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England vs West Indies, 3rd Test: Can West Indies overcome their batting woes at Manchester?

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Before the commencement of the Test series between England and West Indies, Shamarh Brooks, Windies’ No. 4 in the series so far, discussed the batting challenges in England. Brooks acknowledged that their batting unit needs to stand up and compliment the bowlers to taste success on this tour. The 31-year-old who was confident about the batting preparations of the visitors talked about sticking to the basics and applying themselves.

Brooks has walked the talk so far: he is the leading run-scorer (169 runs) for the visitors with a pretty good average of over 42. In fact, he has also faced the most number of balls (349) despite bagging a five-ball duck in the second innings of the first match. Whilst the right-handed batsman himself has delivered the goods in the series so far, the same can’t be said about all the Windies’ batsmen.

Also Read: England v West Indies: Can Joe Root rekindle his lost mojo in Test Cricket in this English summer?

The collective batting average of the Windies’ batsmen in this series so far is 27.86 and it is one of their best batting performances in a series in the past few years. Yes, you read that right!

The modest average of 27.86 is the fourth-best for the West Indies’ batsmen among all the series consisting of two or matches since 2017.

Their highest batting average in a Test series consisting of at least two matches since 2017 is 34.66; which came in Zimbabwe in 2017. Among all the teams who have played a minimum of five matches since 2017, only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have recorded an average lower than 34.66 in a series of two or more matches. This should make it clear that the batting standards of the Men in Maroon are quite bad.

Let’s dive a bit deeper now in order to find the reasons behind the batting woes of the West Indies in the past few years.

WEST INDIES’ LOW INNINGS SCORES:

West Indies have been bundled out quite easily in recent times. Since 2017, West Indies have been bowled out for 200 or less for as many as 17 times which comprises 32.69% of their total number of innings. Among all the teams who have played at least 10 matches since 2017, West Indies have the second-highest proportion of such low scores after Bangladesh who register a low score after every 2.19 innings.

Even though the number-eight ranked Test side in ICC rankings are better than Bangladesh in this aspect, their average innings score is worse than that of Bangladesh. On taking only all-out innings into the account, West Indies better the average innings score of Bangladesh by a small margin. But, if we consider the runs per wicket metric, the Windies fall at the bottom of the table again!

On doing the innings-wise breakdown, it is found that the West Indies are placed in the bottom two (average-wise) as far as the first, second and third innings are concerned. It should be noted that the West Indies are the only team to feature in the bottom two in each of the three innings; the other teams in the respective bottom-twos are different. In the fourth innings, Windies upgrade their performance and find themselves in the mid of the table.

THE ENTIRE BATTING UNIT IS A CONCERN FOR WEST INDIES:

Some teams have a weak top-order (top-three batsmen), some teams have a fragile middle-order but in West Indies’ case, the entire batting unit is far from being good enough. The poor run of Kraigg Brathwaite in the past few years before this series did not do any good to their opening pair. Finding a good partner for Brathwaite suitable for the long run will also be a challenge for the Windies’ management.

Shai Hope hanging between number three and number four has also been not good enough. No wonder that West Indies have been pathetic with the bat; simply because two of their mainstays have failed to yield something substantial.

ALSO READ: Is the end nigh for Shai Hope and his Headingley tryst?

In the middle-order, Roston Chase has performed only good enough to safeguard his place in the side. Shane Dowrich has raised the level of his performance since 2018 and would try to continue that. The returns of the tailenders of the West Indies are better as compared to some other teams — a big thanks to their skipper Jason Holder. Holder is not a tailender but he has batted in as many as 32 innings as a tailender (batting position: 8-11), thus he falls under a tailender – statistically.

Shimron Hetmyer who is not a part of this series is still finding his feet in the Test cricket. Hetmyer who is better suited to the lower middle-order has produced good performances only in Bangladesh – a nation which suits his gameplay – in his nascent career thus far. Shamarh Brooks, the elegant batsman, is a good positive for the visitors from this series, at least so far. Jermaine Blackwood, the hero of the Windies’ triumph in the first Test, can provide decent value in the lower middle-order in the upcoming time.

WEST INDIES’ HOME — AN ISSUE?

The home conditions of the West Indies are far from being batting-friendly. The pitches assist the bowlers and the Dukes is used. The Dukes moves more as compared to other balls; it also maintains its shape for a longer period as compared to other balls. Thus, batting in the West Indies is a tough task without a doubt. But, a few things should be considered:

a) The players are more accustomed to the home conditions, thus, their returns should be good enough.

b) Since the Windies’ home conditions are tough, they should perform better away from home in the nations which pose an easier challenge as compared to the home conditions.

c) The returns of the Windies batsmen in the nations where batting is tougher than their home is already an issue.

However, the fact is that the West Indies’ batsmen don’t average more than 25 in any nation barring Zimbabwe, and the bowling attack of Zimbabwe is not very potent.

The West Indies are the worst batting side at home and that is a big setback. And, away from the home, they are not great either. At home, only Jason Holder averages over 40 among Windies batsmen. And, away from home including neutral venues, among the batsmen who have played more than five innings, no one averages over 35. Their batting performances are horrible, to say the least.

The West Indies’ batsmen should look to adapt themselves to the conditions of the Caribbean nation. And, once, they start delivering the good at their home, their overall numbers will become better, and later focus on succeeding across the globe.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE THIRD TEST?

In the press conference after the second Test match, the head coach of the West Indies Phil Simmons spoke that the Windies management will think of making changes in the third Test. Simmons said,

“[Campbell and Hope’s form] is something that we have to discuss over the next couple of days, and make a decision as to which direction we go there.”

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Coming to John Campbell, he has managed to score just 52 runs with a poor average of about 17 in the series so far. The southpaw is an aggressive opener who likes to play his shots. He gets committed on the front-foot early and plays away from the body. Campbell’s gameplay is not suited to open the innings in Test cricket, especially in England. For West Indies A in a series in England, he averaged about 35, managing two fifties in six innings.

His performance in first-class cricket is not very great. Across 140 innings in his first-class career, the 26-year-old averages less than 30 and has registered just twenty-five 50+ scores including five centuries. In his first-class cricket career, his average didn’t touch the 40-mark in any season.

He has featured in four seasons of WICB Professional Cricket League Regional 4 Day Tournament. In the mentioned tourney, Campbell averages about 32 with a dismissal rate of about 51. And after this, he played two seasons of West Indies Championship and again produced modest returns. Thus, it will be fair from West Indies’ point of view to drop him.

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Much has been said and written about Shai Hope. In this series, Hope has tried standing out of the crease, trying to negotiate the movement of the ball but then he is not a good player of high pace. His struggles against the deliveries moving away from him and pitched on the good length are known by the opposition. It will be interesting to see if the West Indies continue with him in the last Test.

The venue of the third Test match will be the same as of the second Test – Old Trafford, Manchester. The pitch provided assistance to the spinners and was on the slower side, and we can expect the same in this Test. Thus, the West Indies might persist with Hope who is a decent player of spin.

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In West Indies’ main squad, they have Nkruma Bonner, the 31-year-old player, who is yet to make his Test debut. Even though his overall first-class average of about 27 is far from impressive, the right-handed batsman has been in fine form in recent times. In the first-class season 2019-20, Bonner averaged over 58 with four 50+ scores including two tons in 13 innings. He averaged over 44 in the first-class season of 2018-19 scoring two fifties in four innings. In two intra-squad matches, Bonner crossed the 40-run mark just once in four innings including an unbeaten knock of 24 runs.

In the reserves, West Indies have Sheyne Moseley and Joshua Da Silva. Like Bonner’s average, Moseley’s first-class average of 31.48 is also not very imposing. In the West Indies Championship 2019-20, the left-handed batsman averaged 35 scoring three 50+ scores including a hundred in fifteen innings. In the first intra-squad match against BrathwaiteXI, Moseley scored 40 & 83 not-out and failed in the second match.

Joshua Da Silva attracted limelight after registering two unbeaten scores of 133 and 56 in the second intra-squad match vs BrathwaiteXI. In the West Indies Championship 2019-20, the right-handed batsman amassed 500 runs with an excellent average of over 50 in 12 innings.

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The last time West Indies won The Wisden Trophy in England was in 1988. Since then, West Indies’ eight attempts have not yielded success for them. In their ninth attempt – the on-going series, Jason Holder and his men would want to end the trophy drought and claim 40 points in the ICC World Test Championship. But, to achieve such a special feat, it will require an extra-ordinary effort, particularly in the batting department.



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