WI not taking Tigers lightly
With their categorical victories in all three formats over New Zealand and rousing triumph in the subsequent World T20 Championship, the West Indies might have swept into Bangladesh last week for two Tests, five ODIs and one T20 against the game’s weakest opponents whistling with optimism.
Before they could get ahead of themselves, Chris Gayle, along with the enduring Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the only survivor from the first tour there ten years ago, cautioned against being too smug.
“We know how dangerous Bangladesh can be at home. It’s not a team where you want to go there and take lightly,” said Gayle. “You’ve got to be mindful of the conditions and try and add up as quickly as possible and settle as much and whenever you get a chance, just try and maintain it and take it from there.”
Under the ICC’s strange scheduling, determined by its new Future Tours Programme (FTP), it is the West Indies’ second tour to the country within a year. They won the ODI series 2-1 and the Tests 1-0 with the other drawn but the contest was closer than it appeared; it endorses Gayle’s comment.
They were thankful that two days of the drawn first Test were lost to the weather after Bangladesh gained a first innings lead of 106; they were skittled for 61 off 22 overs in their defeat in the third ODI and were beaten in the T20.
Already, they have had the setback of the complete abandonment of all three days of their only fixture before Tuesday’s first Test. Quite apart from the loss of match practice, hours spent passing time on iPads, watching videos of old matches or whatever, is hardly the best preparation, even more so in Dhaka.
At least, this team is palpably stronger than that a year ago. Captain Darren Sammy describes it as “better balanced” and, vitally, with more self-belief.
Gayle, at the time still embroiled in his disagreement with the WICB and debarred, is back to offer his forthright approach at the top of the order and, especially, the experience of a decade in the game, in all its guises and all its conditions.
Sunil Narine, who has quickly made a formidable reputation with his camouflaged each way spin, takes the place then held by leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo. He should be favoured by the pitches even if he is still in the process of adjusting from the 20-overs to the five-day format.
The two Tests against New Zealand would have been a vital learning curve for him. He sent down 123 overs for his 12 wickets; that works out to the equivalent of 31 T20 matches.
Narsingh Deonarine, who was not in Bangladesh last year, completes Sammy’s “better balance” for the Tests. His solid left-handed batting has been decisively supplemented by his off-spin that, given the confidence of more bowling, has graduated from “useful” to “genuine”.
After four wickets in his previous eight Tests, his recent returns from three against Australia and two against New Zealand (he didn’t bowl in the rain-ruined third match in England in June) were 15 at 19 runs each. Like all spinners, he should be encouraged by Bangladeshi conditions.
The team’s new resilience, identified by Sammy, was evident in the series-clinching win in the second Test over New Zealand that followed a first innings deficit of 51 and the remarkable fight back in the World T20 final in which 30 for two off 10 overs was implausibly converted into pulsating victory.
Yet, there is still one area that needs coach Ottis Gibson’s continuing attention. The team has to be careful not to revert to its repeated inability to apply the knockout blow to opponents reeling on the ropes. Repeatedly, they have managed to recover and take control.
Twice in India last year, the West Indies allowed first innings leads of 95 and 108 to dissolve into defeat and a tie-draw.
In April, Australia dug themselves out of the holes of 250 for seven to total 406 for nine declared in the first Test and from 169 for seven to reach 328 in the third. They won both matches.
In the first Test at Lord’s in May, England were four down for 57 going after 191 for victory; they lost only one more wicket completing it.
On the evidence of the preceding ODIs, Narine’s presence would conceivably have made a difference against Australia (he was at the IPL for the Tests), possibly even against India. But a hundred by India’s No.8, off-spinner Ravi Ashwin, and Test-best scores by Australia’s Nos.9 (Ryan Harris and Mitchell Starc) and No.11 (Nathan Lyon) and 196 by wicket-keeper Matt Wade, who had been clueless against Narine in the ODIs, suggested a certain psychological block whenever in the ascendancy.
Brief as it is, the Test series offers the chance to confirm their quality for two left-handed batsmen the West Indies are likely to rely on for the long-term future.
It was on the double-tour of Bangladesh and India last November and December that Darren Bravo, then 22, came of age. His class was never in doubt, scores of 195 against Bangladesh and 166 against India validated it.
The numbers weren’t the same against Australia and England (just one half-century, 51, in 11 innings); a strained groin muscle that eliminated him from the series against New Zealand added to his woes. He is now fit again and ready to restate his position.
Kieran Powell, the tall, equally elegant Nevisian, shared opening duties with Kraigg Brathwaite and Adrian Barath in Gayle’s absence. He was preferred as Gayle’s partner when the powerful Jamaican finally returned and responded with his first Test hundred, 134, in an opening partnership of 254.
Like Narine, Bravo and Powell will be carefully followed in Bangladesh. Yet, the results, and the manner of them, matter most.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.