Thu, 21 Jan 2021

Play late: West Indies' template to succeed in England

11 Jul 2020, 05:42 GMT+10

12:59 AM IST

Playing late. Kraigg Brathwaite pithily explained it is the best way to succeed in England as a batsman. Brathwaite's 65 was his first half-century in 21 innings. On the previous tour of England in 2017, along with Shai Hope, Brathwaite was West Indies' best batsman. But no one remembers what Brathwaite did in the three years since then. Technical errors piled up as the runs turned into drip feed.

On Friday, Brathwaite showed West Indies the way. He set the template of how to bat in England. Shane Dowrich and Roston Chase followed Brathwaite's counsel to put West Indies in a position of control if not complete command of this first Test.

The challenge for West Indies was whether their batsmen could bat out the entire day to gain a significant lead. West Indies had done that twice against England in 2019, in two of the three Tests, but that was at home. Overseas, only once since 2017 have West Indies managed to bat out a day (minimum 80 overs) without losing 10 wickets away from home - against India in Hyderabad three years ago.

Luckily for the visitors the weather forecast for the last three days of this Test was sunny - the best time to make runs. Brathwaite and Hope ticked the first requirement - see off the first hour. They played out 15 overs, denying James Anderson, Jofra Archer Mark Wood and England captain Ben Stokes the luxury of taking the upper hand they are normally accustomed to.

ALSO READ: Brathwaite, Dowrich put WI in control

It was Brathwaite who looked at ease more than Hope. Brathwaite played the ball as late as possible, in his own words, under his eye line. And as Brian Lara had advised, Brathwaite protected his wicket. Watchful he was, but he was also keeping the scoreboard ticking. Talking with the host broadcaster Sky Sports, Brathwaite said he had made a few technical changes including opening up his stance to counter mainly the incoming delivery, which is prevalent in English conditions.

At the other end Hope was stacking up the dots: he had as many as 25 dot balls in his first 30. As he scratched for runs, Archer tested Hope's patience. In his fourth over Archer attacked Hope on the off stump. Hope had picked a four off his fellow Barbadian, but that was a leading edge which he had attempted originally to respond to by closing the face of the bat.

Hope tried that again, attempting to push towards the leg side, to a delivery Archer pitched slightly fuller on the length, just outside off stump. He got rapped on the pads and it looked plumb. Hope asked for the review after brief discussion with Brathwaite. Luckikly for him Archer had bowled a no ball.

The relief, if any, was short-lived. In the next over, Hope played with hard hands at a ball that was drifting away from Dom Bess and Stokes picked up an easy catch at slip.

His replacement, Shamarh Brooks, did everything that Hope failed to: he played with an assurance and freedom of mind. It transferred the pressure on to the bowler. It also allowed Brathwaite to relax as he picked two fours off Stokes before he was unlucky with the umpire's call in the same over.

If Brooks went on the front foot before lunch, after the break he was pushed to play on the back foot as Anderson pushed the length slightly back and found a hint of movement. Brooks became circumspect and was soon caught behind.

Jermaine Blackwood left the Caribbean saying he would "bat as long as possible" in England to erase that fraught assessment pundits had formed of him: as a "ball beater". Off his third ball, he attempted to loft Anderson over his head, but had to check his drive at the last minute. Anderson would soon deliver him a maiden over. Blackwood was restless. A short time later, when Bess came on, Blackwood indulged in over-confidence: he charged the offspinner to hole out straight to Anderson at wide mid-off. Bess, Stokes and England let out a guffaw as a disgruntled Blackwood rapped his pads.

ALSO READ: Blackwood 'more determined, more focused after being dropped'

The visitors were once again learning one of Test cricket's key lessons: an advantage can slip from the hand like a fistful of sand.

Luckily for them, Chase was guarding one end sensibly in the afternoon. For company he had an able hand in Dowrich. Like Brathwaite, Chase played time initially. He was happy to defend or leave out as many deliveries as possible. But it was part of the plan. To blunt the bowler's plans, to be watchful before scoring freely. In his 142-ball innings, Chase defended nearly half the deliveries (68). He barely scored 20 runs in the second session without once looking impatient.

England took the second new ball in the first over after tea. First ball, from Anderson, Chase punched a firm cover drive, a four, his best stroke of the day. When Archer pitched a hit-me ball on his legs, Chase obliged with a flicked four. The new cherry was losing its shine quickly as West Indies bulilt the lead.

Chase was comfortable now dealing the testing lines of Anderson - in the channel - and the rib-ticklers form Archer. That is what happens when batsmen talk about the importance of playing time - they get settled in their mind, the impulsive strokes recede, their eyes zoom in on the bowler's wrist and shine, their feet move according to the delivery. Everything goes like clockwork.

Dowrich, too, assumed the go-steady template after picking two fours in his first three deliveries against Bess, both played on the front foot, both punched with conviction - one a straight drive and the next through covers. Some might have got the early feeling that Dowrich wanted to take Bess out of the attack. Numbers negate that perception: according to ESPNcricinfo's bbb data, of the 115 deliveries he played today, Dowrich showed aggressive intent only on eight occasions.

Similarly, Chase showed aggressive intent only seven times during his 194-minute vigil, same as Brathwaite, who lasted 125 balls. Dowrich, Chase and Brathwaite were the only three batsmen who played out more than 100 deliveries in West Indies' innings. The bbb data also shows those were the only three batsmen with high in-control numbers: Chase (82), Brathwaite (80) and Dowrich (71).

Brathwaite, Dowrich and Chase were the only three batsmen who showed the discipline that West Indies had talked about in the lead up to the series. They failed to convert their starts into big scores, but they showed the likes of Hope, Brook and Blackwood the importance of patience.

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