Sunday, December 17, 2017

So much to say...

So many talking points from just a few hours’ cricket.

Completing this column before the conclusion of yesterday’s second One-Day International between the West Indies and England didn’t present too much of a dilemma, not with so many issues coming sharply into focus long before the final ball was bowled at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.

Inevitably, Caribbean fans who sense a conspiracy around every corner and even those who don’t were complaining loudly about the decision by television umpire Marais Erasmus to rule Dwayne Bravo stumped off the bowling of off-spinner James Tredwell. That his dismissal triggered a collapse with the last six wickets going down for 26 runs only magnified the strength of feeling that this was yet another officially-orchestrated injustice to keep the West Indies down.

And truly, it is difficult to work out how the South African official could have come up with the verdict, as relayed to his colleagues on the field, when there was every suggestion that wicketkeeper Jos Buttler had lost control of the ball just before his gloves went onto the stumps to dislodge the bails with the home captain deceived by a delivery slanted down the leg-side, leaving him stranded well out of his ground.

It took lengthy deliberation by Erasmus and repeated viewing of an assortment of camera angles for him to make up his mind, surely betraying a degree of doubt that should have gone in favour of the batsman. Officials are often unfairly targeted by fans and media alike as scapegoats for their team’s or favourite player’s inadequacies. In this case though, there would appear to be just cause for grievance, although it in no way absolves the West Indians who proceeded to make gifts of their wickets – one after the other – following their captain’s demise.

Lendl Simmons followed up his 65 on Friday with a topscore of 70, but a top-class experienced batsman shouldn’t be caught in the deep with half the side down and 12 overs still to go as he was. And in the powerplay to boot! Stuart Broad’s superb catch at the second attempt to remove the dangerous Darren Sammy had nothing to do with bad luck but everything to do with the former captain hitting the ball in the air within reach of the England skipper.

And then, after Denesh Ramdin was bowled in a manner that has become commonplace, Sunil Narine and Ravi Rampaul proceeded to display a complete failure to appreciate the circumstances of the innings, the former being stumped having a swing to long-off and the latter succeeding in unerringly finding the fielder in that position. All out for 159 with almost six overs unused. Where’s the conspiracy in that?

No subterfuge either in the shortcomings of the top-order. It was 45 for four on Friday and then 30 for three yesterday. To offer the excuse that the opening batsmen were caught unawares by having to face as many as four different slow bowlers in the first 12 overs is essentially to admit that they aren’t expected to last long enough when the specialist spinners usually come on somewhere around the middle overs. Anyway, take the time if you have the time to examine the ODI records of Dwayne Smith, Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards. If the word “mediocre” doesn’t come to mind, then you’re using a different unit of measurement from the rest of us.

By any yardstick or metre rule though, Narine’s bowling is mesmerising. Okay, so in the days before the relaxation of the rules to allow for “degrees of straightening” he would have been called for pelting. But the allowance permits his variations and even with all the available technology, even with all the microscopic analysing of his action and grip on the ball (thumb on, thumb off, etc), batsmen the world over are still catching their nennen to pick him. It could have been “Fantastic Friday” the way Luke Wright was wining uncomfortably at the crease before a doosra put him out of his misery. It is a measure of his impact on the game that opponents see it as a victory to just play him out.

Narine is a handful on any surface, but is it of any long-term good for West Indies cricket to have pitches prepared for One-Day Internationals that offer so much assistance to spinners so early in the game as was the case yesterday, two days earlier and probably for the final match on Wednesday as well? Nobody I know goes to watch one-day cricket hoping for a tight, low-scoring contest. They want to see their team win, of course. However they also want to be entertained, and that usually means exciting fast bowling, quality spin and runs, lots of runs.

Andy Roberts and Curtly Ambrose were among the trio of Antiguans (Richie Richardson was the other) knighted by their country’s Governor General during the interval of Friday’s first match. I wonder what they would have thought of playing on a pitch where the captain sees a part-time off-spinner like Joe Root as one of the best options to use the new ball?

You often hear of the argument that pitches should be prepared to suit a home team’s strengths. Yet wouldn’t it be more beneficial, in the medium to long term, to not have fast or slow pitches, minefields or featherbeds, but surfaces with even pace and bounce that promotes good cricket and develops good cricketers?

So much to debate...and the match was still far from over.