A profession of great faith
Jason Holder's undefeated century in the second innings of the First Test at Antigua comes clothed as the fruit yielded by a profession of great faith. A maiden Test century for an out and out pace bowler is generally looked upon as the personal dream of a lifetime. But Holder's feat has not appeared to be an achievement destined to remain a completely isolated event for him. Then, too, it arises as part of what Clive Lloyd projected as fundamentally useful when he gave the young man the captaincy for the World Cup campaign. To many it seemed a gamble to bypass certain better known elements. However, Lloyd's wisdom is to look forward towards the long haul in restoring faith in West Indies cricket. The cup isn't the 'be all' and the 'end all'. We need to look much further down the road.
The journey, in my view, when it comes to seeking full restoration for our cricketing health must as a matter of priority seek restoration in Test Cricket – despite the glittering allure of the one day game. Test cricket is without doubt germinal to development, or at least the means to proper restoration of fortunes on a meaningful basis. The shorter game is a physical contrivance designed to pander to the fickleness of the less mentally stable. Hence, their due diet. However, the sanctity of sane sobriety endures. Essential formula for success in Test cricket rests with crafting a first innings lead and then consolidating upon this. Assuming the opposition bats first, the first order of business is to dismiss them in no more than four sessions of play, on average 120 overs. On presumption that our team is equipped with decent bowling, that means bowling them out for 300 runs at two and a half runs per over, particularly on the strength of our playing at home under conditions better known to our players.
Having achieved this, the necessity is to endeavour to bat for five sessions (150 overs) at two and three quarter runs per over – a projected 412 runs and a lead of 112. The lead is only a little over a hundred but note well if the match began on Monday, the West Indies first innings would end on Wednesday and thus allowing our pace bowlers to have two full night's rest, with good chance of dismissing the opposition a second time, and an opportunity to bring off a win.
We've said it. How can we do it? West Indies won the toss and sent England in to bat at Antigua. Early inroads saw England on 34 for the loss of 3 wickets, which should have meant 300 all out. This did not happen and England reached 399 all out, only after animated pep talk to our guys by Sir Curtley Ambrose! Spineless batting by West Indies – only mitigated by Blackwood's maiden Test Century, 112, and Chanderpaul's mandatory and obdurate 46 saw us falling for 295 and conceding to England a lead of 104.
Inability of West Indies, occasioned more by a patent lack of required stamina, to press home an early advantage gained by their bowling the second time around depleted whatever pressure the England batsmen should have been experiencing. Accordingly, Cook and his men held the upper hand going into the last day. This enabled the heroic rearguard effort which brought about Holder's 103 not out, Devon Smith's 65, Ramdin's 57 and Blackwood's 31, painted with clear brushwork of an ability to do considerably better as a general routine against the class of bowling presented by Anderson, Broad, Jordan, Tredwell and company.
Measure for measure, Blackwood's first innings century equated with Ian Bell's 143 in the first innings and it was essentially poor concentration which hindered Braithwaite, Smith, Bravo and Samuels from answering for West Indies the batting efforts by Stakes 79, Root 83 for England.
It is necessary to state now the clear and unequivocal realisation must be emphasised to Holder; he must not sway from the understanding he should fashion himself in the mould of two great all-rounders. The one is the late Keith Miller who was potent half to the opening bowling of Australia in the 1940's and 1950's alongside of Ray Lindwall. Miller's height allowed him to terrorise batsmen with the new ball – swing as well as a lethal bouncer commanding every respect. As to the batting side of this great player, Miller came in dependably at No 4 or 5 and scored centuries when needed. Next iconic role model for Holder is none other than South Africa's Jacques Kallis. All-rounders don't generally come better than that - centurion, wicket taker and great slip fielder. Observe, we don't offer the name of Sir Gary Sobers, advisedly as too heavy an act to follow. Holder contributed his maiden century at No. 8 but he must seek to go many stages better than his predecessor Jerome Taylor whose mental makeup self diminishes by a lack of ambition precluding him from going on to greater things. We should remind him that both Sobers and Worrell started batting at No. 10 before advancing up the order in first class cricket.
There is the motivating thrust offered by Ambrose and new West Indies coach Phil Simmons of "belief" as a lever towards personal and team performance. This is fabulous but needs to be further buttressed with specific statistical targets to be embraced in wholehearted fashion. I would suggest for our batsmen anyone with an average of 15 must progressively work to get up to 25 and 35. And an attainment by any middle order batsman of an average of 35 has to avoid being content until he elevates to 45 and 50 plus. In this mode Smith as an opener must have an average of 50 in his sights. So must Bravo, Blackwood, Ramdin and Holder among the younger ones.
Evident in all this is an absolute need for a strong educative process to stamp a new edition to West Indies Cricket. This process is definitely not above the potential of the team. Here, I rest with a cursory look at the batting. Consideration of our bowling requirements is for a separate study inclusive of which is the important matter of physical fitness and professionally applied discipline in team training. Primarily it should be understood some better known personages currently absent from the team have by their absence allowed the way forward to be better illuminated. We should stick with the present combination – perhaps putting faith in Davindra Bishoo for Suleiman Benn as investment for the future.