AT LONG last the West Indies (WI) cricketers got on to the field of play in a match situation and not just net practice. They must have felt so relieved to be able to actually profit from a well-played stroke or a superb delivery.
A game, although not a definitive one, is much better enjoyment for the cricketer who is preparing mentally, physically and technically for the sharpening of his skills, in order to be ready for performance on the big stage against tough opponents.
Of course, he needs to practise for long hours in the nets to shape the habits he wants to use in a match. Thus, the match-practice would give the player a clear idea of how he’s progressing so as to strengthen his game.
The batsmen may realise their concentration needs improving, their footwork is slow or their timing is not right. On the other hand, they may feel confident that everything is in working order, hence they would be itching to parade their talent on match-day. The bowlers would want to ensure they could place six balls out of six exactly where they want plus develop movement and bounce to suit. They would also notice in their efforts where they’re being struck which will influence their field-placing decisions. The cricketer would not have that information in the nets.
The captain would be able to work out his strategy for his bowling attack in the field in addition to observing the form of his batsmen. No matter how much net practice there is, though vitally important, its effect can only be scrutinised in a game situation.
Accordingly, the cricketers from the Caribbean, after being locked down for months, mixing and practising with only one another for the past three weeks, must have been champing at the bit to participate in a game of cricket as part of their final preparation for their three-Test series which starts on July 8. The run-around in a competitive atmosphere played at Old Trafford in Manchester, must have been refreshing. Back again, trying to score runs and secure wickets, taking catches, attempting run-outs and wicket-keepers getting critical practise behind the stumps. No one knows and I certainly won’t hazard a guess as to how this strange, new, pandemic state of affairs would affect both teams. There hasn’t been much information about the England team and their preparation in Southampton, the venue of the first Test. Not unlike WI, their bowling also seems the stronger unit than their batting.
I made the point in a previous column that the first Test in a series is crucial especially in a rubber of only three Tests. Additionally, this is England’s home base. WI coach Phil Simmons says he wants his men to hit the ground running from the first Test so they won’t have to be playing catch-up in the following two. This is precisely my point because if that advantage is wrested from you, it is a most difficult task to come back and win the series.
In the previous tour of 2017, England won the first Test at Edgbaston by 209 runs. Although WI bounced back in the second Test through superb batting by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite at Leeds, they went on to lose the third Test at Lord’s by nine wickets.
The first Test is vital, hence, Simmons should get his men down to Southampton as early as possible. Don’t allow the authorities to stand by arrangements to send the team to the venue just a couple of days before. The second practice match ends on Thursday, therefore WI ought to ensure they’re in Southampton on the 3rd so that they would have four full days of practice at the venue of the Test before the first day’s play on the 8th.
For the four-day practice game which began on Monday, June 29, I trust a couple of changes took place now that the cobwebs had been blown away in the first game. Firstly, and most importantly, the probable Test team should play against the rest. Even if the bowling of the rest is ‘weaker,’ it will give the leading batsmen a confidence builder by scoring more runs; and vice-versa with the main bowlers bowling against the “weaker” batsmen. Secondly, it should be more of a dress rehearsal, meaning that the players ought to take the field in their whites, the uniform in which they’ll be playing Test cricket. The atmosphere makes a difference!