The three-Test series between England and the West Indies has unsurprisingly gone England’s way and with the back-to-back wins in the second and third Tests England has retained the Wisden Trophy.
The surprise was that the West Indies won the first Test because, truth be told, it has become such an unreliable and inconsistent team, especially its batting, that to expect any of its batsmen to put their heads down and play a long innings is like expecting snow in the Sahara Desert. Harsh words maybe, but when was the last series where the West Indian batsmen had scored runs in back-to-back Test matches?
Today there is hardly anybody in Test cricket who can play the long six to eight hour innings to give his team a solid platform or to save the game in the fourth innings. The last player in my recollection to save a Test match by playing a long innings is Gautam Gambhir in New Zealand more than a decade back. Batting 80 overs in the fourth innings of a match is a rarity now for any team. A few dot balls and batsmen are looking to break free with a shot that invariably gets them out. That is the temperament of most of the batsmen today.
There are exceptions of course like Cheteshwar Pujara, who is capable of the long innings at the crease with self-denial, but most others after a few quiet overs will try to ‘break out of jail’ as the common term is.
Test cricket is about 15 sessions over five days and the toughest sessions for batsmen are the first session on day one and the last three sessions on day five. Of course, hardly any Test match gets to day five nowadays simply because most batsmen struggle to survive in the first session of the first day. If the team gets a good start then it can make the most of the pitch for the first five sessions and look to pressurise the opposition in the next sessions.
It was this lack of faith in his batsmen that prompted Jason Holder, the West Indies captain, to bowl first in both the Test matches that the side lost.
He knew that if he had opted to bat first the game would be over by the fourth day. He just did not have the batsmen to play in English conditions. Having seen them come a cropper against India last year on placid West Indian pitches, it was a given that in conditions that helped seam and swing, the batting was not going to survive too long. That’s exactly what happened.
Gone are the days when the Windies had two openers like Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. If you managed to separate them early and you looked towards the pavilion who did you see strolling in to bat? Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. If you were lucky to get another wicket who then was walking out to bat? Alvin Kallicharran or a Larry Gomes.
“The last player in my recollection to save a Test match by playing a long innings is Gautam Gambhir in New Zealand more than a decade back,” says the author. – AFP
You got another wicket and it was the Big Cat and skipper Clive Lloyd himself walking in and after that there was Jeff Dujon too. Do you see any such players now?
All the above players were, of course, unbelievably great but they also knew that if they didn’t do well in the game, they would not only lose their place in the team but also lose the income that came from playing it. They didn’t have the comforting cushion of an annual contract from the Board and so applied themselves to their task with great diligence.
The current players will get their money whether they score runs, take wickets and catches or not.
There is thus little hunger and from what’s been seen of the team over the last few years, even lesser application. The West Indian T20 team in contrast is one full of energy and liveliness that excites and brings in crowds all over the world.
Yes, the players earn big bucks playing in various T20 leagues all over the world and when they represent the West Indies they bring that same verve and drive into the tournament and that’s why they have won two ICC Twenty20 World Cups. Do you see that same energy and drive in the Test team?
Jason Holder made a plea at the end of the series for a more equitable share of the ICC revenue. Why? For broadcasters to lose money in a three or a four day Test match? This is not being hard, but practical.
Get the West Indies Test team to play winning cricket like India, Australia, England and automatically the broadcasters will come running for the rights and there can be more money in the kitty.
You can’t expect an equitable share for the hard work done by other teams to keep Test cricket afloat. Do away with the annual contracts and pay only per match and you will save a lot of money and also make each player earn every penny that is there.
Once again, these may be harsh words and I am sorry for it but if there’s one team after India that I want to see do well in all forms of the game, especially Test cricket, it’s the West Indies.
It’s heartbreaking to see them play the way they are doing and that’s why these hard words that are more due to sorrow and anguish rather than anger.