3rd May 2013
When the Sawdust Settles – match reviews
Regional 4-Day Tournament Semi-Final: Windward Islands v Barbados at Windsor Park, Roseau, Dominica
Barbados 212 (Carter 116) beat Windward Islands 44 (Nurse 7-10) & 67 (Nurse 7-30) by an innings and 101 runs
In previewing this match a day or two ago I said that for Barbados to repeat last season’s away win against The Windward Islands would be a surprise. The events of this supposed ‘four’-day game, which lasted little more than four sessions, was rather more than surprising, and not far short of astonishing.
Barbados completed a resounding innings victory just after 1pm on Day 2, an emphatic success which was unthinkable less then twenty-four hours earlier, when they were 94-7, having elected to bat first.
In the build-up to the game, Barbados’ coach Hendy Springer spoke about the potential of Kemar Roach and the importance of his return to the side: “He will be familiar with the conditions here and we will be banking on his experience and knowledge when we take the field… we expect him to make a major impact upon the game”.
Roach has been the West Indies’ most impressive pace bowler in test cricket for the last eighteen months, and his ability to extract pace and bounce from apparently lifeless strips has made the winning difference in at least one test. The most impressive such performance witnessed by this correspondent was his 5-60 on the final day of the 2012 Test versus New Zealand in Antigua.
After his coach’s endorsement as a potential semi-final match-winner, it turned out that Roach bowled only two overs in the entire game. And yet Springer was not wrong in his assessment that his intervention could be vital. It was precisely that.
Barbados’ selection had been positive: five specialist batsmen had been included, with wicket-keeper Dowrich at six, followed by a full complement of bowlers. Coming in at number ten, with his side 121-8, Roach joined Jonathan Carter at the crease. The pair added 91, taking the total to 212, where it remained when they were both dismissed within 2 balls of one another.
At this stage surely no spectator, experienced cricket analyst, nor even enchanted mystic prophet could have forseen that batting-wise, this was job done. Even though the Windwards closed the first day on a precarious 31-3, no one can have imagined that the Barbados ninth wicket stand had provided 11 runs more than their opponents would muster for all of their remaining 17 wickets the next day.
Roach is a more than handy bat. If he didn’t have to focus upon his bowling he probably would be one of those players in the Eldine Baptiste mould who can bat comfortably at 8 in the order, and supply the odd test fifty and average around the 20 mark. Some may consider such a judgement laughable about a batsman who faced only two balls in the short Test series against Zimbabwe recently, and was dismissed by them both. However, I would ask those with goldfish memories to recall Roach’s ultimately match-winning contribution as nightwatchman a year earlier against New Zealand.
Coming in at number 6 with West Indies stuttering on an unconvincing 113-4 in pursuit of a target of 206, his partnership of 70 with Chanderpaul took them to within twenty of victory. Indeed, Roach was the heavier scorer in that stand, providing a polished 41, which in that high-pressure, Test-series-deciding situation said as much about his character as his batting ability. (If a comparable innings had come from the bat of either Fudaddin or Deonarine that day, it may well have helped one of them to establish their long-term credentials in the West Indies top order).
And it was character of this magnitude that was required when Roach walked out to bat at Windsor Park on Thursday.
When Roach made that crucial knock last year at Sabina Park, his ever-dependable left-handed Guyanese partner finished on a nuggety 43 not out. Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s knack of entrenchment has long been cherished by West Indian supporters in fairly dark times, times not lit up by a generation of batsmen playing ‘bright’ cricket of the bold, attacking, bowler-dominating kind – which only too often sees young men crashing and burning: caught on the long off boundary; top-edging premeditated pulls to extra cover; or whipping across straight ones to be plumb in front.
What has been lacking too often in the test and first-class arena are disciples of the Chanderpaul way. In the match-winning innings of Jonathan Carter in this semi-final West Indies may have identified no mere disciple, but an apostle.
His innings, 116 in 3 hours forty minutes off 219 balls, especially after the dismissal of his captain Edwards for 0, was of an applied magnificence which promises greater things. Carter was called up earlier this year as international one-day cover, but this century will surely alert the West Indian selectors to his potential at the highest level.
Let us not be under any illusion of quite how huge a score this was. In effect the result could read not Barbados won by an innings and 101 runs, but actually Carter won by an innings and 5 runs. This was not merely a big knock in a low-scoring game, it was an immense innings, in a very big match.
This may only have been Carter’s first first-class century (after several failures to cross the three-figure threshold, when a mere single scoring shot away), but its immediate value to his side, and its future promise, speak of an approach which suggests he could ultimately take on the master Chanderpaul’s mantle in the test side.
At the close of play the first-day’s score-line read an unremarkable Barbados 212 – Windwards 31-3. What followed was truly bizarre.
Barbados had opened the bowling on that first evening with Benn and Roach (who after 2 overs for 16 was promptly removed from the attack). As an aside, it has been fascinating in the last 12 months, both here in the Caribbean and on the wider international stage, to see spinners open the bowling far more frequently. This was an approach which was the norm in cricket right up until the First World War, and occasionally beyond – to open with a fast/slow combination.
Back in the Lord’s Test v West Indies in 2009, England skipper Andrew Strauss asked Graeme Swann to open the bowling against Devon Smith, well known for his inadequacies against flight and guile. It wasn’t an immediate success, although Swann did return to bowl Smith in the twentieth over.
The Times correspondent Michael Atherton wrote that Strauss was guilty of “look at me captaincy”. If giving the new ball to a spinner is to invite such an accusation, then there must be an increasing number of extremely vain captains now in the game.
But to return to the semi-final.
Friday May the 3rd witnessed a chaotic procession of tumbling wickets which must have looked like something out of a schoolboy mismatch. In the course of only 37.2 overs that morning, the Windwards affectively scored 80-17, every single wicket falling to Ashley Nurse or Suliemann Benn. When England’s Swann and Monty Panesar took 19 out of 20 Indian wickets in Mumbai last November, the British press made obvious comparisons to their 1950s predecessors Laker and Lock in the effectiveness of their spinning demolition.
The appropriate analogy for Nurse and Benn is probably Ramadhin and Valentine in the havoc they engendered. Their left/right orthodox spinning combination totally laid waste their opponents, only three individual innings out of twenty-two moving into double figures, with a highest of 27. Even Devon Smith, the season’s leading run-scorer, could only muster 14 and 4. This was destruction on a Babylonian scale.
When one considers how regularly it is the spinners – in perfect harmony with highly receptive pitches – that are creating mayhem in the Caribbean (inspiring low scoring of nineteenth century proportions), one is forced to wonder whether the West Indies needs to change its approach to bowling attack selection. Should it change its tune, composed around the 1980s-inspired mantra “strictly pace, man” and return to the immediate post-war theme of “those two little pals of mine”, which served so well and provided The West Indies’ initial great Test Match successes?
In this semi-final Shillingford, West Indies current Test-match number one spinner, took 6-81 in the single innings he twirled his tantalising off breaks. It would not be fair to say that he was out-bowled by Nurse and Benn – rather that the Windwards were entirely out-batted by Carter. However, the combined returns of Benn with 6-50 and Nurse with the frankly incredible 14-40 entirely decimated their hosts, and left Shillingford yet again on a losing side.
Benn is a well-established spinner of test-match class, whose own private peccadillos and regular preference for overseas Twenty20 cricket leagues has seen a sporadic availability for Barbados, and likely permanent exclusion from the Test arena.
Nurse, however, is in his first full season with Barbados after a few seasons making only one-day appearances for his island, and probably owes his elevation to the first-class XI to Benn’s early season absence at the BPL. It was known he could do a useful job with both bat and ball, and while he has not fulfilled his batting potential, being often guilty of aiming a big shot too many and throwing his wicket away, he was felt good enough to bat at seven in this game – despite a highest first-class score of only 19.
With the ball he’d been steady if unspectacular in one-day cricket , and his wicket-taking success in the four-day tournament this year has been a very welcome surprise, which, in tandem with his perceived ability with the bat, means that at 24 he may challenge for a future test all-rounder place.
Ultimately, cricket is not solely an examination of the ability of players, but of their character too. This semi-final’s pre-match billing indicated that the outcome would be shaped by one or two men who have been the in-form performers of the season.
As it turned out, the victory was achieved by the performances turned in by two men in particular who proved to be, in four sessions at least, the players of today; and they could both yet be major performers of tomorrow.