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Wanted: batsmen who can bat
Tony Becca - FROM THE BOUNDARY
The West Indies, as expected, dropped out of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament in South Africa after the first round and, as expected, as predicted by many, did so without winning a match.
Against Pakistan, who finished comfortably with five wickets in hand, the West Indies lost by 19.3 overs after falling for 133 in 34.3 overs. Against Australia they lost by 50 runs with 3.1 overs still to be bowled after chasing 275. After falling for 129 in 36 overs they lost with 17.5 overs to spare against India who, playing without the injured Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, and also Sachin Tendulkar who was ill, finished in command with seven wickets in hand and with 20-year-old Virat Kohli scoring 79 not out.
In limited-overs matches, such margins of victory are considered easy pickings. In losing, the West Indies never looked like winning even one of the matches and, but for their bowling, especially so the efforts of fast bowler Kemar Roach, medium-pacer Gavin Tonge and left-arm spinner Nikita Miller, it could have and would have been embarrassing.
Against Pakistan, the West Indies were 47 for seven in the 15th over; against Australia they were 215 for five in the 45th over before collapsing to 225 in the 47th over; and against India they were 57 for five in the 17th over.
Although the West Indies team have suffered similar indignity in the past with their best players in the line-up, the West Indies batting was disappointing at this ICC Champions Trophy, very disappointing.
The West Indies batting was so poor that last Wednesday, at 49 for four after 16 overs, the captain and wicketkeeper of India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man who had up to then bowled only 42 deliveries in first-class cricket, only 12 deliveries in his 37 Test matches spread over four years, and the man who had never bowled a ball in 144 one-day matches or in 52 Twenty20 matches, gave up the gloves and took the ball.
Four deliveries later, Travis Dowlin, batting at number four for the West Indies, was on his way back to the pavilion, bowled by a medium-paced delivery from India's wicketkeeper.
In fact, probably the best innings, technically, from a West Indian player during the three matches, came from Miller. Going to bat at 47 for seven against Pakistan in the first match, he defended well, selected his shots nicely and especially when driving through the covers, stroked the ball confidently while scoring 51 runs.
Once again, the West Indies batsmen, all of them, looked terrible.
Some of them, including opener Andre Fletcher, who was run-out once while jumping out of the way, do not appear to know how to protect their wicket.
Some of them - including Dowlin who, with the score 38 for four after 12 overs in the last match, flashed at near wide deliveries outside the off-stump - do not value their wicket.
Some of them looked like novices and none of them, including opener Devon Smith and captain Floyd Reifer, looked worthy of wearing the maroon cap.
Looking at the batsmen who have been representing the West Indies these last few years, not only those who were in South Africa but, with the exception of a few, all the batsmen in the West Indies, something is wrong with the art of batting in the region.
Except for Shivnarine Chanderpaul on his day and, to a lesser extent, the exciting Christopher Gayle, even allowing for the talent of two like Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, and the promise of youngsters like Adrian Barath and Darren Bravo, the West Indies are simply not producing champion batsmen, batsmen who are capable of defending their wickets and, at their best, dominate bowlers and good ones at that.
I do not like to talk about the past, about the good old days, but when I look at today and remember yesterday, it is difficult not to do so.
Today's batsmen, but for the few, pale in comparison to those of generations past, from the 1950s to the 1980s - to the likes of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Robert Christiani, Neville Bonnitto and J. K. Holt Jnr; to Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Collie Smith, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Conrad Hunte and Seymour Nurse; to Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Larry Gomes, Faoud Bacchus to Richie Richardson and Brian Lara.
In those days, not every batsman was a great batsman, not every batsman was classic and/or elegant, not every batsman made a century and certainly not every time they went to bat.
All of them, however, at least most of them, those who played first-class cricket and those who played Test cricket, valued their wicket and knew how to defend it.
What has gone wrong?
Although I believe that the poor standard of batting is due to things like the lack of ambition to achieve and the desire to succeed like the good old days, I believe it also has to do with the lack of the kind of day-to-day practice that was the norm of the good old days when - for the vast majority of the people - cricket was the way out.
Poor batting standards
The poor batting standard is due to the decline of the clubs and, therefore, the lack of support from those who, because of experience, knew the game. It is due to the early exit of senior players who used to develop the talent of the young and talented by playing with and against them. It is due to coaches who know little about the art of batting and are only able to encourage batsmen to play straight - to play in the 'V'. It is due to the fact that batsmen in the West Indies get into the Test team before they are ready, before they know how to protect their wicket and how to score runs against good bowlers on different pitches and in different conditions.
I really do not know what has gone wrong with the art of batting.
What I do know, however, is that batting, learning to bat, is hard work and that certainly here in Jamaica, young batsmen do not work hard, at least not hard enough.
I also know that learning to bat is more than batting in the nets. It is batting in matches in different circumstances and conditions. Here in Jamaica, unlike years gone by when at least 14 matches were played every season, only seven league matches are played in an entire year.
This year, for example, there was no cricket for most of June, there was no cricket for all of July and August, and with the new Twenty20 knockout tournament in which half the teams ended up playing one match starting a few weeks ago and ended Sunday, with the one-day tournament still to be played, there was no cricket for most of September.
In the West Indies where, but for two seasons, the league is a one- round format with each team playing five matches, where the one-day tournament is broken into two groups with each team playing three matches before the lucky two from each group move into the semi-finals, things are no different as far as playing time, as far as gaining experience is concerned.
Practice becomes perfect
Although it is no secret that cricketers become great not so much because of talent and coaching but through their own determination, discipline and ability to practise to bat for hours, I also know that practise becomes perfect and probably one of the reasons why West Indian batsmen, most of them, those of the present generation, cannot defend their wickets is because they are not taught how to do so. Based on the type of cricket they play at a tender age, neither are they encouraged to do so.
Limited overs cricket is not good for developing young batsmen. Right now in the schools and in the regional competitions, the Under 15 competitions are limited overs competitions, batsmen are encouraged to swing their bats instead of learning to bat properly - to play strokes. That is not good for their future as batsmen and definitely not as Test match batsmen.
As exciting as limited overs cricket may be, that type of competition, one-day and Twenty20, should begin at the club level.
That is if the West Indies hope to produce not only batsmen who can drive a half-volley through the covers every now and again, but batsmen who can bat, batsmen who can defend their wickets so that the scoreboard will hardly ever again read 47 for seven.