While it was a big relief for West Indies to hit back and beat Pakistan by 106 runs on the fifth and final day of the second Test at Kensington Oval Thursday, the state of the pitch came in for criticism by some members of the media, as well as players and management.
After winning the toss, West Indies scored 312 and 268. Pakistan responded with 393 and set 188 to win, were bundled out for 81.
With the three-match series now levelled after Pakistan triumphed by seven wickets at Sabina Park in Jamaica, there is heightened interest going into the decider at Windsor Park in Dominica on Wednesday.
Among those lashing out at the dry nature of the surface at Kensington were two noted international television commentators, both of whom are covering the series – former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop and Ramiz Raja, a former Pakistan captain and opening batsman who also served as Chief Executive Officer of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
It was an honour to interview both and to share their thoughts.
“I didn’t think the pitch was satisfactory for Test cricket. I understand the difficulties and the challenges, which the groundstaff had but despite the fact that West Indies won, it could have been different if the West Indies had to bat last,” Bishop said.
“I am happy West Indies used the pitch brilliantly but we need better pitches generally for cricket in the region.
“I will preface my comments by the high volume of cricket played at Kensington prior to the Test but when I saw the pitch two days before the game, I thought, one, you are playing against Pakistan and, two, your attack, primarily when you have (Shannon) Gabriel, (Alzarri) Joseph and (Jason) Holder against a Pakistan batting line-up that struggles with bounce. Additionally you are coming to Kensington Oval and I would have expected a good cricket surface, a hard surface where the ball carries.
“I am not expecting a green top that goes everywhere but a hard cricket surface. I didn’t see that,” Bishop asserted.
Asked what advice he would give to local and regional authorities as far as pitch preparation was concerned, Bishop remarked: “We have to ensure that priority is given to the international game at the international venues because it is your most visible product. I am not devaluing the domestic game but the agreement with the West Indies Players Association may have to be revisited so that the workload on the international surfaces and the groundstaff at the venues, they can give the international pitches some time to breathe, grow grass and procure the surface.”
Speaking on Mid Wicket on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation after the third day’s play on Tuesday, Ramiz said: “I don’t know what has been happening over a period of time but I suppose that these surfaces have been over used. You play all your first-class cricket at the Test centres and that could be one reason why you have a tired square but somehow you’ve got to re-produce bounce, if not the green grass but at least bounce. And bounce means carry for the pacers, carry for the spinners and you can play some good shots as well.
“On a pitch like this, Test cricket gets killed because it is such a difficult pitch to force the issue that you are bound to then be scoring at a run rate of less than three (per over) for most part of the Test match, which means kind of a bad advert for Test match cricket. So, not only to gain some home advantage but also to make sure that there is watchable Test cricket for the fans, that you need to just upgrade the entire square, especially here.
“It is almost impossible to think of a rank spinning track when you enter Kensington Oval because this place has been historically renowned for producing quick tracks.”
Ramiz also gave his thoughts on the way forward for the West Indies team.
“Let’s start with pitches. I think you need to give them more helpful pitches and if fast bowling is going to win you matches, then that was the case against Pakistan also at Sharjah (last year) where the pitch had a bit more bounce and Pakistan’s batsmen were surprised by Gabriel’s pace and it was a fine win (by five wickets),” he said.
“So there is potential. West Indies can win provided they are given good surfaces. And then to make sure that you identify good talent that can serve you, not only for one or two series but for five years, for ten years. So look for long-term methods and develop management skills also. I think you need to keep talking to these young kids. They are at an impressionable age. They can easily be drawn out of the cricket environment, and so the West Indies Cricket Board has got to work extremely closely with some of these younger kids, create that healthy environment where everyone is well received and make sure that you don’t falter in selection matters. It has to be open, transparent, honest and have the eye for talent. I think it is important when you pick a player he should be in for a long period of time rather than a stop-gap arrangement,” Ramiz said.
Now back to Bishop and his assessment of how the West Indies performed in the second Test and generally as he highlighted some of the outstanding performances including a century (131) by Roston Chase in the first innings (his second in nine Tests), Shai Hope’s fighting knock of 90 in the second innings which was his first half-century in nine Tests as well, Gabriel’s career-best figures of five for 11 in the second innings and the captaincy of Holder.
“I was extraordinarily impressed with the bowling consistency of the three seamers on the last day,” Bishop remarked.
“Gabriel has manfully led the attack in the last year-and-a-half. Shai Hope’s batting – I can’t sing his praises high enough – in conditions that were so demanding and for him to finally get his highest Test score in those conditions, speaks volumes to his mental strength because he had been struggling.
“When Roston scored that hundred against India last year, I thought it was an exceptional knock but I analysed and I saw a weakness where I would bowl full around off stump at him, where he chooses not to score. But in this Test match, this hundred, I saw him sort of conquer that. So now I am satisfied that West Indies have found a gem. His great test though will be in England this year but I am confident that he is a thinking cricketer and he will overcome whatever challenges come his way.
“Before the tour started, I argued with one or two of my colleagues that I felt West Indies should win at least one of the different formats but I couldn’t say publicly because I had nothing to go back on.
“I really felt strongly that West Indies should have won the Twenty20 or the one-day series, or the Test series. At least, one of those three components.
“I know it is not finished yet but I don’t see the gap between the two teams as big as some people see it. Because people were of the opinion that West Indies could not beat Pakistan.
“If West Indies had caught better on that third day at Sabina, we would have put Pakistan in the same position as we had them in this Test, chasing nearly 200, so we could have been two-up but that is how I read the situation.
In relation to Holder’s captaincy, Bishop said: “I have watched him closely and some of his strategic moves were much better, much more aggressive, the way that he coaxed more critical overs at key times out of Joseph and Gabriel, I thought was an upward development. He also attacked a little bit more with his field placing so I think he is growing but he still has growth to do.
“Most importantly, the series is set up nicely and I know West Indies have to now prove that they can string two good games together because Pakistan will come back hard at them, Pakistan being a more experienced team. It should be a great finale.”
Thanks very much Ian and Ramiz. It is always a pleasure to talk with and share the views of those who played at the highest level. I trust the regional authorities take note.
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 three-and-a-half 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: Keithfholder@gmail.com