A Failed Test of Character

23rd December 2013

When the Sawdust Settles – match reviews

3rd Test Match: New Zealand v West Indies at Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand

New Zealand 349 (Taylor 131, Narine 6-91) & 124-2 beat West Indies 367 (Chanderpaul 122no, Ramdin 107) & 103 by 8 wickets

Back in October, when West Indies confirmed the timing of their ad hoc ‘Tendulkar tour’ in the Asian sub-continent, immediately ahead of their visit down under, I emailed the following to Roland:

“The success of the tour of India will be measured by the quality of cricket WI play, not the result. The opposite is true when they go to New Zealand.” He didn’t disagree.

After taking a basting in India and getting a stuffing in New Zealand the turkeys have now flown home for Christmas. When the WICB, selectors and coaching staff all sit down to reflect on 2013 and make their New Year resolutions, how many chickens and truths will come home to roost?

The third Test didn’t promise any great West Indian resurgence, and expectations were lowered (if that is possible?) when Darren Bravo was ruled out on the eve of the match. This came on the back of Shane Shillingford’s ‘neutering’ by the ICC, depriving the side of their most effective bowling weapon of the year and their double centurion of the 1st Test.

The banning of Shillingford led Darren Sammy to comment that he “was disappointed about the results, but that’s life and sometimes you get curve balls thrown at you.” The turn of phrase when referencing the off-spinner was unfortunate, but one wonders whether the associations in the skipper’s mind of ‘thrown’ and ‘curve balls’ were the nightmare of Shillingford’s situation, or his own sleepy torments of bagging a pair against Boult at Wellington.

Sunil Narine replaced Shillingford, and Kraigg Brathwaite was drafted into the side for the absent Bravo, opening the batting, with Kirk Edwards dropping to number 3. Brathwaite’s emergence to face the game’s first ball after McCullum put them in confirmed he HAD finally got his visa to travel – two Tests too late.

Perhaps it had been delayed by the bulging Barbados Christmas mailbag? If so the short notice travel needs of Caribbean cricketers will not be helped in 2014 by the recent announcement by Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart that 3,000 public sector workers face being laid-off in the new year. That’s unlikely to improve the postal service.

Brathwaite’s 45 was the only innings of substance as West Indies staggered to 86-5. Powell’s shot was horrific; Edwards’ was misjudged; Brathwaite’s sadly tentative and Samuels’ the worst of the lot: a diabolical flat-footed swish.

In the 1st Test, Bravo had started the match with 1,749 runs, and yet still passed 2,000 during the game. Here, Samuels took guard 25 short of 3,000 Test runs; and departed on 2,975. It was the sort of shot that inspires a bottle of Banks to be hurled through the TV.

Not that it was likely – despite ESPN advertising they were showing the series on television from the 2nd Test Match onwards, I don’t know of anyone who managed to tune in. When I tried all I could get were NFL games or Shane Warne playing poker. Most people who knew how to found refuge and coverage via unofficial internet streams.

This worked fine when play was taking place – but not when the weather interfered – the feed ceased. I spent several hours hammering my laptop’s ‘refresh’ button with firmly crossed fingers during the closing stages of the Dunedin Test, checking and re-checking Cricinfo that the rain was still coming down.

Here in Hamilton, West Indies had lost 4 for 9 in 34 balls when Ramdin came in. When he left, 107 to his name, he and Chanderpaul had added 200 for the sixth wicket. It was probably Ramdin’s best Test innings, and proved to his doubters he can score hard runs at this level. While some might still insist this was ‘only’ against New Zealand, then why was it so difficult for members of the top six, in particular Powell, Samuels and Deonarine, to provide any telling contributions if the opposition was so ‘soft’?

Ramdin didn’t think he’d be cashing in with an easy ton that’s for sure. He hadn’t prepared a nice little message to have in his pocket for Sir Viv or any other of his detractors to brandish when he passed three figures.

But his generous applause was well-deserved for a very fine hundred worth a great deal more – for how many runs do we honestly think Shiv Chanderpaul would have scored if he’d not been supported by the keeper and left only with the tail? It’s not just the runs Ramdin scored but the extra time if gave Chanderpaul to accumulate.

Many judges don’t agree with those of us who cry out for Chanderpaul to be up at 3 or 4 in the order – and argue that older batsmen deserve to be shielded from the new ball. But who does this serve best? The team or Shiv Chanderpaul? He is still West Indies’ best batsman by a street, and maybe so for a few years yet. What is the point of having your best player continually marooned on 45 not out by hapless teammates?

Ramdin had shepherded his colleague into the 80s, and this helped to guide Chanderpaul towards an ultimately more significant not out figure. Let us not seem to hint at criticism of the veteran’s innings; it was its usual wonderfully efficient excellence. Yet many Chanderpaul critics nonetheless argue he bats for himself, and his average, not for the team.

The ninth wicket stand added 25, of which Permaul made 20. The tenth wicket added 35 (a record), of which Best slogged 25. Chanderpaul never turned down a single that was offered, whoever was facing, however many balls had gone or remained. And he did just look to nudge ones, not aim a few chancy big blows – he left that to Tino. It was little surprise therefore that Shiv went past Sachin with the most undefeated Test tons: 17. Team man? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

367 All Out was not a great, but a good total. New Zealand made 349. Taylor made his third splendid century of the series.

West Indies had dropped Gabriel, and recalled Permaul. I wrote recently that it was “plainly absurd to have him (Sammy) as the third seamer in… a brittle attack.” From the absurd to the sublimely ridiculous as Sammy now opened the bowling! The bulk of the workload was taken by Narine, who returned an excellent 6-91 from 42 overs, and Permaul, whose ordinary 1-103 was a fair reflection of the threat he didn’t pose.

Deonarine bowled a mere 3 overs which was a surprise, since he’s Permaul’s equal as a bowler, and is in the side as an all-rounder. He certainly isn’t there as a specialist batsman, because his batting isn’t very special.

With Narine pressurising from one end, this was a genuine case of what might have been if he’d bowled in tandem with Shillingford. Surely an obvious combination? This would have posed New Zealand, and India before them, greater difficulties than any questions asked by Permaul – who has partnered one or the other in all four of his Test matches – while Narine and Shillingford have never appeared together, and maybe never will now. What a missed opportunity.

Deonarine, meanwhile, has partnered either Shillingford or Narine in eleven Tests, so his bowling of 32 overs less than Permaul was further confusing. Permaul did not impress the NZ TV crew either:

“Look – Permaul just rolls the ball out. Narine spits it out,” was their comparison and conclusion.

Permaul’s last over was a warm tray of lobbed up pies for tail-ender Neil Wagner to feast upon – and he smashed him to all parts to reduce West Indies’ first innings lead to a negligible figure.

By this stage of the game West Indies had just nudged ahead, and New Zealand would have to bat last. A lead of 18 was built around three fine individual performances – which was all totally undermined in under 32 overs with one huge collective failure.

West Indies’ second innings was a horrifying procession of awful, timid, inept, brainless (shall I go on?) batting which merited a whole crate of Bajan beer to go hurtling towards the plasma screen.

Cricinfo’s Andrew McGlashlan’s under-emphasised it when he said, “West Indies were poor at crucial stages” and that “while New Zealand are still ranked below West Indies, it is clear both teams are heading in different directions.”

West Indies headed home; openers, middle order and tail between their legs.

So what to say? West Indies patently lacked any quality in India, and were palpably beaten by New Zealand. In only occasional moments and brief interludes did they offer glimpses of character and backbone. This latest spineless performance is a posture they have sadly developed in recent years, but have lately refined in India, and perfected here against New Zealand.

For the most part the players looked as though they’d rather be elsewhere, instead of being proud to bear the weight and responsibility of representing their countries and region on an international stage.

I doubt very much that the self-belief and collective responsibility Darren Sammy injected into this side when he took over as captain has any more mileage. The spirit level is uneven, off kilter, and reflects a terminal slide.

I can’t see how Sammy can continue in the New Year – though I do fear the alternatives.

David Oram


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