West Indies pay the price for lack of bowl­ing depth

Tourists’ weary pace at­tack ex­pected to be asked to go again as the quick turn­around hands Eng­land a telling ad­van­tage

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Third Test - By Tim Wig­more

In­ter­na­tional cricket is in the age of the squad. Covid-19 will ac­cel­er­ate a trend al­ready long since un­der way: of the best coun­tries need­ing deep squads if they are to cope with the mul­ti­far­i­ous de­mands of one for­mat, let alone thrive across all three.

The first two Tests of the Eng­land-West Indies se­ries have il­lu­mi­nated th­ese chal­lenges. As West Indies proved in their se­ries vic­tory in the Caribbean last year, and il­lus­trated again in their fine vic­tory at the Ageas Bowl in the open­ing Test, they have a first-choice pace at­tack who are at least the equal of Eng­land’s.

But Eng­land did not need their first-choice pace at­tack to seal their se­ries-lev­el­ling vic­tory in the sec­ond Test. In­stead, this was a tri­umph for those three seam­ers who were omit­ted at the Ageas Bowl. Be­tween them, Stu­art Broad, Sam Cur­ran and Chris Woakes – a coali­tion of those not needed in Southamp­ton – claimed 14 wick­ets at Emi­rates Old Traf­ford.

Ef­fec­tively, the trio who were sec­ond choice for Eng­land a week ear­lier out­did the same West Indies at­tack who had just out­per­formed Eng­land’s first-choice group. Which all sounds a lit­tle con­fus­ing – ex­cept, en­fee­bled by their ef­forts in Southamp­ton, it was the same West Indies at­tack in name only.

What hap­pened to the ad­mirable pace quar­tet dur­ing the sec­ond Test was sim­ply the lat­est illustrati­on of how un­for­giv­ing backto-back Tests are for quick bowlers. In the sec­ond back-to­back Test of a se­ries, pace bowlers av­er­age seven per cent more than the first, cricket an­a­lyst Ed­mund Bayliss has found, with the net av­er­age of quicks ris­ing from 29.7 to 31.8 – an in­crease of 42 runs per Test.

So, even if con­di­tions do not re­ally change, the best pos­si­ble bowl­ing at­tack for the first of back-to-back Tests may not be the best pos­si­ble at­tack for the sec­ond. The sec­ond Test en­cap­su­lated this truth: Shan­non Gabriel’s ef­forts in tak­ing nine wick­ets in the open­ing Test ren­dered him a much-di­min­ished bowler. The same was true, al­beit less dra­mat­i­cally, of the rest of the at­tack.

“Hav­ing the Tests in such a short turn­around has been tough – no doubt both teams will be feel­ing it,” said Ja­son Holder, the West Indies cap­tain and a mem­ber of their pace quar­tet him­self. “Th­ese guys have backed up Test matches be­fore. The turn­around, this one’s been a lit­tle shorter.”

The in­crease in back-to-back Tests may help ex­plain why, since 2000, away teams fare worse the longer a se­ries goes on. Tourists win or draw 55 per cent of open­ing Tests in a se­ries, but es­cape de­feat in only half of third Tests in a se­ries. Home teams have a sta­ble of matchready bowlers that tour­ing teams gen­er­ally lack.

So, this is the dilemma for West Indies: do they stick with the same bowlers who so ex­celled in Southamp­ton but looked ex­hausted at Old Traf­ford? Or do they see if their fast-bowl­ing re­serves can be more ef­fec­tive?

West Indies do not have proven bench strength to ri­val Eng­land’s. The two re­serve quicks, Che­mar Holder and Ray­mon Reifer, have fine first-class pedi­gree but have played a soli­tary Test be­tween them.

Off-spin­ner Rah­keem Corn­wall has ex­celled in his two Tests, but se­lect­ing him would risk fur­ther in­ten­si­fy­ing the de­mands on the three quicks who re­main.

The sense is that, faced be­tween se­lect­ing their ideal at­tack and what they con­sider a sub­op­ti­mal at­tack but with­out any fit­ness con­cerns, West Indies will ask their first-choice quicks to go once more unto the breach.

It is an un­palat­able choice of the sort that will be­come more com­mon. As penu­ri­ous boards con­dense tours fur­ther, trim­ming the days be­tween in­ter­na­tion­als, and play fix­tures that were can­celled by Covid-19, there will be even less time for play­ers to re­cu­per­ate.

In­creas­ingly the bat­tle will not just be on the pitch be­tween the firstchoic­e XIs, it will also be fought be­tween which coun­tries can as­sem­ble depth in their squads, through a com­bi­na­tion of a ro­bust do­mes­tic game, a strong A-team and in­tro­duc­ing fringe play­ers at the right time.

Those who are suc­cess­ful in amass­ing such a broader pool of play­ers, es­pe­cially pace bowlers, will not feel com­pelled to se­lect play­ers with more pedi­gree but who are not in a con­di­tion to per­form at their best.

The first two Tests of the sum­mer have al­ready shown that Eng­land have six pace bowlers they can swap in and out with min­i­mal drop-off in qual­ity.

For all the ex­cel­lence of their first-choice at­tack, the at­tempts by West Indies to leave Eng­land with the Wis­den Tro­phy risk be­ing un­der­mined by the squad who lie be­neath them.

Wait­ing game: Play­ing the in­ex­pe­ri­enced Rah­keem Corn­wall could put more pres­sure on West Indies’ pace at­tack

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