West Indies vs Sri Lanka: Hosts' five-bowler strategy proved to be a masterstroke but batting needs improvement

It required some reasonably incisive bowling on the part of the Jason Holder-led West Indies to beat a talented Sri Lankan side in the first Test at Port of Spain.

Garfield Robinson, Jun 11, 2018 16:13:19 IST

For some time now, a number of those who follow West Indies cricket closely have been advocating a change in the make-up of the team. The modification they were pushing for is for a team to be staffed by five bowlers instead of four, with the captain Jason Holder promoted to six or seven in the batting order.

Since we all know that in order to win you need to take 20 wickets at a cheaper rate than the opposition, then taking 20 wickets should be the first consideration when assembling a winning side. The West Indies team has long struggled to do that, and so adding depth by playing five bowlers on a regular basis could be beneficial.

The beauty of having five bowlers, plus the useful part-time off spin of Roston Chase, is the choices it provides to the captain and the rest it allows the bowling unit, particularly the fast bowlers. We have often seen opposing batsmen take full toll of the West Indies as their bowlers tire towards the end of a grueling day. That should happen less often if this system is maintained.

The West Indians celebrate after pulling off a 226-run win at the Queens Park Oval. AFP

The West Indians celebrate after pulling off a 226-run win at the Queen's Park Oval. AFP

One view opposed to this change posits that it will weaken the batting. It is a valid argument. But the selectors were apparently convinced to give it a try for this first Test against the visiting Sri Lankans, and it worked. At least for this game.

This was a commendable, if far from perfect, performance by the Caribbean side, and it was their bowling that was the mainly responsible for the win. Their 414/8 declared in the first innings was huge, but this was a pitch on which runs could be made, so long as the batsmen were armed with a bit of patience, and it required some reasonably incisive bowling on the part of the West Indies to beat a talented Sri Lankan side.

By some distance the most threatening bowler on show was Shannon Gabriel. The burly Trinidadian, playing on his home ground, generated singeing heat — regularly clocking in the high 140s (kph), sometimes crossing over into the 150s — causing discomfort to every batsman who faced him. He only captured four wickets in the game, but his high pace, aligned with a reasonably disciplined off-stump line, was threatening throughout.

His second innings dismissal of century-maker Kusal Mendis was one of the more important dismissals in the game, and it came from the kind of delivery that could only dismiss a high-quality player who was well set; a lesser player, or one not yet fully into his innings would certainly not have gotten close to a delivery that left the batsman off the seam while lifting alarmingly. The West Indies will want to keep him fit and fresh for the entire series.

Leg spinner Devendra Bishoo has been struggling to find a regular spot in the team. The previous four-bowler policy often meant four fast bowlers, and even after 'Man of the Series' performances against Zimbabwe in October and November last year, he found himself on the outside when the team travelled to New Zealand in December for a two-Test series.

In Trinidad, though it turned very little for most of the game, be bowled well, even unveiling a googly, a weapon previously missing from his arsenal. His four wickets in the game was a healthy contribution, and he was particularly threatening on the final day.

Chase’s off spin was useful as well, and he was largely responsible for hastening Sri Lanka’s demise by grabbing three late order wickets as well as the important scalp of Dinesh Chandimal, albeit to a highly reckless shot when his side was still in with a slight chance.

The rest of the West Indies bowling unit did well in patches. Holder was steady as always and showed that his disconcerting bounce and away swing will get him a few wickets.

Kemar Roach and Miguel Cummins, though profiting with two and three wickets respectively, were not as consistent with their line as they needed to be. Both will want to get better as the series goes on.

In spite of their large first innings total, the West Indies’ batting will need to improve. Shane Dowrich rightly won the 'Man of the Match' award for his unbeaten 125 in the first innings which catapulted his side to a large first innings score. Still, too many West Indies batsmen fell for fairly low scores after getting starts, and it required big partnerships between Dowrich and tailenders Bishoo and Roach to reach their total. Additionally, the Sri Lankans were rather poor in the field, dropping too many catches, one off Dowrich was extremely costly in particular.

Preferred by the selectors when many Caribbean voices were calling for Denesh Ramdin, Dowrich showed lots of patience and no little skill during his 325-ball innings. He never lost sight of the team’s needs, and even after completing a century — the fourth slowest in West Indies cricket history — he stuck to the task of carrying his side to a good position.

A few in the Caribbean were calling for the head of Kieran Powell as well, for he has largely failed to live up to his considerable potential. In the second innings, however, he made a fluent 88. Always upright, always elegant, his driving off the front foot stood out. He seemed to get bogged down as he got closer to his hundred, however, and eventually got out because of the restrictions he appears to have placed upon himself.

Devon Smith also has to be mentioned, but for totally inauspicious reasons. After languishing in the Test-match wilderness for three years, the opener was drafted back into the side on the back of a stunningly productive first-class season. Aged 36, this has to be his last chance to nail down a spot in the team, and yet one does not get the impression that he is willing to fight hard enough to hold on to his wicket, and therefore his place in the side.

Lackadaisical running saw him being run out in the first innings for seven. In the second, he was bowled off a Suranga Lakmal no-ball, his technique torn asunder. Rather than being properly grateful, however, he inexplicably essayed a horrendous drive to a very wide delivery and was bowled again next ball. No self-respecting batsman should get out like that.

No self-respecting batsman should get out like Chandimal did in the second innings either, especially one who is captain. With Sri Lanka’s last vestiges of hope resting largely with him, he aimed a slog towards the midwicket vicinity off Chase. The miscue ended up in Kraigg Brathwaite's grasp, and with the dismissal of Chandimal died whatever chances Sri Lanka had left.

Earlier, Mendis played a very competent innings. Sri Lanka had hope while he remained at the crease, and it took a special delivery from Gabriel to extract him from his wicket.

The West Indies played well for the most part but the visitors were let down by bad batting and poor fielding. From the moment Dilruwan Perera flung his bat at the first delivery he received from Roach, the second on the innings, Sri Lanka were in trouble and the hosts were able to pick up other easy wickets, none more so than the needless run-out of Niroshan Dickwella.

The Sri Lankan bowling was better. Lakmal is an improving bowler who bowled better in this game than his figures suggest. He is especially testing with the new ball, his accuracy and late away movement being especially troubling to the right-hander.

Lahiru Kumara is a young tearaway, whose pace and aggressive intent made him a concern to all who faced him. His direct approach yielded him seven wickets, and aged 21, he should become even more of a handful as he gathers experience.

With spin supposedly being a strong suit for the visitors, they’ll be hoping for more turn in the upcoming matches. Cricket’s most successful left-arm bowler, Rangana Herath, was somewhat hampered by the conditions and so never really got going. But we all know what he can do and the West Indies batsmen had better pay serious attention to him in the coming games.

Holder and his team would’ve been properly proud of this victory. It was hard fought and well deserved. All in all the team played well. Now they need to continue in that vein.

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2018 00:18:54 IST

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