Belief is a big word in the West Indies dressing room nowadays. And it is working to some extent in the three-Test series against England.
As was the case in the opening Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua when they battled to a draw, Denesh Ramdin’s team again find themselves needing to bat with grit to save the second match at the National Cricket Stadium in Grenada.
Not only must they believe in themselves but temperament will also be a key ingredient.
In Antigua, West Indies were set 438 to win and ended on 350 for seven off 129.4 overs after beginning the final day on 98 for two. And mind you, the score was 189 for six at one stage before Ramdin (57), fast bowling all-rounder Jason Holder with a maiden first-class century (103 not out) in only his fourth Test and pacer Kemar Roach (15 not out) all batted intelligently in the cause.
On this occasion, West Indies started their second innings 25 minutes before lunch on the fourth day today, facing a first innings deficit of 165.
They soon lost Devon Smith for two before Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo (69) added 142 in 48.1 overs for the second wicket, giving the other batsmen more belief and inspiration to carry on the fight.
Now, West Indies will go into the final day on 202 for two off 75 overs – 37 runs ahead with eight wickets standing.
The 22-year-old Brathwaite completed his fourth century and his first in a second innings in his 19th Test, and will resume on 101 with first innings century-maker Marlon Samuels on 22.
Brathwaite, the Barbados first-class captain and West Indies Test vice-captain, reached his century in the penultimate over of the day. It came in 296 minutes off 228 balls and contained 11 boundaries.
“I kept working hard and I am very proud and very happy,” he said.
Based on reports from the commentators at the ground, especially those on television and also following the match closely, the pitch is very flat. So once the batsmen apply themselves, West Indies should save the match.
If they succeed, it would set the stage for a much-anticipated, entertaining climax at Kensington Oval starting next Friday.
But there is still a major concern over the manner in which some of the top batsmen are losing their wickets with rash strokes.
This should, however, not take away from the effort of Samuels, who made 103 – his seventh Test century – in a first innings total of 299 all out, though he, himself, was also guilty of giving away his wicket.
Perhaps of some bother prior to the start of the West Indies second innings would have been the lack of big scores from two of their most dependable batsmen – Brathwaite and veteran Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Admittedly, Brathwaite was dismissed by very good deliveries in the second innings in Antigua, fending a lifter from Stuart Broad into the hands of short-leg, and in the first innings in Grenada, bowled by an inswinger from James Anderson.
The England fast bowlers reckon Brathwaite is not very comfortable against the lifting ball and will surely test him. He is not a hooker but he has a style of either swaying out of the way or fending off.
To his credit, he has also found a way of ignoring negative and unfortunate comments from some West Indian fans, who have gone as far as arguing that his style of raising the bat as the bowler approaches needs correcting.
Today, he favoured the cut with six boundaries among seven in his half-century coming from the stroke. By tea, the cut had brought him 31 runs with seven fours in a score of 68 as West Indies reached 122 for one off 39 overs. Bravo was then on 47.
In the first 45 minutes of the last session, Brathwaite virtually went into a shell as Bravo started to open up, but he is not one to be flustered by not scoring quickly.
The wagon wheel on his century showed that the cut produced 38 runs including seven fours. But 44 of his runs came on the leg-side so there was balance to some extent.
Whenever debates surface about Brathwaite’s batting, you can guarantee that the critics are those who were fortunate to see the likes of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes as an outstanding opening pair for Barbados and West Indies. Then comparisons fly left, right and centre and everyone becomes an expert on techniques.
Chanderpaul, in his 163rd Test and approaching the record for the most runs by a West Indian at this level (Brian Lara holds the record with 11, 953 in 131 matches), looks somewhat tentative at the crease. At the age of 40, his reflexes are clearly becoming slower. So, too, is his footwork. This could be his last international season with Australia visiting for two Tests in early June in Dominica and Jamaica.
The bowling, comprising mainly of three seamers and a specialist spinner, remains a concern in terms of the strength and ability to dismiss teams before big totals are piled up.
England made 399 off 110.4 overs and 333 for seven declared (86 overs) in the first Test and 464 all out (144.1 overs) in the first innings of the current match.
In the previous three-Test series in South Africa, which the home side won 2-0, there were totals of 552 for five declared (140.3 overs) in the first match at SuperSport Park in Centurion as West Indies lost by an innings and 220 runs; 417 for eight declared (122 overs) in the rain-affected drawn second match at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth and 421 all out (122.4 overs) in the final match at Newlands in Cape Town, which South Africa won by eight wickets.
So until West Indies can bowl teams out cheaply and amass big totals to win matches, they need to keep avoiding defeats and eventually success will come.
For the moment, however, we trust that Brathwaite, Samuels and the rest will continue to defy the England bowlers and give West Indies another honourable draw.
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. Email: keithfholdergmail.com.