Much has been made of the return of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels to West Indies’ one-day side but, while they give the batting line-up a stronger appearance, there is one aspect in which they don’t improve the team: running between the wickets.
Neither of them is keen to put his body on the line to scurry up and down the 22 yards to put pressure on opposition fielders. At Old Trafford, Gayle reached the point of barely walking singles. Initially there appeared to be an injury – he was heard on the stump microphone complaining about a hamstring strain – although he fielded during England’s chase and the West Indies camp said there was no fitness issue.
Samuels struggled for his timing, as did most of West Indies’ batsmen barring Gayle and his early boundary collection, but rather than trying to drop and run a little more, it was either attempt to hit the ball the hard or defend it. Samuels eventually fell for 17 off 46 deliveries, 31 of which were dot balls.
In T20, the block-or-bash method has not hindered West Indies, the immense power in the batting order – over a short duration – means they can overcome dot balls by clearing the boundary. But in the 50-over game, an innings such as Gayle’s 37 off 27 balls from a top-order batsman has less chance of defining a game.
Overall, there were 142 dot balls in West Indies’ 42 overs at Old Trafford – 56.34 per cent of the innings – something pinpointed by captain Jason Holder and Toby Radford, the batting coach, after the match. That, in fact, is a slightly better mark than their figure since the 2015 World Cup, a period in which they have averaged 59.84 per cent of dot balls in an ODI innings. Only Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and UAE are below them in one-day internationals during the period.
“It’s the way Chris has always played, he’s a destructive batter and if you have him in for a period of time you can have a match-winning score,” Radford said. “He’ll always play the way he does and Marlon plays a bit like that as well.
“What you tend to find when you come to England is that you have big boundaries and they look to push twos into the outfield, then try to limit our boundary hitting. It’s the same when we travel around the world. It’s something we talk about all the time and as a team we have to adapt, make sure we are pushing the fielders. Those ones and twos add up by the end. We have to find a way to get those singles, but sometimes you have to give credit to how a side bowls against you.”
Gayle and Samuels are not for changing at this stage of their careers but it isn’t just about the runs they themselves are missing out on, but the impact it has on the other batsmen. Anyone batting with them has to be aware how much to push the running, and it hasn’t escaped England’s attention that the run out is a likely source of a wicket. Gayle went that way in the T20 and could have been found short at Old Trafford as well.
“He doesn’t run that well between the wickets, so maybe we can stop the singles and make him hit boundaries,” Liam Plunkett said after the T20.
There could hardly be a bigger contrast than with England’s approach. They have the lowest dot-ball percentage since the 2015 World Cup (49.48) and the partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root in Manchester was a lesson in how to milk the bowling. Bairstow faced just one dot ball more than Samuels in an innings that was 51 deliveries longer.
“Jonny is very quick between the wickets, always putting fielders and bowlers under pressure and it makes it a lot easier batting with him when there’s someone so quick to run the runs with you,” Root said. “I thought that was one thing he did really well, he picked up every single and really challenged the guys on the rope, getting the twos and threes when we could.
“It’s such an important part of one-day cricket to try and scrape every run. It’s so frustrating as a bowler when you feel like you are bowling good deliveries but the batsmen scratch a single, then when you miss your mark it goes for four. Instead of going at four-an-over you end up going at seven, eight or nine an over.”
“It’s the genetics,” Bairstow said, “it’s me being me. It’s something I’ve grown up with. If there’s two to be had I’ll try to come back. It’s an asset to be quick between the wickets, like someone who can scoop or hit you straight down the ground. It’s the intensity we want to play at as a side…if you are chasing a higher score and able to get the ones and twos and score a boundary an over, all of a sudden you are scoring plenty without taking too many risks.”
There are many reasons why West Indies have failed to automatically qualify for the 2019 World Cup. Some require longer-term solutions, but there are other things the players can do immediately to try and improve their one-day fortunes. Getting a shift on between the wickets is one of them.