The West Indies (WI) cricket team produced a sublime performance to win the opening Test match of the 2018 series against Sri Lanka.
In a truly excellent implementation of the rudiments of Test cricket, WI cricketers gave a presentation of what they’re capable of with the right approach.
Lacking stars—ignored by their selection panel for various reasons from ignorance to insularity—the lads fought the good fight and deservedly came out victors. Generally speaking, it was a team effort with all participants contributing, whether in supporting roles or as the stars of the day.
The plot unfolded early on the first day when upon winning the toss, the captain, Jason Holder, elected to bat. This was a decision I did not agree with because the final 11 included four fast and fast-medium bowlers, the type of individuals who would take advantage of the preparation moisture in the pitch; and secondly, the batting line-up is not particularly one that would inspire confidence of survival, especially on a first-day pitch that would most certainly give bowlers a definite advantage.
However, Holder’s decision was helped by the fighting and dogged, determined innings of wicket keeper/batsman Shane Dowrich who cannot be faulted in his approach; he scored a fine century which proved he has the temperament for the big occasion.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Devon Smith who the selectors resurrected to open the batting. Smith will be 37 in October and played 38 Tests in his youth at an average per innings of 24. The selectors said they were vindicated by the performances of Smith in the regional first-class tournament in the 2017/18 season when he scored over 1000 runs; also, his consistency at that level over the years.
This is where the selection panel reveals their absence of imagination, as in the Peter Principle, which business people utilise for not promoting their employees beyond their level of competence.
They ought to recognise the fact that Smith, a fine batsman, was given every opportunity as a younger man to play at the highest level and failed; so what is he going to contribute now at his age?
And they left out the young and very promising Shimron Hetmyer, a left-hand batsman who should be nurtured into Test cricket. For the record, Smith was run out (7), running too casually in the first innings and was bowled for 20 in the second. He didn’t look the part!
The wicket always would give bowlers some help on the first day of a Test up to teatime. However, with the Oval bathed in glorious sunshine, it dried out quickly. Dowrich stayed to the end but the others got out in the 30s and 40s.
The second day was the revelation and is truly what cricketers enjoy about Test cricket which is, that one has to dismiss the other team twice in order to win a match; hence tactics and strategy is vital to success.
So from 246/6 the lower order batsmen guided by the wicket keeper/batsman, rallied to 414/8, with the help of leg spinner Devendra Bishoo (40) and fast bowler Kemar Roach (39).
This is the approach the Windies batsmen have been lacking for a long time. It showed guts and it was enjoyable to witness. This period of play won them the Test as it took the fight out of the Sri Lankans, dispirited by the resistance of the two tailenders.
Opposition hates to be held up by the lower order batsmen and WI has always been the victims of this type of defiance. From experience I can report it really rankles! That was Test cricket at its best.
Then the quick bowlers took over and looked very dangerous with Shannon Gabriel appearing the most lethal with his pace. No batsman likes real pace with the ball rearing at his head and Gabriel found the help in the wicket; this and this alone put the Lankans out of the game as they began worrying about the pace and the realisation that the wicket was fast and hard.
They would have observed the pace and bounce in the pitch when their fast bowlers were in the field, nevertheless the wicket would be faster on the second day with most of the moisture evaporated in the heat of the bright sunshine that flooded the Oval during the game.
Sri Lanka was nervous and worried after the second day’s play and were always playing ‘catch-up’ after that, so that once the weather held plus the confident approach of the WI team, one could sense the hunger for victory!
The pitch was a marvellous one for a Test match as its pace gave bowlers, both fast and slow, a chance. Furthermore with the ball coming on to the bat, it gave batsmen fair chance to play their strokes of which Dowrich and Kusal Mendis, the centurions, and Kieran Powell took full advantage.
A good fast pitch, a quick outfield, and WI cricketers at last showing their willingness to fight for glory made for a stirring Test match.