“West Indies Cricketers Need More Steel!” by Colin Croft

19th October 2015

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

West Indies v Sri Lanka 1st Test, at wonderfully reconstructed Galle Stadium, one of many important Sri Lankan venues totally devastated by that terrible tsunami on Boxing Day, 26 December 2004, which killed at least 250,000 people, one of the ‘top ten’ of all-time natural disasters, has produced a study in steely attitudes and massive recoveries akin to Lankan Tigers.

Steel, despite its widely varied usefulness, is not one of the specific ‘Periodic Table of Elements’, that table which is so essential to chemistry, physics and wealth, even construction. Instead, steel is a combination ‘alloy’ of elements in that table, mostly iron (Fe – Atomic No. 26) and carbon (C – Atomic No. 6), with other original trace elements from that ‘PTE’ thrown in.

Thus, steel is extremely hard, strong, and particularly tensile, with great flexibility and stretch ability, all characteristics that that wonderful alloy should share with cricketers.

For anyone to play cricket anywhere successfully, he or she must have that special mixture of strength, toughness, supreme flexibility, ability to be stretched, then to rebound, in thought and deed, when things do not go well in the field or during lead-ups to important cricket series.

Unfortunately for WI, that flexibility, especially cranially, was severely lacking, after the commotion-filled preview to this tour. One has to wonder as to what WI’s coaches actually do achieve when completing pre-match speeches and directives.

Going backwards from the end of WI’s first innings, after SL had managed a reasonable 484 all out, which should have been nearer 600, after those two big centuries, WI fast bowler Shannon Gabriel came to the crease with WI at 251-9, still needing only another 34 runs to get to 285.

That was the minimum total needed by WI to avoid being asked to bat a 2nd time immediately; to save the follow-on; if or when SL would have led by over 200 runs, per cricket’s general rules.

So what did Gabriel do? He simply swiped at his very first ball, missed, and was bowled. There are many words to describe that effort, but one that readily comes to mind is “brainless!”

Look, Gabriel is not a good late-order batsman, but at least he could have tried to last out for those needed 34 runs, with Davendra Bishoo, who had played well for 23no, putting on an ironic 34, with another fast-bowling tail-ender, Kemar Roach; a really good effort too; before Roach was inadvertently stumped.

One could only wonder what could have been Gabriel’s explanation to coach Eldine Baptiste, captain Jason Holder or Chairman of Selectors Clive Lloyd, rumored to be in Sri Lanka.

Having played for Lloyd and severely impatient (Sir) Vivian Richards, and our team’s designated ‘night-watchman’, even though I normally batted at No. 11, and with a Test batting average of only nearly 11.00, it would have been very difficult for me to explain that swipe to Lloyd or ‘Uncle Smokie’. My highest Test score – 33 – took nearly three hours; yes; as night-watchman!

As was recently quoted from late great ‘Yogi’ Berra; “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical”. Superimposing cricket for baseball, the same ratio obtains, but only if one indeed has a brain!

So, WI were forced to follow-on, but that should not have even been a consideration had our front-line batsmen used their heads and abilities too, per progress of that 1st Test.

All of WI’s batsmen except Gabriel made double figures, but many were culpable too in their dismissals, with Darren Bravo making a fighting half century, before he too swiped when he should have understood ‘game sense’, and the absolute necessity for him to be at the crease to innings’ end. Late WI player Steve Camacho would have suggested: “Bat on, lad, bat on!”

No longer can most WI top-line batsmen hide behind that smoke-screen of inexperience. This is Bravo’s 38th Test, Marlon Samuels’ 60th, and Denesh Ramdin’s 70th. This is Kraigg Brathwaite’s 23rd Test, while Jermaine Blackwood is in his 11th.

That is more than enough experience for our top-line batsmen to cope with any eventualities and Sri Lanka’s bowling, if our representatives really thought the entire game through properly.

Only Shai Hope, in his 4th Test, could claim that his experiences do not yet match everyone’s expectations.

Did any WI supporter, former international cricketer, player agents or critics, not to mention our region’s cricket hierarchy, or politicians, get any feeling of real steel in any WI batsman’s belly in that first WI innings in Galle?

I did not think so! WI 1st innings batting looked quite listless!

That was disappointing, after WI’s bowlers had stemmed SL’s 1st innings relatively well, even if no WI bowler could claim that he is a ‘five wickets for spit’ performer. The absence of a quality left-arm spinner was quite glaring in WI’s attack, considering the control shown for SL’s Rangana Herath’s six wickets, and the herculean effort by WI’s right-arm leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo.

WI’s present players cannot hide anymore. They definitely need more steel in their bellies to make better foundations and building blocks for the future. Check that periodic table. Enjoy!

C.E.H. Croft

Colin Everton Hunte Croft was one of the fast-bowling giants of West Indies’ glorious period of world dominance. In his international career between 1977-82 he was part of a devastating 4-man pace attack alongside fellow greats Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner (with a young Malcolm Marshall as first reserve). In 27 Tests he took 125 wickets at 23.30 with a best of 8-29 v Pakistan in only his 2nd Test Match. He was a member of West Indies’ World Cup winning XI of 1979, and took the match-clinching wicket, spreading the stumps of England’s Mike Hendrick, to finish with figures of 3-42. In his post playing days ‘Crofty’ has been a teacher, commercial pilot, coach and a shrewd and honest cricket analyst, writer, broadcaster, commentator and summariser – gaining respect internationally for his insightful and forthright opinions and, not least, his splendid wit. Roland Butcher’s Hook is delighted to have Colin as a contributor.

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