Windies begin well again but are un-done

As the saying goes, well begun is half done. Unfortunately for the West Indies, this Test series against the top ranked South Africa would represent a case of job only half done. West Indian batsmen on a relatively benign pitch at the picturesque Newlands, in a new year, continued their old trend of getting good starts before throwing it away, leaving West Indies 276 for 6 wickets at close of play on Day 1.

In the pre-match press conference, the West Indies captain Denesh Ramdin tried to sound optimistic and hopeful of a new way ahead. When asked about the general lack of big partnerships and tall scores, Ramdin said, “It’s a new year, hopefully we can change some things. We are going to make a fresh start.” He also expressed desire that he would want his team to emulate the South Africans in putting together big scores and partnerships. But intent and execution are two completely different things as seen by the Windies effort with the bat today.

To be fair, in the rain interrupted Test at Port Elizabeth, Marlon Samuels and Kraigg Brathwaite helped themselves to centuries. But even with those two centuries, West Indies were tottering at 275/9 when rain had the final say. That was a significant improvement for the West Indies from Centurion in the first Test, where South Africa walloped them by an innings and 220 runs, with none of the WI batsmen crossing 39 in the entire Test!

Here in Cape Town, 5 of the West Indies top 7 made at least 43 but none went past 54. Jermaine Blackwood making a comeback to the side in place of Kenroy Peters holds promise of going past 54 with an unbeaten 43 overnight. There were three partnerships of 50 or more runs – 50, 51 and 94, reiterating the malaise within their batting order.

Certainly West Indies are missing the services of Chris Gayle (injury) and Darren Bravo (gone home for personal reasons). The rock of the middle order Shivnarine Chanderpaul has been uncharacteristically off-color, so much so he got out to debutant off spinner Simon Harmer on the first ball of the 2nd session to a stumping. Only the second time Chanderpaul has been dismissed stumped in his long career.

It isn’t just on this tour that West Indies have been faced with the issue of partnerships. In 40 Tests since the beginning of 2010 (excluding this ongoing Test), the top 7 batsmen in the West Indian batting line up have been involved in 410 partnerships with an average of under 38 runs per wicket, and featuring 37 century and 61 half-century stands. The corresponding numbers for South Africa, the team Ramdin wants to learn from, in 43 Tests are 52 and 83, while averaging 43 runs in 505 partnerships. In all, in just 3 additional Tests, South Africa have an extra 37 partnerships of 50 or more runs.

The problem is further compounded by a lower order that doesn’t contribute much as well. The futility of the WI batsmen is clearly reflected in the fact the West Indies have won just 11 of their 40 Tests and losing 17.

Ramdin announced in the presser that he would like to bat first on this pitch, unlike in the previous two Tests where the overhead conditions convinced him to do otherwise. He followed through with that promise by winning the toss and making first use of the wicket to put on the runs. But the promise he made of learning from South Africa to put on big partnerships and the set batsmen going on to bigger scores remains unfulfilled.

At 172/4, there was a feeling that West Indies might be on to something but by losing Chanderpaul, and then Ramdin after a decent partnership, West Indies’ job is far from over and their first innings is more than half done. Leon Johnson at close of play mentioned that they were “happy” with the batting display on the day and termed it the “best batting performance of the series”. May be, it isn’t any technical issue or lapses in concentration that has stopped the West Indies batsmen but the tendency to be content with middling performances.

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