If “one step forward, two steps back” was a person (or in this case a team), it would probably be the West Indies cricket team. After an excellent showing in the first of three Test matches against England – winning by 4 wickets – they seem to have reverted to their old selves with a rather poor showing in the recently-concluded second Test.
The team lost that second Test match, but it wasn’t so much the result, rather the manner in which the team folded. The performance forces you to wonder whether mental fortitude is something that can be taught to the players. In addition to the net sessions and fielding drills, perhaps players can be put through a sequence of scenarios to engage their level of concentration and situational awareness. At the very least, a sports psychologist spending time with the team must be considered.
With rain washing out the third day of the contest after England batted for most of the first two, just about everything was set up for West Indies to secure a draw, and by extension retain the Wisden Trophy. With the score at 242-4 after tea on day 4, a draw seemed all but sure. But old habits die hard, and WI are apparently determined to keep them alive for as long as they can.
What followed was poor shot selections, lapses in concentration… and well, old habits. WI eventually collapsed to 287 all out, when the expectation at the very minimum was for them to survive the day. None of the set batsmen (three made a half century) were able to convert their starts to a ton, and the tail failed to put up any sort of resistance.
With the Windies avoiding the follow-on target of 270, England had to bat again to set a score that would be out of the regional team’s reach on Day 5. Set up by a quick-fire 78 not out from Man of the Match Ben Stokes in England’s second innings, WI were left having to chase 312 runs for the win, or survive 88 overs to draw. At this point, the odds were still heavily in West Indies’ favour, England had to take 10 wickets in less than a day’s play on a flat pitch.
Opener John Campbell led the charge (for England, of course) by chasing a wide one from Stuart Broad in the first over of the fourth innings, playing an expansive shot and edging it through to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. The justification for such shot selection considering what was at stake is probably yet to be provided.
Slipping to 37-4 all but made the result sure. WI eventually capitulated for 198 all out, handing England a 113-run victory.
Towards the end, Alzarri Joseph’s head-scratching attempted drive summed up West Indies’ batting effort in the Test match. With the ball outside the off stump and eight batsmen back in the pavilion, his mistimed drive was another gift to England. One commentator went as far as to say “he simply couldn’t help himself, that approach is in his nature.” And that right there, is the problem.
Time and time again, fans have had to watch West Indies snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (or a draw). Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel’s absent-mindedness against Pakistan in 2017 readily comes to mind. His attempted slog off the last ball of the penultimate over against spinner Yasir Shah with West Indies 9 wickets down was particularly baffling, especially with Chase on 101 not out at the other end.
A proper dig into the last 5-10 years is sure to turn up similar brain farts. Improvements to technique are certainly needed, particularly from the top five batsmen, but with West Indies it’s not just about the talent. Cricket, particularly Test cricket, requires a more cerebral approach than “see ball, hit ball”, or a phrase commonly used in the Caribbean – “shot bwoy”. Until that cerebral approach becomes a part of their game, the steps they take back and forth will leave them at best in the very same position.