The West Indies has just completed its Test & ODI Series against England. They didn't do all that bad after all. I reflected upon the series to find some directions for us. It would have been much easier to evaluate England's performance at this tour with the West Indies. After all, the English had some consistency throughout the series.
However, the West Indians are our next opponents. What should we expect from them at their present form? Where are the weaknesses? How do we exploit them? How should we execute our game plan? Where are we exposed? I made an effort in organizing some spontaneous chains of thoughts into words here:
An Emerging Trend: There is a not-so-secret arsenal in the West Indies cricket now. It's the allrounders. They have had legendary purebred pacers and have pure sloggers of epic standard. Now, the era of "bowl some-bat some" is rapidly coming of age. Except, these are more like, "bowl well-bat well" players. In my opinion, the likes of Christopher Gayle, even Chanderpaul and Sarwan will contribute more to their success in the foreseeable future. We have to be aware of this new strength.
The New Pacers: They are definitely not the famous four; Fidel Edwards, Collymore, Tino Best & our own nemesis Jarmaine Lawson do not stand out as superstars. The series against England pointed out that it takes a substantial amount of force to bang a bounce out of the pitches in the West Indies. Taller pacers like Harmison were able to do just that, whereas these new breed of West Indian quickies have been called "Pint Sized" with diminutive physique. These guys are a learning bunch. They can really get carried away, specially Tino, being his "effervescent" self and all. They dished out an amazing 60 extras in the first innings against England in the first test. Another thing, and they have demonstrated this throughout the series: they are injury prone. If our openers can ride out the first spells, the frustration should set in very quickly.
On Experience Parity: The Carribeans' is a three-tier team with Lara, Jacobs & Dillon having the most battle scars and accolades. Then you have the transitional members in Gayle, Chandarpaul and Sarwan. Their level of international exposure is still substantially higher than the most experienced Bangladeshi players. Now, for the rest of their team: these guys are rookies just like our newbies. They are bright and bold cricketers, but, nevertheless, rookies. As such, we see them making the rookie mistakes. Under pressure, they crumble. They did it twice in the first 3 tests against England, once being all out for an all time low of 47. Most of our players, on the other hand, have been under pressure many times in the last 3 years. When the top fails, they show good resiliency in saving face and in putting up good fights.
The learning curve issue: I've read a number of times in the past weeks that the Bangladeshi team is improving rapidly whereas the West Indian cricket is in a bad slump. Well, contrary to the myths, their team seems to be improving much faster than ours. There is already an ocean of difference in our strengths. Moreover, they have so many generations of cricket traditions and so much raw talent behind them. West Indian pacers such as Lawson exploded in to the international arena. Their batsmen, Dwayne Smith, for example, take little time to claim their spot in limelight with stunning performances. As of yet, we have no such performers. We will be well advised to keep our expectations realistic in this tour.
The Whatmore Gamble: 3 specialty spinners to take on Lara & Co? Even without looking at past data, just the idea sends chill down my spine. Frankly, I am even less convinced about this after the Windie's ODI performance against England. To make matters even more complex, these tweakers, Rajjak, Rafique and Rana, are all left-handed. Question: how many top Windies batsmen are lefties? Only Chris Gayle, Chanderpaul, Ridley Jacobs and of course, Brian Charles Lara. This is where I say that the Good Lord must have given our coach infinitely more wisdom than to us. He must have studied his option and formulated a strategy. At this point, I fail to see the advantage. Look at the bright side, if our spinners pull off a stunner, we'll call them our fearsome "Triple R"s. For now, I hope that Rafique, our only true class bowler at present, is sharing his arm-ball techniques with the other two. Lara gets jittery with accurate medium pace, not with these otherwise off spins. With the absence of true pace, I see this as taking a big chance.
So, where is that soft underbelly? The points of vulnerability? The chink in the West Indies armor? Well unfortunately, we will find these as the series progresses. A four-game warm up would have been great before the ODIs started, we only got one scheduled. Here are some factors, in my opinion, that our team should remember:
1. Set realistic goal for the team, keep the goal in focus at all times during the tour.
2. Remember the Mindset of this opponent: put them under any substantial pressure, they crumble badly. Even Lara shows negative body language and is unable to lift the team's spirit at crunch time. Remember, with all his pomp, Lare got sacked repeatedly for his poor leadership of the team. Be assertive, write your own script and make your opponent follow your plan
3. Bangladesh specialist batsmen must improve individual performances. They must have better shot-selection. They should strive to be patient, collect the singles and rotate the strike to build big innings.
4. Don't expect miracles from our newbies. They have been thrown in at the deep end. Most likely they will have a tough time.
5. If there is to be a single factor that can turn our luck, it has to be good fielding. Our players have to be relentlessly vigilant, take chances and strive hard in the field.
Now, let's look at Lara's outs in the series against England:
Test 1, First Innings
22.1 Jones to Lara, OUT: that'll make Jones' day on his comeback: babied into Flintoff's hands at first slip.
Test 1, Second Innings
12.6 Hoggard to Lara, OUT: edges this into the slips, Flintoff pouches
Test 2, First innings
26.5 Harmison to Lara, OUT: Steve Harmison is having a bit of a magical spell just at present. Dug in short, off the shoulder of the bat via teh helmet to the birthday boy, Giles, who makes a little bit of a production number of the catch before he finally hangs on.
Test 2, Second Innings
53.1 Harmison to Lara, OUT: and what a bowling change it is, inswinging yorker, lara pinned back on his crease, misses defending across the line, and that is very very plumb
Test 3, First Innings
31.6 Flintoff to Lara, OUT: good length, good line, Lara pushing at it tenatively, edges, and bang into the hands of the gully
Test 3, Second Innings
38.4 Harmison to Lara, OUT: hit straight by the West Indies captain to the England one at mid-on
ODI - 5
37.6 Harmison to Lara, OUT: got'm! short of a good length delivery, pitched outside the off stump and angling away, Lara cuts and gets a faint edge, Read does the rest behind the stumps, Harmison gets the danger man, crowd goes a bit silent
ODI - 6
39.5 Harmison to Lara, OUT: gets a top edge and Gough takes this at long leg, sorry fine leg.
ODI - 7
*BC Lara caught Read bowled Clarke 8
Caught. Eight out of nine times. So, the point is, when Brian Lara gives you the catch, (and he will), hang on to it like your life depends on it. Please, do not drop that one!