If you were to take a poll on why West Indies lost the three-Test series against New Zealand 2-1, it would show an inability by their batsmen to buckle down and produce when it mattered most, plus a failure to hold vital chances in the field.
Having been beaten by 186 runs in the opening match at Sabina Park in Jamaica, West Indies hit back to triumph by ten wickets at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad, hence creating plenty interest for the decider at Kensington Oval. But the batting was their undoing and they suffered a 53-run defeat on the fifth and final day after a couple brief stoppages for rain, which had shortened play on the second and fourth days.
The selection of the side for the final Test became a big debate after two changes were made. Jason Holder, the tall Barbados fast bowler, was given his first Test in place of Shannon Gabriel, who only played in Port of Spain, while off-spinner Shane Shillingford returned for the Jamaican batsman Jermaine Blackwood, who made his debut in the second Test and hit an impressive 63.
It was the dropping of Blackwood which surprised many, leaving one to wonder why the selectors felt the pitch merited a strengthening of the bowling, which showed three pacers in Jerome Taylor, Kemar Roach and Holder, along with left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn and Shillingford. Be that as it may, West Indies dismissed New Zealand for 293 in their first innings and closed the opening day on 32 without loss.
Having passed 150 with only one wicket down, there was a solid enough foundation to ensure that a lead of at least 100 would be attained. But that was not the case as West Indies fell for 317.
Based on how confidently they were batting, West Indian fans would have expected the likes of openers Chris Gayle and Kraigg Brathwaite, as well as Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo to produce much bigger scores than they did. Gayle fell for 42, caught in the deep off off-spinner Mark Craig following a first wicket partnership of 79, Brathwaite was caught in the covers from a drive off left-arm pacer Neil Wagner for the topscore of 68; left-hander Bravo (24) sliced Wagner to gully and Edwards (58) seemingly wanted to prove that he could counter a deliberately set, strong onside field and became a victim of fast bowler Tim Southee.
Even though they managed to reduce New Zealand to 68 for three at one stage in the second innings, man-of-the-match and man-of-the-series Kane Williamson, aided by a couple chances, scored 161 not out and along with the talented all-rounder Jimmy Neesham (51), consolidated in a total of 331 for seven declared.
With the rain having affected play significantly on Friday and Sunday, it was to their credit that New Zealand felt confident enough to set West Indies a target of 308 on the fifth day. They were bowled out for 254 in 82.2 overs.
Holder, who has always touted himself as a batting all-rounder, played well in both innings at No. 7 to score 38 and 52. The determination exhibited by Holder and Shillingford (30 not out) in adding 77 in 22.1 overs for the eighth wicket in the second innings was needed by the specialist batsmen.
There is also no question that Holder was under-bowled, sending down 20 overs all told with an equal share in both innings. He picked up two for 26 in the second innings after being wicket-less in the first.
As far as the series was concerned, the 21-year-old Brathwaite finished with the highest aggregate for West Indies, scoring 217 runs including a maiden Test century (129) in Trinidad, at an average of 72.33. He showed that he can play attacking strokes and with his ability to concentrate and bat for long hours, a bright future is very much in the making.
There are those who will continue to debate whether the time has come for Gayle and fellow veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul to make way for younger players. Both still have something to offer and it will be a test for the selectors with minnows Bangladesh coming to the Caribbean for two Tests in September before West Indies visit South Africa in 2014-15 for three Tests. Gayle finished with 208 runs (ave: 41.60) and Chanderpaul 195 (ave: 48.75). Both Edwards and Bravo need to be more consistent while reflecting on the way they tend to lose their wickets. Bravo scored 185 runs (ave: 37.00) including a century (109) on home turf at Queen’s Park Oval while Edwards made 137 runs (ave: 27.40) with two half-centuries.
In his first series as captain after replacing Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin conceded that the batsmen ought to convert fifties into centuries. He, himself, got 179 runs (ave: 35.80) with a highest of 45.
Ramdin would have also realised that some of his tactics were not the smartest. Initially, he tried to be as attacking as possible with his field setting but there were times when he became fairly defensive as though he wanted to play it safe and wait for things to happen. As wicket-keeper, he had some lapses in concentration as well.
Kieran Powell and Marlon Samuels were both dropped after the first Test and are sure to find it tough regaining their places against Bangladesh. Roach must be commended for the work he put in after returning from a shoulder injury, which required surgery and had kept him out of the game for over seven months. He grabbed 15 wickets – the most by any bowler in the series – at 23.20 runs apiece and had the honour of reaching 100 wickets in his 26th Test – the 19th West Indian and eighth Barbadian to capture 100 Test wickets. In fact, he had not played a Test match since the series against Zimbabwe in the Caribbean in March last year.
Taylor, after being in the wilderness of international cricket since November 2009, took 11 wickets (ave: 25.54). Benn, too, justified his recall after he had been ignored since December 2010. He bore the brunt of the bowling with 208.5 overs, picking up 14 wickets (ave: 37.64).
Shillingford struggled, taking just five wickets at the high cost of 63.60 runs each, leading to questions relating to his effectiveness now he is unable to bowl the doosra after issues with his action. On the contrary, he headed the batting averages with 107.00, having been dismissed only once in four innings.
For New Zealand, Williamson scored 413 runs (ave: 82.60) including two centuries. Brendon McCullum proved to be a clever captain despite a disappointing series with the bat, scoring only 87 runs (ave: 14.50).
Now as they reflect, West Indies must admit that the result could have been in the reverse had the batting and fielding been more consistent.
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)