Avoiding pitfalls as a test batsman
It is now 46 years since Grayson Shillingford became the first Dominican cricketer to play for the West Indies in Test Cricket. Thirty-eight years have gone by since Irving Shillingford, dubbed the Little Master, made it into Clive Lloyd's side, becoming the only Dominican to register a Test century. Norbert Phillip made it as an all rounder a year after Irving. Of course, Adam Sanford is the fourth player from our country to make it into the very top of the sport, but he did so principally as a product of the Antiguan system where he was employed as a police officer and playing in the Leeward Islands sub-regional grouping. As the first Test match between West Indies and Australia draws near there is merited prospect of Tyrone Theophile becoming our fifth Test player. Note, I avoid inclusion of Phillip De Freitas who went to England at the age of twelve and played for that country.
Theophile, as these things go, can evolve as a talented addition to the team, considering his ability to function as an opening batsman – an area in which West Indies are currently quite deficient. A partner is being searched for to accompany Kraigg Brathwaite, a youngster who has worked hard to forge himself into a credible performer despite very clear limitations in intrinsic excellence. The good thing is his strong awareness as to what is his prime capability – an ability to concentrate and postpone selling his wicket cheaply.
To complement Brathwaite, if given the opportunity, a sensible likelihood in view of the match scheduled on Theophile's home ground, the Dominican will need to be careful he keeps his head on and not fall into the trap of attempting to go overboard with flamboyance.
Lockhart Sebastien must be the best regional batsman in the last 45 years not to have received a chance to wear West Indies colours. He will probably advise Theophile of the value of registering large scores rather than flashing vivid cameos that are quickly forgotten by the selectors. It isn't that Sebastien did not play several substantial innings. And in any case, his playing for less formidable batting sides mostly against more accredited bowling ought to have tilted the selection balance in his favour. However, the older and more experienced player will certainly hold greater awareness that the youngster could fall victim to the wayward tendencies spawned by one day cricket.
What would I advocate for benefit of Theophile? Do your own thing, or exercise cautious restraint? It would be a disaster for him to get out cheaply attempting to step up a gear in face of Brathwaite's expected tendency to be outright circumspect or even downright stodgy. Remember, the West Indies need to be given the benefit of a very good start at the beginning of their innings. And what is a good start? This obviously points to the conservative.
Batting first, there is always the sound usefulness of not losing a wicket before lunch and definitely not before the shine is seen off the new ball; the Australian pacers should be offered quality resistance. Then, if Brathwaite falls early – a clear possibility as he has looked highly vulnerable to hot pace lifting around his off stump – it then becomes highly incumbent for his surviving partner to go on to solidly anchor the innings.
Responsibility of taking the fight to the fast bowlers more clearly lies with the more experienced men like Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood. The vital approach is for Theophile to fashion himself after the manner recommended by the immortal George Headley. The great man's recipe was acquiring the facility of scoring a safe and solid twenty runs. This he followed up by putting the achievement out of his mind and endeavouring to repeat the process over and over again.
Such an approach distinctly embraces a wholesale acceptance of an unremitting role of sheet anchor for the team. In this, a mere fifty is a paltry ambition. A hundred is a restricted goal. We have lost matches with batsmen scoring a century. Some have done it and packed out of the deal when they ought to seal it with a greater acquisition of gigantic success beckoning within their means. "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff", said the Bard.
Advantage in compiling scores well out of the ordinary ensures an ability to repeat the process often enough, and with it to force opposing bowlers into compliance with your dictates. There is much truth in Thomas Gray's saying: "The paths of glory lead but to the grave". Maybe, but at least you can surround the tomb with sepulchres of bowlers on which your achievement has been built. Then, too, there is money to be made from the reputation of an unfeeling batsman concerned only with the record book.
Next most potent advice is caution in the choice of those admitted within the circle of your celebration when you succeed. Somehow the fair weather friends become very scarce when times of disaster appear. It is useful to urge any young prospect to stay relentlessly on a course of continuous progress of development. This comes with increasing appetite for practice and not resting on one's laurels. All concerned must take it as a conscious responsibility to provide effective support to our young talented cricketers. As a species we must not allow them to become well endangered into extinction!