The West Indies will not win this Test match. Hell, it’ll take a miracle for them to even draw it.
But while the scoreboard makes for ugly reading – particularly with the ball – the tourists have at least ensured, after a second consecutive strong start with the bat, that they will leave Perth with dignity intact ahead of the day-night second Test in Adelaide which will surely feature more favourable bowling conditions.
Any positives do need to be taken with a grain of salt given they’ve taken just six wickets and conceded 780 runs in the process, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is, talent-wise, one of the weakest teams to tour these shores in many a year.
They could easily have folded into oblivion, though, after that disastrous first innings; instead, they’ve gamely fought on despite their limitations and ensured a plodding, at times difficult to watch Test at least makes it through to a fifth and final day.
It’s the little wins with West Indies cricket at the moment that need focussing on, and on a personal note, it’s a nice feeling to be writing something with a positive slant after four days of whingeing and moaning about everything from the pitch to David Warner’s form.
We’ll start with the centurion, captain Kraigg Brathwaite; the Windies’ most impressive player in both innings and probably the team’s only genuine international-calibre batsman.
Brathwaite’s Test average of a tick over 35 is a sign of his limitations at the highest level – indeed, he certainly wouldn’t have played 80 Tests had he been born just about anywhere else in the world – though it’s worth noting that through his career, the Caribbean has statistically been the most difficult place to open the batting in the world.
He can sometimes look ungainly, and he doesn’t possess a shot that makes you sit back and marvel. He’s an accumulator more than a plunderer, as evidenced by only hitting 11 boundaries in his century on Day 4.
It was the running between the wickets, and his ability to push good balls into gaps, that made this innings. Doing those well enough to push his strike rate up unto the 60s, when his career mark sits at 40, would have been commendable on the first day of the match, never mind after four exhausting days in the field, having spent just 44 overs in the sheds since the start of play on Wednesday.
Captaining an impotent bowling attack can’t be easy either, but Brathwaite never gave in, persisted with attacking fields on Days 1 and 2 despite yielding precious few rewards, and probably only let the game drift early on the second day when his bowlers began to truly let him down.
With 64 in the first innings and now with a chance for a ‘daddy’ hundred on day 5 – this pitch isn’t the road it was on Day 1, but neither is it offering anywhere near enough for this stage of a game – the 30-year old (he celebrated his birthday on Thursday) has blunted an attack now shorn of Pat Cummins but still blessed with three bowlers with more than 200 Test wickets.
His 11th Test century would surely have to be regarded as his finest, given both the situation of the game, the quality of the opposition, making it in foreign, international conditions and in the fourth innings of a match for the first time.
Marnus Labuschagne is a monty for player of the match, but I’d argue no one in Perth has enhanced their reputation more than Kraigg Brathwaite.
Even gutsier, if less eye-catching on the scorecard, was Brathwaite’s opening partner Tagenarine Chanderpaul. Debuting in an overseas Test against Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc and co. is hardly a cushy start to the international arena, but at no point this match has he looked anything short of international standard.
It’s a lofty comparison after one Test, but while obviously he will forever be associated, and judged alongside, his famous father Shivnarine, there’s a bit of Justin Langer about him. Early-days Langer more than the later-career destroyer of worlds with Matthew Hayden, to be clear: wearing blows to the body, at times surviving rather than thriving, but always there, always fighting, but talent shining through with every brutally played pull short or immaculately timed cover drive.
West Indies first-class wickets are much lower and slower these days than this Perth offering, but at no stage did he look uncomfortable with the conditions. In a baptism of fire, he emerged from the flames slightly singed but undoubtedly stronger for the experience.
In time, he’ll learn that at international level, judging which balls outside off to chase and which to leave requires one’s entire focus. Particularly in the second innings, his half-hearted waft outside off that saw his stumps splattered off the inside edge by Starc looked ungainly, and probably cost him a significant milestone of twin half-centuries on debut.
Nevertheless, the spot as Brathwaite’s opening partner should, and will be, his for the foreseeable future.
It was likewise good to see Jermaine Blackwood restrain his usual urge to slog everything he can reach to play controlled, measured innings (for the most part) both times this Test. It’s the bare minimum, but impatience is something the Windies in their current state simply can’t afford from one of their senior batsmen. Putting on half-century partnerships with Brathwaite in both innings, he’s a key reason, though not as large as the openers, why the Windies still have a puncher’s chance of escaping this Test with a draw.
It’s the most minor of details, but I also have great respect for the decision by Kyle Mayers, after a first-innings failure, to not call for a nightwatchman and face the final overs of the day himself.
Sure, if he’d have got out he’d have been derided, and looked a goose to boot, but you’d have forgiven him for not particularly wanting to go out there at the worst of times to bat. He did, safely negotiated three balls, and no tailenders were harmed in the process.
With the ball, there has been even less to crow about, but Jayden Seales looks a talent, Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph gave a red-hot Marnus Labuschagne a real test early on Day 4 (except for THAT no ball, of course), and Jason Holder is as honest as the day is long, and could be a threat under the lights in Adelaide.
You couldn’t say that the future is bright for West Indian cricket; with every passing generation, the talent pool grows thinner, the bowlers less formidable, and their chances of a return to glory slimmer.
But having been no chance at winning this game since basically tea on Day 1, they’re now three sensible sessions of batting away from a commendable draw. They’re low on talent, but this team has plenty of ticker.
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