Having a couple genuine all-rounders in the West Indies Test team should be encouraged as much as possible.
The issue gained some attention on Mid Wicket last Tuesday night when a caller suggested that Roston Chase should concentrate on his batting and not be burdened with his off-spin bowling.
I quickly disagreed with the caller. Though picked mainly as a middle order batsman, the 25-year-old Chase has the ability to become a top all-rounder. His bowling is more than a plus.
Prior to the current third and decisive Test against Pakistan at Windsor Park in Dominica, Chase had scored 558 runs at an average of 39.85 including two centuries and two fifties, while taking 12 wickets at 62.83 runs each in nine matches since making his debut against India last year.
In 48 first-class matches, he had 2603 runs (ave: 41.31) with four centuries and 15 fifties, and 75 wickets at 28.66 runs apiece including four five-wicket hauls and one ten-for.
Having followed his career closely at the local domestic level for Barbados Youth, Banks (now Wildey) and ICBL Empire, apart from his first-class and Test, Chase’s bowling is somewhat underrated. He has a good, high action and also flights the ball intelligently.
Chase is smart enough to keep working on his batting without being distracted by his bowling and the workload depending on the circumstances.
Following the 106-run win by West Indies in the second Test against Pakistan at Kensington Oval last week during which he made a fighting 131 in the first innings, there was an interesting comment about his batting from Ian Bishop, the former Trinidad & Tobago and West Indies fast bowler, who is covering the series as an international television commentator.
“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,” Bishop said.
In the current Test, which was into the third day today, Chase showed that he is capable of handling the workload as a bowler as well. On a slow surface, he sent down 32 overs – the most jointly with pacers Shannon Gabriel and skipper Jason Holder – and was the leading wicket-taker with four for 103 in Pakistan’s first innings of 376 all out off 146.3 overs.
“After the first Test (in Jamaica), the coaches really stressed on preparation so I just think that it is preparation and me having a basic routine that I try to follow and that just puts me in a good mental frame of mind to just go out there and do my best for the team,” he said in relation to his bowling performance.
Chase is indeed a player who works hard all-round. Outside of his regional and international duties, he turns up at Kensington Oval for practice sessions with Dexter Toppin, the Barbados Cricket Association coach.
In his short Test career, Chase has put his name in the history books as far as outstanding all-round performances are concerned.
Against India at Sabina Park, Jamaica, July 30 to August 3, 2016, in what was only his second Test, he made an unbeaten 137 in the second innings and along with figures of five for 121 off 36.1 overs (the most in the innings), became the first West Indian in 50 years to achieve the special feat of scoring a century and taking five wickets in an innings in the same Test as West Indies defied the odds to earn a draw.
That the previous double by a West Indian was recorded by the game’s greatest ever all-rounder and fellow Barbadian, Sir Garfield Sobers, was most significant.
Chase also became only the fourth West Indian after Denis Atkinson, O’Neil “Collie” Smith and Sobers (twice) to take a five-wicket haul and score a century in the same Test match.
Scores were: West Indies 196 and 388 for six. India 500 for nine declared.
Sobers’ first achievement was in April 1962 against India at Sabina Park when he made 104 and 50 and took five for 63 in the second innings as West Indies won by 123 runs. Scores were: West Indies 253 and 283. India 178 and 235.
Then in August 1966, as captain, Sobers hit 174 and took five for 41 in the first innings against England at Headingley, Leeds, spurring West Indies to victory by an innings and 55 runs.
West Indies scored 500 for nine declared and bowled England out for 240 and 205.
Of the current West Indies team, Holder is the only other player who can claim the tag of an all-rounder. After 22 Tests, his batting aggregate was 931 including one century and six fifties (ave: 30.03), along with 38 wickets (ave: 36.92).
At the first-class level, in 47 matches, Holder has 1501 runs (ave: 23.09) with one hundred and eight fifties, and 104 wickets (ave: 26.80) with four five-wicket hauls.
Though listed as a bowling all-rounder, there have been arguments that he is a batting all-rounder, even to the extent that he should be batting as high as No. 6 instead of No. 8 in the Test side.
Since the retirement of Carl Hooper 15 years ago, West Indies have not produced an all-rounder of note who bowled spin. In 102 Tests, Hooper amassed 5762 runs (ave: 36.46) with 13 centuries and 27 fifties, and took 114 wickets (ave: 49.42) as an off-break bowler.
Of the specialist batsmen, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels filled roles as off-spinners as well since the exit of Hooper and though Gayle was tidy to some extent and also picked up wickets occasionally, Chase has shown that with the right guidance, coupled with his hunger for success, he is destined to play that vital role of a genuine all-rounder.
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