“It was palpably noticeable the number of West Indies batsmen who got out LBW during the series. In the two Tests, they lost 15 batsmen via that route”

 

After conducting something akin to a masterclass in Test-match cricket at Southampton the visiting West Indians played like schoolboys in Manchester. In the first game, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder, especially, bowled well to limit the home team’s runs. The West Indies batsmen fought hard enough in the first innings to earn a sizeable lead, and the returning Jermaine Blackwood played a match-winning innings in the second to carry them to a four-wicket win.

But then the action moved to Old Trafford in Manchester and they floundered, struggling mainly against the returning Stuart Broad and looking but a shadow of their Southampton selves.

The first Test win would have given a great deal of hope to Caribbean fans who would likely have been skeptical of their team’s ability to compete with England in English conditions. It’s a difficult proposition at the best of times, and so when they outplayed their hosts in the opening skirmish the fans were pleased and their expectations raised.

But those hopes were soon shattered. The West Indies not only lost the two Manchester Tests, but they also surrendered the Wisden trophy which they memorably won with a 2-1, 2019 series win in the Caribbean.

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To be sure – had there been a clairvoyant who told them the West Indies would have won one game during the series most fans would not have been reasonably satisfied. It was the roller-coaster aspect of the performance that would have been disturbing. Not that inconsistency has not been a concern for a long time. But their Southampton performance encouraged optimism.

Heading into the series, the West Indies’ batting was seen as a major weakness. The bowling attack, and the seam bowling, in particular, was seen as quite potent and was talked up by coaches and pundits. Bowling coach Roddy Estwick went as far as to say the current seam attack was the best since those of the great era.

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The Caribbean is now blessed with a widening pool of young pacemen to augment the impressive capabilities of veterans Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel. The batting cupboards, however, while not totally bare, needs replenishment.

It should be remembered, however, that two highly regarded left-handers, Darren Bravo and ShimronHetmyer declined to tour due to the risks posed by the Novel Coronavirus. But it is doubtful both would have been included in the XI. And if either of them were picked, the batsman who would likely have missed out is Jermaine Blackwood, who was instrumental in the Southampton victory and who ended up with most runs for his team in the series.

That is not to say Hetmyer or Bravo would not have done what Blackwood did, or more – they certainly have the ability – but who knows how they’d have feared.

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The opening positions have been problematic for awhile. The incumbents, Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell, have been largely derelict in their duty of getting their team off to a good start. In fact, there has not been an opening partnership over 50 in the last 13 innings, and on eight of those occasions, the first wicket fell before the score reached 10.

Brathwaite had two scores over 50 in the first two Tests against England, returning to some semblance of form after a lean patch. His adhesive qualities are sometimes overshadowed by deficiencies in technique, resulting in less production than would otherwise be expected. But he remains, in the mind of many, the best opener in the Caribbean and will not easily lose his spot. John Campbell, on the other, himself the wielder of a technique that needs tightening, doesn’t have that kind of faith reposed in him and might not be persevered with as long.

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Another troublesome place in the line-up is the number three spot, currently held by Shai Hope. Scorer of two centuries in that memorable game at Leeds in 2017, the Barbadian has failed to live up to the promise of that performance. One only has to view him in action for a few minutes to recognize the obvious class. And yet his returns, in tests at least, has been very disappointing.

It was palpably noticeable the number of West Indies batsmen who got out LBW during the series. In the two Tests, they lost 15 batsmen via that route. Stuart Broad who was hilariously omitted from the first game, captured 16 wickets in the two he played, seven of them LBW. The visiting batsmen appeared much too intent on camping on the backfoot to deliveries they should have been pushing forward to.

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They were therefore vulnerable to the delivery that was full and moving in from off.  It was the kind of delivery Broad and Chris Woakes were able to produce often and it yielded them rich returns.

Another area of concern was the touring batsmen’s response to the short ball. They were quite discomfited by it, and though this is not all that surprising considering we have seen them struggle against it in the past, it is another area in which they need to improve.

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There are in the Caribbean, batsmen who were apparently not considered for the England excursion but who appears to have the quality to succeed at Test level. One can never be certain about these things but a batsman as gifted as Nicholas Pooran does look equipped to succeed in all formats.

Another is Brandon King, who had a very decent first-class season last year but who only played a single four-day game this season. Both, along with others such as Fabian Allen, are very much occupied in white-ball cricket. They should be given an opportunity, providing they are interested, to stake a claim in the longest format.