IT WAS always going to be difficult! It had the makings of a series that would test the mettle of the cricketers involved on both teams.
And it was because of the total strangeness of the situation that England and the West Indies had to clash in a Test series without i) neither having played in Test nor First-Class cricket for more than 117 days and ii) surviving in lockdown conditions for two months because of the pandemic; therefore, mentally and physically it would have been tough.
It is harsh enough for the average young man to live in that manner let alone to play an international ball game such as Test cricket, six hours a day over five days for three consecutive games with only three days rest between matches. That is 15 days cricket, it doesn’t matter whether all 90 hours are constantly active, but to be involved, the depth of concentration needed plus the mental capacity required with just six days off, would need a tremendous effort, determined only by the strength of character to be displayed. And there is absolutely no precedent on which one can rely for guidance.
I wrote on the day before the first Test: “The side playing at home under these circumstances ought to have the advantage, simply because they would be more familiar with the conditions.
“Yet, since the situation is strange to both, it will be a battle of the minds. The one possessing the stronger mentality is the one that will prosper.”
England left out Stuart Broad in the opening Test which is impossible to imagine, until the enormity of his destruction in the next two Tests revealed the thinking.
Especially in the first Test when a side wants to jump out in front and have an advantage on their opponent, one’s strongest team is usually chosen. Nonetheless, their plan worked.
They replaced the other half of that successful seam-bowling partnership, Jimmy Anderson, for Broad in the second, both coming out together in full force for the decisive Test. Excellent strategy! Stand-in captain Ben Stokes’ leadership would have weakened the English team in that Test. They over-loaded their star player. Regular captain Joe Root returned for the next two.
England were taken aback by the pace of Shannon Gabriel and the nagging accuracy and movement from Jason Holder.
However, the second innings was the first clue of WI’s shaky batting when, with just 200 runs to win, they faltered and lost six wickets. That was a bad sign.
Afterwards, the joy of winning that first Test clouded the minds of the selectors, coach Phil Simmons and captain Jason Holder.
While England rang in the changes for the second Test, WI stuck with the same team. Changes to one’s team would have been imperative in this demanding set-up. Gabriel is not a naturally coordinated fast bowler and consumes enormous energy while bowling with his laborious, unorthodox action. With the second Test in close proximity, his fatigue should have been considered. And it’s not as if there weren’t suitable replacements, because in Chemar Holder, or even the left-armer Raymon Reifer, either could have fitted the bill, then there would have been a fresh Gabriel rearing to go at England in the final Test.
Also, Nkrumah Bonner should have replaced John Campbell who was not looking the part in the first two Tests. Actually, so were all the main batsmen. No consistency! Replacing Alzarri Joseph with Rahkeem Cornwall has to be the biggest gaffe of all time! Impossible!!
Cornwall is obviously not up to that standard, retarded by his weight which affects his running between the wickets and his fielding. His bowling, though tidy, could not compensate.
Tactics used by the skipper: Tactical acumen is judged when your team is down and you are required to establish field-placing to suit the tempo of the game. Not implemented! Also, batsmen need self-confidence in order to understand how to bat in given situations. This was absent due to a lack of technical qualifications. One of a captain’s main functions is to read the pitch and decide whether to bat or field first. Jason Holder fielded first in the second and final Tests when he won the toss which revealed his batting fears. WI lost both games!
At the end WI appeared mentally fatigued, out of sorts, drained and lethargic. Not at all like Test cricketers. A good beginning, a sad ending!
It was trying times and an experience to remember.