“If I knew the answer, I would have told you.” Shai Hope wasn’t being curt or condescending when asked on the eve of the second Test about the reasons for his team’s interminably inconsistent batting performances. And the Bajan right-hander even politely explained himself with a smile to this paper saying, “I really don’t know man.”
It’s an issue that’s plagued West Indies’ Test cricket and their subsequent fortunes for so long that it’s not surprising that neither their players nor anyone for that matter in the Caribbean has any answers. Perhaps there are none, logical ones anyway. There certainly weren’t any for why or how the visitors collapsed to 113/5 on a perfectly flat pitch at the Uppal Stadium in Hyderabad against an Indian attack, which lost one of its two seamers to injury within the first four overs of the innings. It was inexplicable. This on a day a fan somehow managed to evade security and almost landed a peck on Virat Kohli’s cheek in the middle of the ground, and Shimron Hetmyer got his shoelaces untied on three occasions despite spending all of 34 balls at the crease.
The visitors did recover somewhat owing to a familiarly, as far as the Indians are concerned, resurgent rear-guard from Roston Chase and two steadying partnerships with Shane Dowrich and skipper Jason Holder. Chase remained unbeaten on 98 and helped stretch the West Indian total to 295/7, a significantly reasonable score after they looked well on their way to another meek surrender. Despite West Indies finishing strongly in the last session, where they lost a single wicket compared to three each in the first two, it’s the hosts who walked off at stumps with their noses in front. It was an Uppal pitch that seemed primed for runs. And if anything, India would have only rued missing out on getting to have a go first and, of course, thereafter seeing Shardul Thakur limp off on debut after bowling only 10 deliveries.
For, it’s unlikely in their present form on home soil that they would let it go to waste, like their opponents did, at least in the top-order. The comfort with which Chase, Holder and Dowrich blunted the Indian spinners and Umesh Yadav was an even starker indicator of just how wasteful those who came to bat before them had been. Throwing away starts
Each one in the top five did get a start. Kieran Powell carried on from his aggressive showing in the second innings at Rajkot and struck a couple of attractive boundaries, including a lofted one straight back off R Ashwin. The left-hander then randomly jumped down the wicket again and scooped a delivery to Ravindra Jadeja at cover. It wasn’t so much a brain-fade as it was a brain shut down.
Kraigg Brathwaite is by far the most dependable opener West Indies have had, save Chris Gayle, for the last decade-and-a-half. He dead-batted his way in customary fashion to 14 off 67 balls, providing additional proof to just how unhelpful the pitch was for the bowlers. Then just like that, he fell tamely to the wrist-spinner’s classic one-two finishing manoeuvre. He first failed to pick Kuldeep Yadav’s googly, edging it just short of Ajinkya Rahane at slip. Still thinking about the googly, he then failed to pick Kuldeep’s conventional delivery that pitched on off and caught him in front.
Hope then provided some resistance along with additional evidence of the talent that some of the West Indians possess, which in turn makes their failure to capitalize on it even more frustrating. The right-hander pulled off an array of eye-catching strokes. There was a cut, a square-drive and a cover-drive of Umesh, each a reminder of why he was chosen as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of 2017. But then, just as puzzlingly as the rest of his colleagues, Hope walked right across his stumps and completely played the wrong line—if the ball was headed to Hyderabad, the bat was facing Secunderabad—and was adjudged lbw, in the last over before the lunch-break. Shimron Hetmyer and Sunil Ambris then followed suit similarly, one decided to not play a shot when he should have, the other chose to play one which he shouldn’t have.
Creditably, the Indian bowlers toiled away manfully. Once Thakur hobbled in his follow-through and then was helped off the ground, Umesh was left to shoulder one-end of the attack. In another sign of just how the pitch was giving no favours to the spinners, it was the Vidarbha pacer who bowled some of the longer spells of the day. And at one point, as the West Indian innings neared the 40-over mark, he’d bowled one-third of the overs. It would be Umesh who would end both partnerships that threatened to take the game away from India later in the day too.
Economical but blunt
The spinners were economical, but as is the case on such pitches, they were prone to offering the odd long hop or half-volley, whenever there was an attempt to force some purchase out of it. It didn’t help that Jadeja had a rare off-day, struggling to find the right length and eventually looking as harmless as he’s ever looked on Indian soil for a while. The last session of the day was perhaps an uncomfortable reminder of the England tour for the Indians as they struggled to see off the middle to lower-order albeit in drastically different conditions.
Neither Chase nor his two willing partners—he put on 69 with Dowrich and 104 with Holder—quite dominated the Indian attack, but they were untroubled for most parts. In a knock, reminiscent of his heroics at Sabina Park in 2016, he relied on killing the Indian momentum softly. Unlike most of his colleagues, he didn’t go looking to force the issue and instead waited on the Indian bowlers to do so, and exploited them. Holder, meanwhile, has had a terrific 2018 with the bat with an average touching 40, and he provided the calm head that his team lacked at Rajkot to stitch together a very impressive stand with his fellow Bajan.
The wasted opportunity at the top wasn’t lost on West Indies coach Stuart Law. He spoke about how his team had “sat down” and spoken about “making a statement” before the Test but lamented about how they’d failed to grab the game by the “scruff of the neck”. The former Australian batsman was then asked about his views on why most his team’s last 10 century partnerships in Tests had come from the sixth wicket below. And he responded by echoing his key batsman’s prudent words from the previous day saying, “It’s a good question if you can find out the answer can you let me know please.”