BY BRYAN DAVIS
THIS past week we’ve had Test cricket in Antigua and World Cup Cricket ODIs in New Zealand. While the West Indian women were tackling their counterparts from other countries in the 50-over contest in NZ to decide the world champions, the men began a three-Test series against England in Antigua.
The women, in their first two matches, were beguiling to watch as their games swayed, with advantage moving from one team to the other, rising to a crescendo in the first two games.
In the first game their opponent was the host team, while in the second, England, the defending champions, were the challengers.
A tougher starting program to the tournament was hard to imagine, especially after being convincingly beaten by Australia and India in the warm-ups.
However, the brilliant batting of Hayley Matthews who revealed an excellent temperament for the big occasion which drove her to a century, ensured a decent total of 259 to defend. While the game seesawed and the end came into view, NZ had regained the lead and needed only six runs to win in the final over. That’s when Deandra Dottin, with unbelievable self-confidence, demanded the ball and bowled a tight over to win the game. The three-run victory was well deserved.
A similar game against the defending champions included a gritty 66 by the right-handed middle-order bat Shemaine Campbelle. Anisa Mohammed, the off-spinner, was given the ball for the 48th over when England were in the driver’s seat. Nevertheless, a fortuitous run-out followed by a beautifully bowled delivery that struck the leg stump of the number 11, Anya Shrubsole, saw WI the winners by seven runs.
Although a superb start, it turned sour with a severe thrashing by India in the third round. The bowling was ragged, which gave India a flying start. They piled on 317. Batting first in the previous two games and setting the targets was no preparation for this enormous task. A 100-run opening partnership by Matthews and Dottin flattered to deceive and the innings was snuffed out for 162.
Special notes of individual performances: 1) Dottin’s unbelievable catch at backward point, diving to her left, her weaker hand, taking it while airborne. Plus her excellent fielding overall.
2) Dottin’s final over.
3) Mohammed’s final over.
4) Hayley Matthews 119 Player of the Match. Plus fine bowling and excellent catch at slip.
5) Shemaine Campbell 66; Player of the Match.
6) Shamilia Connell in opposites 3/38.
The men were under pressure in Antigua, although the scores don’t reflect this. But there was a distinct lack of enterprise in their batting. The pitch was quite docile. A Test is a highly-skilled battle for superiority, and the surface on which the contest takes place is most important to the values of the players’ skills. To win a Test match, one team has to bowl out the other twice, which means that to remove 20 wickets needs proper planning by teams. Bowlers don’t have limits on the number of overs, and the captain has the freedom of field placings without restriction, except those covered by the laws of cricket. Thinking is a concentrated effort in Tests.
The pitch for this Test in Antigua was lifeless. It was slow, with very little grass, if any. This robs the bowler of any advantage and cheats the batsman of attempting his attacking strokes. The nature of the pitch is the essence of the game. Thus, it requires bounce, pace and movement to ensure attractive cricket and a fair contest.
Having said that, the lack of enterprise in the WI batsmen was exposed. I’m not taking away from Nkrumah Bonner’s 100,which showed exceptional patience. However, when set, he ought to have looked to expand his scoring opportunities. This extreme caution could deny a team any winning advantage it may gain.
It was hard work for bowlers on such a benign pitch. Nevertheless, cricketers have to put up with certain disadvantages and be prepared to play under favorable and unfavorable conditions in order to pull off a victory or prevent defeat.
Jonny Bairstow batted well to score an attractive 140 for England in the first innings. Generally speaking, though, the match was rather dull. This was because of the slow scoring, where the batsmen were not solely to blame, as the pitch must take some share of it.
Yet it revealed the scarcity of batting skill in the WI team, which was unable to make a better effort to overcome this drawback.