Protect your stumps. Play beside the line of the ball. Two nuggets of wisdom to succeed in England, from former greats Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, to Jason Holder’s West Indies, before the first Test against England in Southampton. The visitors won the previous leg of the Wisden Trophy at home in 2019, but they have struggled in England, having failed to win a Test series in the country since 1988. They have managed only six Test wins during this period.
Batting remains West Indies’ weakness. Holder and head coach Phil Simmons have underlined that as a big concern. In the rain-affected second intra-squad warm-up match in Manchester, none of the top-order batsmen even got a decent start. After the first-innings collapse in that match, Holder was embarrassed to admit some of his batsmen needed to “look in the mirror”.
In the absence of Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, West Indies will look at the pair of Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope to lead the batting department. They were the standout performers for West Indies on their 2017 tour, as the visitors clinched a rare Test win in the country at Headingly on the back of their heroics.
However, both batsmen have struggled since. In terms of average, since their tour of England in 2017, Holder has been West Indies’ best batsman.
Lack of application and focus, and absence of partnerships, have been outlined as the major issues with the batting by Simmons. Lara, meanwhile, said that batting remained the “key” to West Indies’ fortunes.
“The key to any team taking the field, especially if they are taking the field after batting, is the amount of runs they have to play with,” Lara told Tendulkar in a chat on the 100MB app. “This present West Indies team need the luxury of having runs on the board. They need their batsmen to come up trumps and give them that sort of comfort. So the effectiveness of a Kemar Roach or Shannon Gabriel will only come into play if they don’t have to go on the defensive because of the lack of runs. That has been our problem for many, many years.”
According to Lara, quickly understanding the conditions, playing late, and dominating bowlers selectively were some of the cues West Indies batsmen needed to understand.
When pressed by Tendulkar, who asked: “In short, your message to West Indian team is try and stay beside the line, don’t get behind the line too much?”, Lara agreed.
“In England it is protect your stumps. And get acclimatised quickly, get the pace and bounce of the pitch, know what the bowlers are doing. And then when you feel comfortable then you sort of grow. You don’t necessarily have to dominate every single bowler that is bowling to you – if you get to 70-80 and there’s somebody that is giving you trouble, back off. That’s key.”
When Tendulkar joked that West Indies ought to take Lara “seriously”, the former West Indies captain cited the example of Tendulkar’s masterful 241 in 2004 in Sydney where he abstained from playing the cover drive, a shot that had got him into trouble throughout the series.
To cut out what hurts you, Lara said, was the “key” to batting.
“You know that Sachin, as well. In terms of that great innings that you played in Sydney: it was not about a particular bowler getting you out, but it was a particular shot getting you out. And you stopped yourself from playing it and you were able to score in other areas. So it is similar sort of approach – be it your technique and may be having a problem with a particular shot or a particular bowler.
A good example would be Australia. Playing against Australia, I will be 70-80 or may a 140 and [Glenn] McGrath comes back for a spell. And I know he is going to bowl 36 balls or six overs, seven overs, I don’t need to sort of take any great risks. Give your other guy at the other end, give him the opportunity to score.”
Summing up the chat, Tendulkar said: “You just have to be smart.”
Lara nodded, “Yes, that’s all”. (ESPNCricinfo)