Va­ri­ety de­liv­ers the spice for for­mi­da­ble West Indies at­tack

The quar­tet of fast bowlers form a dev­as­tat­ing unit as they of­fer a dif­fer­ing threat through speed, an­gle and move­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Tim Wig­more

Ke­mar Roach is the high­est wicket-taker in the West Indies squad and was the chief de­stroyer of Eng­land in the Caribbean last year. In the open­ing Test at the Ageas Bowl, Roach did not even take a wicket. It is a mea­sure of the fast-bowl­ing strength of the West Indies that they still se­cured a fine vic­tory.

All sides crave two things from their bowl­ing at­tacks: qual­ity and va­ri­ety. The in­di­vid­ual qual­i­ties of the four Caribbean quick bowlers is not in doubt. And, while Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and cap­tain Ja­son Holder are all right-arm­ers, they pose very dif­fer­ent chal­lenges for bats­men.

“We’ve got va­ri­eties to our at­tack,” said Holder. “Our fast bowlers com­ple­ment each other. And we’ve been able to get some solid re­sults on the back of con­sis­tency and be­ing as dis­ci­plined as we have been in the last cou­ple of years.”

‘McGrath would say if he’s bowl­ing 20-odd dot balls con­sec­u­tively, a wicket is around cor­ner’

De­spite fail­ing to take a wicket in Southamp­ton, Roach is the leader of the at­tack. A sim­ple glance at the seven pace bowlers – Court­ney Walsh, Curtly Am­brose, Mal­colm Mar­shall, Joel Gar­ner, Michael Hold­ing, Gary Sobers and Andy Roberts – to have more than Roach’s 193 Test wick­ets for West Indies at­tests to his qual­ity. Against Eng­land in the Caribbean last year, he snared 18 wick­ets at 13.9 apiece.

From be­ing a tear­away quick who fa­mously forced Ricky Ponting to re­tire hurt in his fifth Test, Roach’s ca­reer has been a story of rein­ven­tion. In the judg­ment of his cap­tain, Roach is “shorter, more skilled and tends to be very, very nag­ging in terms of his length and line”. Roach’s ex­tra pace has been shed; in its stead have come won­der­fully sub­tle skills, us­ing swing, seam and the width of the crease.

Go­ing wide to right-han­ders but hug­ging the stumps tightly when at­tack­ing left-han­ders, Roach per­haps uses the crease more skil­fully than any other quick to­day. Roach has gone round the wicket 77 per cent of the time to left-han­ders since 2015, the sec­ond-high­est fig­ure in the world. In­deed, West Indies are at the apex of a ris­ing trend in Test cricket: of right-arm quick bowlers at­tack­ing left-han­ders from around the wicket, a tac­tic that has seen pace bowlers pay 24 runs, rather than 30, for each Test wicket of a left-han­der since 2018.

Holder and Gabriel both claimed one of Eng­land’s two left-handed bats­men – Ben Stokes and Rory Burns – from around the wicket. Roach is re­morse­less in his par­si­mony. His 41 overs at the Ageas Bowl yielded just 91 runs.

Such dis­ci­pline al­lows Gabriel, Roach’s new-ball part­ner, to at­tack with gusto. “He’s a tear­away quick, who can rat­tle top or­ders but also come back and hit a hard length con­sis­tently,” Holder ob­served.

Gabriel is the quick­est and, hurl­ing the ball from a wide tra­jec­tory, is a per­sis­tent threat to the stumps. Only one bowler who has taken 100 wick­ets or more in Test cricket over the last 50 years – Shoaib Akhtar – hit the stumps more fre­quently than Gabriel, who gets 34.5 per cent of his wick­ets bowled.

Holder is com­fort­ably the slow­est of the quar­tet. But his height (6ft 7in), along with prodi­gious swing and seam move­ment, make him a per­sis­tent threat. A rel­a­tive ab­sence of pace also en­ables Holder to set­tle into long spells. Since the start of 2018, he has taken 60 Test wick­ets at just 14.08, tak­ing a wicket every 34 balls while con­ced­ing un­der 2.5 runs an over. “The great Glenn McGrath would al­ways say if he’s bowl­ing 20-odd dot balls con­sec­u­tively then a wicket is around the cor­ner,” says Holder.

Aged 23, Joseph is the ju­nior of the quar­tet; un­like Roach a decade ago, he has the ben­e­fit of com­ing into a well-grooved at­tack who will al­low him to grow into his work. Joseph com­bines adroit use of the crease with a whippy ac­tion.

He is a nat­u­ral back-of-a-length bowler, so he gets bounce de­spite his low frame. Joseph was man­aged well, so, in the last throes of the fourth day, he re­tained his fresh­ness, dis­miss­ing Zak Craw­ley and Jos But­tler in a burst that shifted the course of the Test.

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