FORMER TT and West Indies cricketers Tony Gray and Bernard Julien are heartened by the WI’s First Test victory, by four wickets, over hosts England at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton on Sunday.
The West Indies, who are defending the Wisden Trophy (after winning the three-Test series 2-1 at home in 2019), will now switch their attention to the Second Test at Old Trafford, Manchester, which starts on Thursday.
“I thought it was a brilliant performance by the team,” said Gray, who played five Tests and 25 One Day Internationals from 1985-1991. “It was a team effort. The way they went about it and the way they dealt with tough situations, I thought, was tremendous.
“I think the preparation was good, we had a month in an isolated situation that caused them to concentrate on specifics. They have a huge cast out there to help them. Phillip Simmons is a very efficient coach.
“The combination of things helped them to be well-prepared for this Test match. They went out there and not only showing the ability to deal with a strong opponent but the ability to be strong mentally. Technically they have improved in certain areas.”
According to Julien, who played 24 Tests and 12 ODIs from 1973-1977, noted, “It’s always difficult for any team to win in England. We went (into) that game as the underdog. Our batting was weakened by the absence of a couple players (but) the bowlers came through for us.”
The West Indies players are accustomed playing at the First-Class level at home without crowds, and this series will be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We don’t play in front of huge crowds again,” said Gray. “The England team play in front of big crowds and the Barmy Army are very vociferous. It would have hampered them a bit, somebody like (stand-in captain) Ben Stokes who plays his cricket with flamboyance. They’re accustomed using the crowd to spur them on. That would have been a factor against England.”
Julien pointed out, “This Test match was unprecedented because of the fact there (were) no spectators. It’s the first time I’ve seen the (personnel in the stands) outnumbered by the players. It’s difficult to play under those circumstances. Congratulations to Simmons, the players and the staff. We were able to play in a relaxed manner.
“The whole scenario was very difficult for the players, not only the West Indies but also for England. Both teams showed a level of commitment in playing the game and performing creditably under those circumstances.”
There was some debate as to whether the WI would play the extra batsman (Jermaine Blackwood) or extra bowler (Rahkeem Cornwall). The selection panel went with Blackwood, and he justified his recall to the starting XI with 95 in the run chase on Sunday.
“Cornwall would have been very good on that pitch because it was a dry surface,” said Gray. “They’re playing in England so batsmen have to make adjustments technically and mentally to the conditions in England from the conditions in the Caribbean. That’s why they chose the extra batsman.”
Gray continued, “You have to understand the culture of English cricketers. They are very detailed and they come with a plan. If you dismantle their plan, they don’t respond positively. Blackwood’s innings was a positive one. He might have given some chances here and there but he was the most productive batsman in the regional four-day cricket this year.
“There was talk about him transforming his game from ultra-aggressive to being a little more balanced. You saw it not in the first innings, because old habits die hard. (The 95) was a very important innings. He showed he had guts and determination.”
Julien, the former all-rounder, commented, “He showed determination. (The selectors) decided to give him one more try. He batted magnificently, he brought the game home. His concentration was good, his shot selection was very good. It’s the first time I’ve seen him batting like that. It was a good move, in the end, by the selectors.”
He added, “I don’t want to say there is light at the end of the tunnel but we’ve got to take it in stride, one game at a time. I thought it was a well-deserved victory.”
Shannon Gabriel was named as the Man of the Match for his nine-wicket haul.
Regarding the bowling effort, Gray said, “The guys were brilliant. They were working hard, fighting through spells, fighting through tough times, not letting the English batsmen get away. The captaincy of (Jason) Holder was very good, most times, with the bowling changes.
“He has bowlers who can be tight, not just the faster bowlers but (Roston) Chase can hold an end. Gabriel was excellent, to come back from an ankle injury, you need to recuperate not just physically but mentally. (Kemar) Roach was a little unlucky at times, Alzarri Joseph showed his quality especially in the (second) innings.
Julien noted, “Gabriel in particular, having been left out of the squad in the first place, came back and showed that he belonged there. I thought he bowled extremely well (as well as) the skipper. It was a great team effort by everybody.”
Kraigg Brathwaite, who has struggled for runs at the Test level for the past two years, made a crucial 65 in the first innings.
“Brathwaite did what Brathwaite can do,” said Gray. “Brathwaite has good temperament. His technique, as an opening batsman, is lacking, but he is known for his temperament. His role is to stay there and bat through the course of the innings. He did it wonderfully well in the first innings.”