Windies' rearguard specialists amplify lower-order troubles for India

October 12 2018 by Gokul Gopal

Since January 2016, Windies have managed 13 century partnerships out of which eight have been from the sixth wicket or below, which not only highlights the lack solidity at the top of the order but also the efficiency of the ones coming down. "It's a good question, if you can find out the answer can you let me know please?" was the reply from Stuart Law when queried about the skewed record of the top and lower orders.

Rearguard actions have been a regular feature in Windies cricket in the recent past and hence it came as no surprise that one such effort engineered the team's fightback during the second Test against India in Hyderabad. After the battering that they received at the hands of the Virat Kohli-led side in Rajkot, being bowled out for less than 200 in two successive innings in just about a day, it looked like Windies were headed towards a similar path when they were reduced to 113 for 5 early into the second session on Day 1. Despite some promising starts, Windies failed on the conversion side of things and were yet again staring down the barrel. But, as it has happened often in the last two years, a recovery was staged and the pioneer of that effort was Roston Chase who struck an unbeaten 98 to take Windies close to the 300-run mark by the time stumps were drawn.

It was in August 2016 that Chase first came into the limelight, scoring a match-saving, unbeaten 137 and was involved in century stands for the sixth and the seventh wickets to ensure a hard-fought draw for the Windies against India. Since then, he has been involved in three of the subsequent six century stands for the sixth wicket or below, showcasing his rescue skills time and again. His partners in crime have been Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder and Devendra Bishoo, with the four of them having contributed nearly 35 per cent of the runs Windies have scored since January 2016.

The Windies coach was not really able to pin-point what has been the root cause for the issue apart from mentioning that the time spent playing the game would hold them in better stead in the near future. "The thing I have noticed at my time with the West Indies here is that there is talent, not only in this team but also in the whole of cricket back in the Caribbean. So it's not a talent issue. It's about decision making too, it's executing under pressure. Being able to block out what's going around you and focus on the job at hand. It's not due to lack of trying. The boys have been trying, they are a hard-working group. They hit balls relentlessly (in the practice sessions), they talk cricket, it's just a matter of going out there and understanding the times and what's necessary at that time of the game. And that will come in time.

"It's not going to happen in six months or two years. In this team they are developing nicely, they should just raise the consistency levels of the top five and obviously they'll do that. Their bowling has been excellent for the last two years. Once they get their consistency with the top five it does really make six seven and eight who are scoring runs and it takes the score to 400 to 500 and 550. Batsmen are there to score runs, we are scoring the runs we should be, it's time someone stuck the hand up. I am sure there is someone pretty close to go on big and when they go on big I will be around to see it," Law quipped.

Having managed 295 runs on opening day of the second Test, Windies have ensured that India have a fight on their hands. But it has come at the expense of seven wickets, with the top five hardly making it count. But the presence of Bishoo at the crease, along with Chase, will give Windies some confidence, with their coach setting sights on a 350-400 total. If Windies could finish around that mark, coupled with the presence of a more experienced pace attack in the form of Shannon Gabriel and Holder, and three spin options in their team, Law is hopeful that his team can give India a good run for their money in the days to come.

"We've still got Bishoo who can score runs, he can also keep his wicket intact. Ideally you'd look at the magic number of 400 in the first innings. 350-400 will be ideal for us and obviously the new ball with Shannon Gabriel with his express pace and Jason Holder back with his bounce and swing, we can get early breakthroughs and expose the middle order of India and put them under pressure against the new ball. That'll be in an ideal world. Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world. We have to work our socks off to get to 350 for a start. [Jomel] Warrican comes in too and he enjoys his batting. Hopefully we still have plenty of runs out there. Roston if he bats - his job is to be not out, to be 130, 140 and shepherd the batting at the other end and push on - it'd be ideal. Time out of the game, the wicket is going to deteriorate over the next couple of days and hopefully we've got enough on the board to make some early inroads and then cash in when it starts turning," Law said.

At the other end of the spectrum are India, who have struggled to wipe out the lower order batsmen in the last few series. They have conceded 4877 runs till date in this year - most conceded by a team so far this year. There have also been eight century partnerships from opposition teams against India in 2018 in 28 fifty-plus stands overall. Among them, 12 partnerships have come from wickets six or lower. Close to 43 per cent of the total runs conceded by India in 2018 have come from the oppositions' sixth wicket of below, highlighting a cause for concern.

Umesh Yadav, though, came to the defence of his team, laying the blame on the softness of the SG ball as the reason for Windies' lower order being able to get away. Umesh had to shoulder the bulk of the pace-bowling duties with debutant Shardul Thakur walking off the field after bowling only 10 deliveries owing to a groin injury. Umesh ended up bowling 23 overs out of the 95 bowled by India on Day 1, and finished with three wickets. He was responsible for breaking the partnerships and making things slightly better for India, accounting for Dowrich and Holder.

Ashwin had spoken about the SG ball after the Rajkot Test while skipper Kohli too had addressed issues with the ball on the eve of the match. Joining the bandwagon, Umesh said the batsmen lower down the order had it easier with neither the ball nor the pitch aiding the bowlers.

"You must realize that in India with SG Test balls on these kind of flat tracks you neither get pace nor bounce. So the option to use variations ends. So all you can do is to bowl one spot but then you will realise that nothing is happening even off the pitch nor is it swinging. So when the middle and lower order come in they know that ball has become soft and it doesn't come at a pace, and batting becomes easier. What happens with SG balls is that they become soft after 20 overs so the batsmen coming later don't face much difficulty. You just have to wait for something to happen and keep trying. But you can't really do it on such a big ground, the ones and twos keep coming. And West Indies' game is based on that," Umesh opined.

With wickets not coming as regularly as India would have hoped for in the second half of the day, Umesh said the focus of the bowlers was on trying to contain the runs and wait for the batsmen to commit errors. "The discussion was that since we are not getting wickets and also they were scoring steadily, we should try and contain. Once they feel the pressure they might be forced to play poor shots. Actually when you are bowling with one fast bowler and three spinners, you finish overs quickly so the idea was to slow down the pace of the game a little bit as if they scored more heavily it would have been easier for them coming tomorrow. That's all we discussed."

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