Cozier on Sunday
It took less than an hour at McClean Park in Napier last Tuesday to, yet again, verify the schizophrenic character of the West Indies team.
In that time, it gave full expression to an apt cliché as the quality of its cricket descended from the sublime batting of Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul to the ridiculous approach of the late order and, more especially, the folly of Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards.
It was final confirmation that the series of Tests and one-day matches in New Zealand, against opponents of equal standard, has not eased the heavy dependence on the few players of international standard.
For two hours, Gayle and Chanderpaul, with the background of 24 years at the highest level between them and hundreds on the same ground in the preceding Test, treated the 10,000 or so in the stands and on the grass banks to a throwback to West Indian batting artistry of fading memory.
The two left-handers, one tall, imposing, powerful and with a weapon of mass destruction as a bat, the other slim, ugly in stance but wristy, inventive and precise in execution, staged a masterclass in the art.
It was not simply the brilliance of their strokes that earned them standing acclaim from all around the park, although captain Gayle’s bludgeoning straight-drives and pulls and Chanderpaul’s timing, placement and cheeky new reverse sweeps were breathtaking enough.
Rather it was the intelligence with which their partnership of 170 off 158 balls was constructed that was equally impressive.
They set out from 73 for two in the 17th over with Gayle’s form already known and confirmed with a couple of massive sixes and a few punched boundaries.
Conscious of the inexperience to follow in the order, their first mission was to stay in. The five overs of the second power-play yielded just 12 runs. Chanderpaul’s first 22 scoring shots were singles.
The question was when to make their move. They chose the third powerplay, five overs in which the fielding side is limited to three fielders outside the ring.
Amended recently so that it is now the call of the batting, rather than bowling, team, Gayle took it at 136 for two after 34 overs, a modest run-rate of four an over.
Suddenly, the ground was alive with boundaries. The pair took 57 from the five designated overs. New Zealand were thrown into a state of confusion. The previous wizardry of Daniel Vettori’s left-arm spin was zapped in two overs that cost 27.
The onslaught would only end when they were dismissed. Gayle was neatly taken low down on the midwicket boundary for 135 at 243 with seven overs remaining. He had belted five sixes and nine fours from his 129 balls, another true captain’s innings.
Chanderpaul, seduced by the success of his reverse sweep that brought him a remarkable six off Vettori and a couple of fours, was caught from the shot for 94 at 279 with three overs and six wickets left. His last 44 runs were scored from 20 balls. Surely there is no more complete batsman in world cricket at present.
In between, Kieron Pollard had muscled two sixes and a four in 19 off eight balls.
It left the remaining batsmen to finish the job of hoisting the total to 300 and beyond. Instead, the last three overs brought only 14 as Denesh Ramdin, Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards all went down swinging. Brendan Nash, strangely kept back, faced one ball.
It was a waste but nothing like what followed.
Faced with a target of 294, New Zealand needed a sound start. What they got was a flier, courtesy of a few overs of misplaced passion from Powell and Edwards.
A couple of waist-high full tosses from Edwards to McCullum triggered heated exchanges between the two, there were bouncers, half-volleys, wides, no-balls, a couple of sixes and six fours.
By the time they were taken off, the fast bowlers had given away 89 from their combined nine overs and New Zealand were 95 for one from 10 overs. Two hours of smart, high-class batting had given the West Indies the platform for a victory to end the tour on a high. In half that time, lesser players unable to appreciate the needs of the situation or control their emotions brought it crashing down.
It was a familiar theme whose origins are in the domestic structure of West Indies cricket.
Players with obvious talent enter international level unprepared for its demands. Club and regional first-class cricket does not properly instil in them the need to read and adapt to developing situations and to maintain focus. Instead, they play by instinct and fervour.
This was a poorly selected team.
It included Shawn Findlay, who was not picked for a single first-class match for Jamaica last year, and two wicket-keepers to the exclusion of a specialist batsman.
There was no like all-rounder, such as Daren Sammy, to fill the hole left by Dwayne Bravo’s absence. Sewnarine Chattergoon’s method is certainly not suited to the confines of the one-day game.
Yet the selectors have little to work on. Can they really be guided by statistics from the regional competitions, as clearly weak as they are?
What, for instance, do they make of the 212 in the opening match of the season by Devon Smith, a batsman averaging 24 after 24 Tests? Does Gavin Wallace’s eight for 20 return for Jamaica against the Leewards make him a new Shane Warne or Shane Shillingford’s wicket-taking start mean a new Lance Gibbs?
The common answer is that the West Indies team is likely to continue to rely on a nucleus of players and hope that, in spite of, rather than because of, the system some new genius suddenly appears to light up the dark tunnel.