When Mohammed Shami got his eighth delivery of the innings to jag back in from a length spot to find enough space between Kraigg Brathwaite’s bat and pad, it was evident that there was something severely wrong with the lengths pursued by the Windies’ pacers than just the placidity of the pitch.
For a day and a half, the tourists spent most of their time hitting the hard lengths without any help from the wicket. Their spinners bowled tirelessly without causing much trouble to the Indian batsmen. Then their batsmen were faced by challenging lengths bowled by the Indian bowlers – spin and pace. As a result, Windies find themselves under the pump, at 94 for 6, with three days to go.
The Windies bowlers are all but done for this Test match thanks to the mammoth 555-run deficit still staring at them. But there are lessons to be learnt as a two-Test old Keemo Paul and debutant Sherman Lewis take baby steps at the highest level.
“From a bowling point of view, I stressed to the bowlers to have a look and see how well the Indians started. That’s something I was talking out, our starts,” Windies bowling coach Corey Collymore reflected at the end of the second’s play of the first Test in Rajkot.
“If you look at yesterday, we started too wide and too short. Sherman was on his debut and he is a good lad, I saw him in the U-19s and in some of the practice games and he has got a fantastic record, but to me, it’s still going to be 22 yards and the lengths don’t change. You have to be better at doing that going forward if you have to play Test match cricket better.”
The gulf in both the team’s bowling display also needs to be attributed to the lack of their key resources – Kemar Roach is yet to join the squad due to a bereavement in his family and Jason Holder is yet to recover fully from a sprained ankle. And although Shannon Gabriel ran in hard and cranked up the pace every time his skipper turned to him, he was cautiously used, understandable too, given the team doesn’t want to risk another injury in these extremely hot and humid conditions of Rajkot. That precaution has come in the way of Windies’ play thus far as every time Gabriel was taken off the attack after his usual three-four over spells, the Windies would go on to lose further ground by the time he returned for his next burst.
Even as Devendra Bishoo went back to the dressing room with a four-wicket haul to his name, he’d conceded 217 runs in doing so – the second-most given away by a bowler in a Test innings in India. The fields were defensive too, right from the first day’s play, when Bishoo bowling his first over, had as many as four fielders standing next to the fence. But as the fielding coach Nic Pothas pointed out after the first day’s play, and the bowling coach today, it was a plan they had thought hard about.
“I wouldn’t say too defensive [field placements]. If you look at the score, India were always scoring at five runs an over. And again, with an inexperienced bowling attack, you had to go on the defensive and try to stop them from scoring too quickly,” Collymore said.
If the bowling had been off the radar, the batting wasn’t anywhere up to the mark either. Shimron Hetmyer’s dismal run-out, and the manner of dismissals of Sunil Ambris and Shane Dowrich – where they tried to go on the offensive to survive against India’s relentless spinners – were things the team would not be proud of.
“What I saw, it’s not what you want, especially from your top order, chasing 600-plus. These things happen in cricket, but again I hope our guys definitely learn from it. We can see how well the Indians played, they are accustomed to conditions but there’s experience and things we can learn from.”
Collymore acknowledges his team’s dire position but he also asserts that his team won’t give up as yet. “You have to be honest with yourself. India is in the ascendancy and it’s only Day 2, already seriously behind the eight-ball, so it’s going to take a mammoth effort for us to pull it back. But again, you don’t come to Test match cricket to just surrender.”
Windies will do themselves proud if they don’t just surrender.