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THE SCORE: Mistake to change winning XI

Ezra Stuart

THE SCORE: Mistake to change winning XI

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The West Indies dug their own grave before a ball was bowled in the decisive third cricket Test at Kensington Oval by unnecessarily changing the winning outfit from the second Test in Trinidad.
Weakening an already suspect batting line-up was a bold but not bright decision which backfired as New Zealand were handed a rare overseas 2-1 series triumph, virtually on a platter.
With the series tied 1-1, why was there a need to tamper with a combination that had won handsomely at the Queen’s Park Oval, rebounding from the first Test loss in Jamaica?
It is really difficult to fathom the logic behind the move but sometimes every disappointment can be a blessing in disguise, as the West Indies’ 299th Test cricketer, Jason Holder, showed some promise on debut.  
While the long overdue rains on Friday and Sunday severely cut the playing time, it wasn’t enough to save the Windies after they squandered a strong second-day position.
Recognising the fraility of the West Indies’ batting, Black Caps skipper Brendan McCullum bravely made an overnight declaration and set the hosts a challenging but not imposing target of 308 for victory on the final day.
The visitors duly wrapped up victory by 53 runs on Monday evening in spite of some late-order resistance after the top-order failed miserably.
Apart from debutant Holder, who showcased his batting talent with eye-catching knocks of 38 and 52, after coming into the match with a solitary first-class half-century, there were more positives than negatives coming out of the three-match cricket series.
From a Barbadian perspective, there was plenty of heartening news with the performance of Kraigg Brathwaite, who made a maiden Test century while averaging 72.33 in two Tests after replacing Kieron Powell.
Kemar Roach made a successful return from shoulder surgery, claiming 15 scalps at 23.20 and becoming the 19th West Indian to take 100 Test wickets.
Sulieman Benn also made a pleasing return to the Test arena after an absence of four years with 14 wickets at 37.64 apiece.
After the first Test double failure, Kirk Edwards got a couple of half-centuries but he would hardly be satisfied with a series average of 27.40 after tallying 137 runs in five innings.
Holder, after his wicketless first innings effort with the ball, came back strongly with a couple of wickets in the second innings when he was badly under-bowled by captain Denesh Ramdin, whose tactics throughout the series were questioned repeatedly by commentator Andrew Mason.
It was really refreshing to see Brathwaite doing what many people felt he should be doing for a long time: rotating the strike driving and pushing the ball off him, along the carpet, without taking risks by hitting it in the air.
Nothing is wrong with being patient and defensive and treasuring your wicket dearly, but when the half-volleys and long hops coming along, you must be able to capitalise.
Brathwaite has admitted that his maiden Test century in Trinidad was a confidence booster and he is wise enough to recognise that he must not get too carried away when in a good groove but remain focused.
When all is said and done, his role, like Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s in the middle order, is to bat until “the cows come home” by pacing his innings with a measured approach.
One thing that is crystal clear is that the selectors, despite the correct decision to finally relieve Darren Sammy of the Test captaincy, even though it could’ve been handled differently, are still way of the mark where the balance of the team is concerned.
The use of Holder at Kensington in the all-rounder slot is more evidence that the West Indies are in dire need of a genuine all-rounder with Dwayne Bravo sidelined with injury.
On the flip side, the Black Caps can now boast of having two emerging all-rounders in Jimmy Neesham and Corey Anderson, while Mark Craig has the potential to become an off-spinning all-rounder.  
From the first Test, when the Windies went into the match with two pacers in Roach and Jerome Taylor and two specialist spinners in Benn and Shane Shillingford, the absence of a third seamer was noticeable. It got so ridiculous that Ramdin called up Darren Bravo for an over to trundle some medium pace.
After the heavy defeat in Jamaica, bold decisions had to be made and both Powell and Marlon Samuels paid the price for a spate of low scores over the past year.
But unlike many armchair selectors, I don’t believe the selectors should completely discard Samuels in the same manner in which they did with Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Samuels, with a Test average of 34.68 and five hundreds in 52 matches against the best bowlers in the world, is still one of the best batsmen in the West Indies. However, he has not been the same since he was struck in the face by Lasith Malinga while playing in the Australian Big Bash.
But there’s no way Leon Johnson, who averages 33.18 in 50 first-class matches with two centuries against modest regional and “A” team bowling, should be around the Test side and players of the quality of Samuels and Sarwan out to pasture.  
The debut Test innings of Jamaican Jermaine Blackwood was like a breath of fresh air and it was really a pity that he wasn’t given the opportunity to play again on an excellent batting surface at Kensington.
There was absolutely no need to alter the XI which levelled the series in Trinidad and Tobago.
The four specialist bowlers got 20 wickets and bowled out New Zealand twice on a Queen’s Park Oval pitch that wasn’t very helpful to the bowlers.
The pacy but still wayward Shannon Gabriel, who took four of those wickets, should’ve been retained as well. There was no need to bring back Shillingford, who was wicketless in the game, and now looks a far cry from the bowler who mesmerised opposing batsmen before he was banned from bowling the doosra.
Taylor, after taking ten wickets in the first two Tests, went off the boil and only managed a solitary wicket, as Roach, who got four wickets in both innings, lacked support.
So much for bolstering an attack which had admirably done its job in the previous match.
It is another lesson for the Windies to learn from as they remain in the bend trying to turn the corner.