrated failure to use their wrists to strike balls to the right or left and away from Sri Lanka’s fielders, instead of directly at them—as occurred far too often. 

Photo: West Indies batsman Nkrumah Bonner in action during the First Test against Sri Lanka in November 2021.
(via CWI Media)

Much of successful Test cricket batting is about putting pressure on opposing bowlers by constantly rotating the strike, thereby forcing them to change their line and length instead of getting into a groove by being able to bowl at the same batsman repeatedly. 

There were well in excess of 350 dot balls in the West Indies’ first innings, when they posted 230. Had half of those been better placed to produce singles, the total would have been a far more respectable 355, and the eventual result of the Test might not have been nearly as predictable. 

With the Second Test scheduled to start on Monday (29 November), it will be very interesting to see what the West Indies’ on-site think tank comes up with, in terms of their selections for the final XI. 

Reports out of Sri Lanka indicate that Jeremy Solozano, who was replaced by Shai Hope during the First Test due to concussion, will in all likelihood remain unavailable. If so, that would most likely result in the West Indies fielding an unchanged batting line-up.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago batsman Jeremy Solozano put on his first West Indies cap in Sri Lanka on 21 November 2021.
After being hit on the head while fielding at silly mid-on and subsequently diagnosed with concussion, Solozano did not get to bat,
(via CWI Media)

There should, however, be changes to the bowling with both Cornwall and Warrican making way for Roach and Seales. This would be our suggestion by way of the West Indies returning to its traditional core strength of playing four seamers, Gabriel, Roach, Seales, and Holder—with Chase offering support as the solitary front-line spinner. 

As events surrounding West Indies’ cricket have repeatedly demonstrated within recent times, very little ever happens as it should.

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  1. I am in total agreement with this article.

    • Earl Best

      …which is why Ambrose has said–correctly, in my view–that WI cricket is doomed to remain in the international backwaters.
      I am certain you are not alone is swallowing this “analysis” as gospel.

  2. West Indies cricket is in poor hands : Simmons and Estwick..Skerritt too!

    • Earl Best

      Sorry to disappoint you, bro, but the poor hands have bats and balls in them. Gayle, Fletcher, Cornwall, Gabriel, Darren Bravo, Oshane Thomas to name just half-dozen.

      And the poor hands problem is compounded by the absence of anything above the shoulders. No names. You make up your own list.

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