Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lessons from Dominica


teamwork: West Indies batsmen Shivnarine Chanderpaul, left, and Fidel Edwards bump fists during the fifth day of the third Test match against India, in Roseau, Dominica, yesterday. —Photo: AP

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Why we can't fold up and surrender without a fight?

Apart from delaying the completion of this column, the resistance showed by the West Indies yesterday is actually more infuriating than encouraging.

Yes, the determination of Fidel Edwards in staying with the redoubtable Shivnarine Chanderpaul for almost three hours was very welcome, especially for the thousands of Dominicans whose enthusiasm in the Sunday sunshine ensured an atmosphere worthy of an entertaining finish to a Test match and a Test series, in stark contrast to the sad anti-climaxes in front of near-empty stadia that we've grown increasingly accustomed to in the Caribbean for more than a decade now.

But really, what was new in that ninth-wicket partnership?

Edwards has always displayed a tendency to hang around, on four occasions doing it to such good effect that he famously helped to deny the opponents Test victories, the last of that quartet ensuring that the West Indies briefly reclaimed the Wisden Trophy in 2009 at the Queen's Park Oval before surrendering it meekly six weeks later in England.

It was only when he got ambitious and attempted to play a few shots that he perished. Taken in isolation, it was a poor stroke that brought about his demise. Yet in the context of a tail-ender averaging less than ten, whose innings of 30 was a Test-best effort, fiery Fidel had already exceeded expectations by some distance with the bat, before taking hopes of a stunning victory up a notch when he removed Abhinav Mukund with the first ball of India's pursuit of 180.

Before and after Edwards' defiance, Chanderpaul was, well, Chanderpaul. In occupying the crease for nearly eight-and-a-half hours on the way to compiling an unbeaten 116, the performance of the 36-year-old Guyanese (and now brand new resident of Dominica, an honour bestowed on him by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt or being the most capped West Indian Test cricketer) was no different from the stodgy application we saw from him when he played the first of his 133 Test matches as a 19-year-old, scoring 61 against England in front of his home crowd at Bourda in 1994.

That old ground in Georgetown no longer stages international cricket, England are no longer grovelling at the feet of the West Indies, but Shiv is still Shiv, grinding out runs as remorselessly as ever. There may be an element of selfishness about it, this being his 36th Test innings unbeaten and given his stated desire to reach 10,000 Test runs before calling it a day. Which world-class sporting performer isn't single-minded to some extent though? It's only when those personal desires are to the detriment of the team cause that it should be an issue.

So Chanderpaul and Edwards frustrating India until the early afternoon is really in keeping with their track records. The real issue is those higher up the batting order looking on and learning, if not in seeking to copy the manner of their strokeplay or strokelessness, but in putting great value on their wickets to the extent that they avoid a repetition of the mistakes that have brought about their demise far too often in the series just ended.

Adrian Barath, Kieron Powell and Darren Bravo come immediately to mind in this context.

Powell has just played his first Test, yet in the same way that obvious technical deficiencies were exposed when Kraigg Brathwaite made his debut against Pakistan in St Kitts six weeks ago, he needs to address his flaws immediately or expect to struggle again if or when he gets another opportunity at the highest level of the game.

In the case of Barath and Bravo, the challenge appears to be as much that of temperament as technique. No-one questions their ability and both have shown in the occasional innings just what they are capable of when everything comes together. Still, and Barath needs to learn this very quickly, you can't play a shot to almost every ball, nor do you play with an open face against the new ball.

Listening to the comments of Sunil Gavaskar--the original "Little Master" and one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time--during the television commentary of this series on what is required in that difficult position at the top of the order, you just hope that someone somewhere is prepared to pass on similar advice to Barath and, very importantly, he is prepared to take those comments on board and not just interpret it as being dissed, as so many of our young and not-so-young people are wont to do.

Bravo may feel that with his start, he is well on his way to being another Chanderpaul, for Shiv stroked a succession of half-centuries for three years before he finally broke through with a priceless maiden Test hundred in a low-scoring victory over India at Kensington Oval in 1997.

But anyone with that sort of ability should not be content with just getting to fifty, as seems to be the case with him. Six times now, the silky left-hander with the copycat Brian Lara style has reached a half-century with a minimum of fuss, only to fall some distance short of that first Test century. Even the way he fell in the second innings in Dominica, miscuing a lofted drive off Harbhajan Singh, suggests that he needs to appreciate that Test cricket is also about grafting and accumulation.

Lessons learnt and a draw to boot? That's as much as we can ask for these days.