Sunday, January 21, 2018

Think, man, think!


Safe: West Indies opener Kieran Powell scrambles back into his crease during the second one-day international against Australia in Perth, Australia yesterday. Powell top scored for the West Indies with 83 runs. —Photo: AP

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What were they thinking?

It's easy to be wise after the fact in suggesting what should or should not have been done by the West Indies male cricketers yesterday. Of course, I have to make the distinction because their female counterparts made hardly a false step in throttling Sri Lanka by 209 runs in their second match of the Women's World Cup in India.

There were so many points along the way towards the 54-run loss to Australia in Perth and a 2-0 deficit in the five match limited-over series that can be identified as pivotal, not least when the hosts staggered to 98 for six after being put in to bat. However there's no way you can be definitive about these things. Who's to say that if the Aussies were shot out for, say 120, that there would not have been a sharper edge to their game in defence of that modest target and the West Indies might have been obliterated for 70-something again?

Indeed, if you tally the contributions either side of the 127-run fourth-wicket partnership between Kieron Powell and Dwayne Bravo, the effort wasn't all that different from the complete debacle of two days earlier at the WACA. So let's put aside all the supposition and deal with fact, especially the manner in which the final two wickets were lost.

You will often hear references to the "cardinal sin" of a batting team not utilising its full allocation of overs when setting a target for the opposition. How heinous then is the offence when the side in pursuit not only fails to take advantage of a significant number of available deliveries, but also succumbs in a way that suggests there was no attempt to proceed in a much more calculated manner, even if the odds were already stacked in favour of the Australians?

I'm sure many are bigging up Sunil Narine over his four consecutive sixes off Glenn Maxwell that appeared to re-ignite the fast-fading embers of what would have been by that stage a remarkable West Indies victory. But to be stumped in that same over after recognising the bowler's change of tactics the ball before speaks to an inability – at least in this case – to think on your feet, to respond to changing circumstances and modify tactics accordingly.

And then if that wasn't enough, the exasperation peaked with the loss of the final wicket…by the run-out route of all things. Think about it: 55 runs to get, 72 balls to go and the last pair at the crease. You would expect that a risky run was the last thing on the minds of Kemar Roach and Jason Holder. But fundamentals are being abandoned everywhere. Simple, straightforward things, like verifying a CV before ratifying a key appointment. So we should not be surprised that basic cricketing principles – like preserving wickets when the target is still within reach – are no longer being adhered to at all levels of the game in the region.

Two years ago Roach and Tino Best were the last pair in the middle for Barbados in a low-scoring 50-over final against the Leeward Islands in Kingston. Sensible cricket would have taken them home. However, with the scores level (139) and 12 overs in hand to get just one run, Best was run out so the trophy was shared. Two Saturdays ago, Aranjuez Sports Club were on the verge of a comfortable limited-over victory over Esmeralda on their home ground on the opening day of the local season before thoughtlessness or panic, or both, set in and they lost by seven runs with 14 overs to spare.

What does a coach say when something like that happens? Do you have to read and spell for players who, it is assumed, have reached a certain level of competence in the game and therefore basic principles shouldn't have to be explained?

While he was at the crease and displaying much more than the typical tailender's ability with the bat, commentators on the Channel Nine coverage were seeking to confirm if Holder's nickname was "Vanburn," after the Barbados and West Indies fast-medium bowler of the late 1960's and 1970's. What they should have also pointed out was that Jason should have been thinking like his compatriot and namesake who played an important role in one of the West Indies' most significant and nerve-wracking one-day victories.

It was at the inaugural World Cup in England in 1975 when the Caribbean side, set 267 to defeat Pakistan in a group match in Birmingham, stumbled to 166 for eight. With enough overs left to get the runs but not enough wickets to allow for any carelessness, Vanburn Holder joined Deryck Murray in taking the West Indies to 203 before he fell in the 46th over. Last man Andy Roberts displayed similar maturity in partnership with the wicketkeeper-batsman, the two edging – not blasting – closer and closer to the target through the remaining 14 overs (it was 60 overs-per-side then) as the Pakistanis panicked and a famous victory was achieved with two balls to spare as a prelude to Clive Lloyd lifting the World Cup itself ten days later after in the final at Lord's.

Such moments live in the memory because they are so rare. Still, it surely is not asking too much for elite-level sportsmen to be able to think on their feet and respond responsibly to prevailing circumstances. Apart from whatever talents they possess, it's what should also separate them from the ranks of the ordinary.