Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope stole all the limelight in West Indies’ crushing win over England at Headingley courtesy two game changing partnerships. They were remarkable no doubt and were the architects of West Indies’ dramatic turnaround after a debacle in the opening Test of the series.
But victories are rarely sown by two individuals alone in cricket although more often than not the other contributors go missing in the headlines. One such exceptional performance for West Indies came from Shannon Gabriel.
A skiddy fast bowler, high on pace and thought to be one of the first names in the West Indian team sheet suffered a setback before the first Test when he sent down 24 no-balls and conceded 64 in nine overs in a pink ball warm-up match against Derbyshire.
He was surprisingly dropped for the Edgbaston pink ball Test although his tendency to overstep did play a major role in his axing. But West Indies put up such a pathetic show at Edgbaston that Gabriel was a certainty to return to the squad for the second Test.
His no-ball problem seemed to have vanished when he didn’t deliver a single one in 17 overs in the first innings, where he picked up four wickets as well.
Gabriel played a pivotal role England’s first innings collapse at Headingley which, in hindsight, allowed West Indies to walk away with a 169 run lead in the first innings.
Alastair Cook, who had made 243 in his only innings at Edgbaston, was a huge threat to the Windies yet again. But Gabriel was running in with fire right from the onset. He sent down a perfect delivery outside off-stump that forced an outside edge off Cook, while on 11, and rested in the hands of the slip fielder. West Indies had struck the initial blow which turned out to be a huge one since Cook is the only experienced batsman in the top 3.
Gabriel returned to castle Johnny Bairstow with another excellent delivery and later Ben Stokes before he could inflict further damage after his hundred. But probably his best ball of the day came against Stuart Broad. A searing yorker on the middle stump that the tall left-hander had little clue about ensured that there was no late fightback from England. His four-for cleaned up England for 258.
Gabriel’s partnership with Kemar Roach also became instrumental in England’s collapse. The duo was consistently on the money and never allowed leeway for the batsmen to relieve the pressure. In Edgbaston, Alzarri Joseph and Miguel Cummins were far too inconsistent and allowed the England batsmen too much width.
All of that changed with Gabriel charging in like a bull from one end and Kemar Roach throwing fire grenades from the other. There was relentless pressure and it paid off. Their batsmen, high on confidence after the show by Gabriel and Roach, helped them take a big enough first innings lead.
But things started spiralling downward for Gabriel in the second innings where he sent down ten no-balls and five wides. Overstepping had always been his problem and he had seemingly overcome it when he sent down 17 overs with 0 no-balls in the first innings. But now he was back to being inconsistent with the ‘one loose ball an over’ habit returning. Add to that his 15 extras in 26 overs and you have an unreliable package.
Even amongst all this drama, Gabriel managed to get the two biggest scalps in the second innings. He sent back a set Mark Stoneman with an absolute peach of a delivery. The ball landed on middle stump and straightened past the southpaw’s helpless bat and thudded into the stumps, a setback to the opener’s Ashes dreams.
He returned to grab the big fish, Joe Root, with a scorching bouncer that the England skipper helped to the gully fielder.
All the while he continued to frustrate the Windies with his foot which just refused to stay behind the line. Colin Croft, former West Indian great had commented in an interview that Gabriel had future but needs to tighten up his technique. “Shannon Gabriel I think has got potential, he bowls really quickly, he just needs some technical tightening up”, Croft had mentioned in an interview with Alloutcricket.
Only three months back he had Pakistan reeling with a sensational 5/11 in the final innings of the breathtaking Kensington Oval Test. The effort came with Pakistan needing just 188 to win in the fourth innings. But Gabriel’s haul resulted in Pakistan being cleaned up for 81. There is no doubting the talent he has. But he needs a lot of work in the nets. That said omitting him isn’t the way forward for this line-up.
For a country that has a rich history of fast bowlers, the cupboard is close to bare at the moment. In these desperate times, they need to stick by their match-winners and West Indies have few bowlers who can send shivers down the spine of opposition batsmen like Gabriel.