Tired legs and a tired body but the 31-year-old Test veteran of 10 years, Kemar Roach, had one more go at the Indian batsmen on this tour. It was appropriate that it would be his captain the younger 27-years-old Jason Holder that shared the new ball on the last bowling innings. Between the two, they had sent down 168 overs (of the 404 bowled) and taken 17 of the 31 Indian wickets to fall in Antigua and Jamaica.
Coming into the series, West Indies looked to the template they had used to upset England earlier in the year 2-1; use their strength — fast bowling — and cobble together enough runs from an unreliable batting line up to challenge the No 1 Test side in the world.
West Indies had a bit of a hiccup when Alzarri Joseph was not available for the series and Keemo Paul was hurt just before the beginning of the first Test. That put a spanner in their plans as Miguel Cummins was drafted in last minute and played the Test. In Jamaica, off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall made his debut and sent down 64 overs.
Thus, it wasn’t exactly the same combination that beat England and India also showed a bit more ability with the bat than England did. Even as Roach and Holder made inroads early in both the Tests, India managed to stave off collapses and stitched together patient partnerships that added mileage on the two Bajans. It was a shame that the openings that these two managed were never fully supported by the remaining bowlers in the side.
Holder is the No 1-ranked Test all-rounder in the world and set himself the task of bowling long spells in this two-Test series to give his strike bowlers short, sharp spells and make up for the loss of the talented Joseph. Roach passed Rev Wes Hall to become the ninth highest wicket-taker in the history of West Indies as he took three wickets in India’s second innings, and he has the deadly Sir Andy Roberts in his sight.
It didn't help the cause that Shannon Gabriel went missing for long stretches. It wasn’t until late in the second Test, too late by then, that Gabriel managed to bowl tight, probing spells.
After Roach and Holder sent down over 62 overs as India piled on 416 runs in their first dig, West Indies were skittled out in just over 47 overs, and the two were back out on their bowling marks. It was a dispiriting batting performance from the home side, a continuation of the dismal ability to play disciplined cricket in the face of quality pace bowling. They have lost 32 wickets in 161.2 overs and that’s a dismissal rate of a wicket every 30 deliveries.
As Gabriel sprayed the ball around in the first innings at Sabina Park, Holder put the onus on himself to bowl 32.1 miserly overs and grabbed his sixth five-wicket haul. He troubled good batsmen with his control of length and the bounce he was able to generate good as well as back-of-good lengths.
India refused to make West Indies follow on, to get some more batting opportunities to the top order that has been consistently challenged by Holder and Roach. The senior Barbadian removed Mayank Agarwal early, exploiting his tendency to not commit fully forward or back, and to play shots from the crease. A sharp delivery that cut in caught the batsman LBW.
Roach would return for his second spell and put KL Rahul out of his misery. Since he has come back from his injury, he has been a far cry from the young man that gave the hurry-up to one of the greatest, Ricky Ponting. The older, and wiser Roach said that to be able to “stick to what he knows” and keeping the bowling plans “simple” has been the template for his recent success. A simple, good length delivery that pitched and straightened accounted for Rahul and Virat Kohli, and suddenly he was on a hat-trick.
Ajinkya Rahane would push tentatively and the inside edge missed the stumps by so little that for a brief moment, Roach said he did think he had his hat-trick but it wasn’t to be. “Oh well, I’m happy with the opportunity to be on a hat-trick. Little bit more luck next time.”
West Indies have performed admirably well at least in their home conditions since they lost to Pakistan in 2017. They are proud of their unbeaten home streak of Test series but it is hanging by a thread of eight wickets, albeitJasprit Bumrah and his cohorts are holding giant scissors. At the end of another tiring day, Roach had a piece of advice for his remaining unbeaten teammates to keep their streak alive: “Just bat. There is more than enough time in the match. So, just bat.”
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