The West Indies lost the first test against England at Birmingham badly, by all of an innings and 209 runs. Batting first, England ran up a gigantic 514/8 declared and then proceeded to flatten the West Indies for 168 in the first innings and 137 following on. It was all over in less than three full days. It was humiliating.
Amid the ruins, however, there was one performance that stood out, and it was Jermaine Blackwood’s stroke-filled 79* in the first innings. He was the only West Indies batsman to exert real control over the proceedings for any extended periods. He was strident, confident, and while he scored at a rapid rate he never seemed to be taking undue risks. In the end, he ran out of partners, just when a century seemed within reach.
In the second innings, the Jamaican middle order batsman made 12. Running down the wicket to off-spinner Moeen Ali he was stumped by a mile.
Considering the peril his team was in, the attempt to run at the spinner was reckless. He was in no trouble, was scoring rather freely, and so this was a needlessly gifted wicket — one his team could ill afford at the time.
Blackwood’s 49 run-out in the first innings of the West Indies’ miraculous comeback at Leeds was again well-made, if slightly more restrained than the 79 he scored in Birmingham. His second innings effort, however, was frenzied. He was, on occasion, aided by good fortune, even dropped at one point, but most disappointing of all was the way he got out. With victory within touching distance, the batsman ventured down the pitch once again, aiming, I suppose, to finish the game in style. He again allowed himself to be stranded well down the pitch.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul was often pilloried for being too concerned about his average. Blackwood should begin to show more regard for his. Having scored one and five in the third test at Lords he averaged 37.4 for the series. Had he not thrown away his wicket at Leeds he would have averaged over 46.
Three innings during the subsequent tour of Zimbabwe yielded the Jamaican middle-order batsman a paltry nine runs. It could be argued that he was slightly unlucky to be stumped by a millimetre in the first innings of the first test, but for his second innings dismissal to be almost a carbon copy of the first, smacks of carelessness. A world-class batsman should not lose his wicket in that manner twice in the same game.
Always a forthright batsman, Blackwood has too often crossed the line over into recklessness. His favourite retort when challenged about being overly aggressive is to assert that he’s naturally an aggressive player. “That is just normally how I play ever since I started playing the game,” he remarked, after a blistering, though risky 62 against India at Sabina Park in June 2016. “So that’s my natural game. I try to score my first 20-25 runs quickly, and tried to use the pace of the ball. So that is how Jermaine Blackwood plays his game.”
What he said is accurate. I have been watching him since his days at Holmwood and that is how he has always played. But being naturally aggressive is one thing; being injudicious is quite another. A batsman should try to play his natural game as often as possible. There will be occasions, however, where circumstances and conditions require a modified approach. Australian opener David Warner, currently the most forthright test batsman in the game, recently lead his side to victory against Sri Lanka by scoring 123 runs off 234 balls. Normally, he’d have walloped more than 200 off that many deliveries.
Emerging West Indies batting star Shai Hope was asked about Blackwood’s approach after the second test win in England. “That’s Jermaine,” he replied with a smile, suggesting, it appears, that that’s what they have come to expect from the Jamaican. Blackwood should be careful his colleagues and the selectors don’t come to regard him as some kind of a class clown: fun to have around but not someone to be entrusted with a serious job of work.
Dropped for Pakistan’s 2016-17 visit to the Caribbean, Blackwood was fortunate to regain his place for the tour to England. The new batsmen introduced didn’t do well enough to retain their places and so the selectors again looked in his direction. Given this new opportunity, he needs to nail down his spot. As one of the West Indies’ most senior batsmen, his duty is to bear much of the responsibility for middle-order reliability in a side somewhat prone to the batting collapse.
Blackwood’s former colleague and West Indies great, Chanderpaul, took to heart a simple and timeless truth of batting: the longer you occupy the crease the more runs you are likely to score. It’s a good lesson for Blackwood to absorb.
This is not to suggest a radical departure from the right-hander’s approach. Yet it is likely even he would agree that he needs to make better decisions while batting. The good thing is that his spotty record is not due to a lack of ability.
A more thoughtful approach is certainly not beyond him. The New Zealand series, if he is picked in the XI, would be a good time to unveil a new and modified approach to batting.