A most unhappy situation

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Thursday, December 07, 2017

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As if the deflating first-Test defeat to New Zealand and loss of the captain, Jason Holder, for the upcoming second Test were not enough, cricket watchers are struggling to make sense of the unravelling of the cricket board's medical panel.

Apparently resignations by Dr Akshai Mansingh, Dr Danny Bennett and Dr Renee Best follow differences between medical panel members and Cricket West Indies president Dave Cameron.

Systemic weaknesses in the governance of West Indies cricket have been explored and talked about for years. But also it seems to me, personality flaws afflicting some of those who run the regional game, have made the situation much, much worse.

Those at the helm had better understand that interest in, and support for, West Indies cricket, are in free-fall. If they do not speedily get their act together, West Indies cricket, already the butt of jokes and ridicule, will become irrelevant.

On the field itself, the nature of the first Test defeat was bitterly disappointing. Even after being sent in on a fresh, grassy pitch there could be no excuse for the West Indies being dismissed in the first innings for 134, especially after they were 59-0.

The second innings batting meltdown was even more abominable in my view. Given the low first innings score and New Zealand having gained a lead of close to 400, it was always going to be difficult for the West Indies to avoid defeat. But at 231-2 on the fourth morning in decent batting conditions, it seemed reasonable to expect that the visitors would have extended the game well into the fifth day. Instead West Indies lost their last eight wickets for 88 runs.

I found the second-innings dismissal of vice captain Kraigg Brathwaite particularly annoying. At 91 and in no trouble, Brathwaite knew that he had to be the anchor. Yet, for some odd reason, he chose to attempt to cut a delivery from the left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner aimed at the stumps. He missed the shot to be plumb LBW. All he needed to do was present a broad defensive bat to what should have been an innocuous delivery. Brathwaite's dismissal effectively set the tone for the rest of the West Indies innings.

Now Brathwaite will have to take over captaincy for the second Test at Hamilton starting this weekend following the one-match suspension of Holder because of his team's slow over rate. Presumably the left-arm seamer and reliable lower order batsman Raymon Reifer will now make his Test debut as a straight replacement for Holder.

The West Indies can't afford a repeat of what happened in the first Test. They've been showing steady improvement over the last year-and a-half; they need to continue that process. Even if they lose the second Test, Caribbean cricket followers need to see far more determination and good sense than was in evidence at Wellington.

Also, why can't the West Indies bowlers and bowling coach Roderick Estwick resolve their no-ball problems? In the first Test, West Indies bowled 15 no balls as New Zealand piled up 530-9 declared. By contrast New Zealand bowled not a single no ball.

Shannon Gabriel bowled nine no balls, Miguel Cummings four, and Holder two – one of which should have dismissed Henry Nichols early in his knock. Nichols went on to make 67. Basic efficiencies, including ground fielding, catching and bowlers keeping their heel behind the crease, have to improve. Not just players but coaches should be held accountable.

The big plus — perhaps the only plus — coming out of the first Test was the batting of the highly talented Shimron Hetmyer, who turns 21 on Boxing Day. His second-innings 66 was typically stroke-filled, with two sixes and eight fours. Pleasingly, although he faced just 89 balls, he did show restraint on occasions. West Indies need him to continue to show growth.

From a Jamaican perspective, cricket watchers will be keeping their fingers crossed for 22-year-old Fabian Allen, formerly of Vere Technical High, who is definitely showing signs of growth. Having missed two matches of the current regional four-day season because of injury, the right-handed Allen has scored over 300 runs in three matches with two centuries and a half-century, for an average in excess of 100. Dare we dream?

Also, the Courtney Browne-led selection panel has surprised most of us by recalling 35-year-old left-arm spinner Nikita Miller — the most prolific wicket-taker in regional first-class cricket — and the 36-year-old all-rounder Rayad Emrit for limited overs' duties against New Zealand. Why, we have to wonder, were they ignored for so long? As explained by Browne, Miller's selection is with a view to the upcoming World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe. Miller would only be human if he is also thinking that a recall to Test cricket — following a lone game in 2009 — could be beckoning.




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