“With no variations and hardly any lateral movement, the batter has the comfort of knowing that other than pace, he will not be tested by Gabriel. And while the bowler might make us gush in specific spells, he can bring in a little more sting to his bowling, which can finally give him the reward and the adulation that he deserves”
Shannon Gabriel, the third fastest bowler in the world of cricket since 2017, remains an under-rated player, who might in all honesty never be able to leave behind his legacy due to the lack of numbers going in his favour. In 33 Test matches, the Trinidadian has taken 87 wickets, but an unflattering average of 33.85 and an even worse strike-rate of 60.8 throws Gabriel amongst the bowlers who try and try hard to succeed, sans much success.
However, on first glance, as the tall pacer gets ready to go through his run-up, something distinct strikes the cricket lovers. He does not extract much pace whilst moving near his target, and one should not be dissed aside for considering him to be a player who lives up to his records – an average bowler with average pace.
Yet, once the ball has been delivered and once it has whizzed past the batsmen, who constantly keep missing any sort of a contact, the facade wears out to reveal the truth. This player has pace. Real, genuine pace. The kind of pace that will trouble players even on a dead and placid track, which is exactly what happened during the first innings against Sri Lanka. Pitching it short on an unhelpful track and still managing to get the red cherry to roar back up off the pitch requires its own kind of skills and ability, something that has defined Gabriel for the last few years.
In a team of under-achievers, it is Gabriel’s ability to keep bowling consistently and accurately that has stood out. The sights of the rival batter trying to keep his head around the delivery, finding it hard to connect bat to ball is a common vision, which was most famously on display in the historic Test win by West Indies at Leeds last year. He kept drawing out Alastair Cook and even before the English opener failed to realise the ongoings, the keeper behind had safely nestled the ball. On occasions, he had kept hitting even Kane Williamson on the helmet when the Windies toured New Zealand later that year, with the ball zipping past his outside edges. Unplayable. Scintillating. Jaw-dropping.
Gabriel remains the avatar of the West Indian cricketer that had graced the game aeons ago. He has a stout built and he is jovial. He has a sense of aura yet at the same time floors with his friendliness. He enjoys his alcohol and his dance jigs as much as the players from the folklore did, and just like them, on the field, he remains as dangerous; bowling the kind of spell that would have induced goosebumps even then.
Yet, he struggles to pick up the wickets. He struggles to break away from the group of ordinary bowlers onto the list of the James Andersons and the Stuart Broads. In the last day of the first Test between his side and the Lankans, in a spell that troubled even in-form Kusal Mendis and experienced Angelo Mathews, he picked up only 1 wicket. Ideally, he should have taken up at least 2 more. He had set fire on the final day, as one watched amazed at the perfection of his venomous deliveries. Yet his efforts were rewarded in a rather meek manner, as he picked up 4 for 100 in the game. Kemar Roach, who failed to create even a cent-percent of his menace returned with 4 for 15.
Even when Gabriel had bowled at Leeds or at Hamilton, he managed 4 wickets apiece in the first innings of the two games. Only two 5-wicket hauls in his career. No 6fers or 7fers. He deserves it, he definitely does.
Even though since 2017, he has the third highest strike-rate after Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, he has somewhere failed to stand tall. His average since the beginning of last year is 28.34, which is worse than the likes of Umesh Yadav and Kagiso Rabada. The reason for this could be his swing movement, which is only 0.54 degrees – the lowest when compared to players like Mohammad Amir, Cummins, Vernon Philander and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Though a few deliveries do deviate off the seam and jag away from the right-handers, his reliance on pace usually scripts his downfall. Once the batsman gets his eye in and gets accustomed to his speed, he can play cautiously against him. With no variations and hardly any lateral movement, the batter has the comfort of knowing that other than pace, he will not be tested by Gabriel. And while the bowler might make us gush in specific spells, he can bring in a little more sting to his bowling, which can finally give him the reward and the adulation that he deserves.