- I love Test cricket…..really?
Jonny Bairstow's Trent Bridge heroics naturally elicited gushing praise from fans and pundits alike, not only for his performance but for the Test format itself. Social media timelines have been inundated with proclamations of undying love for Test match cricket. But when someone says they love Test cricket what do they really mean? Do they mean, for instance, that they long for a succession of Kraig Brathwaite's dead batted forward defensives against a disciplined but underwhelming attack?
Or perhaps it's simply a statement that's born from viewing cricket through the prism of the "big" three. In my mind the subtext of "I love Test cricket" is clear; it roughly translates as "the climax to a Test is great when England / Australia / India pull off a win against the odds".
One of the best aspects of Bairstow's pyrotechnics against New Zealand, is the way it's encouraged newbies into cricket, perhaps in a more fundamental way than white ball cricket ever could. But the inconvenient truth is that Test cricket is rarely sexy, long passages of play when no discernible action takes place, are the norm. Day one of the Antigua Test saw wickets tumbling, interspersed with those passages of play when not much seems to happen.
The hope is that at least a few of those, who extolled the virtues of the oldest format of the game, tuned in to watch day one of a Test between two of the less glamorous teams in world cricket. Rather than feign interest until something really significant happens ie Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner chasing down an improbable 4th innings target.
- Bangladesh's brittle batting
Anyone who's watched Bangladesh's recent red ball performances shouldn't be wholly surprised by their weak batting display. Against Pakistan in November last year, the new ball pair of Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali regularly decimated the top order. Against South Africa, they faded badly in both of their last innings, dismissed for 53 and 80 respectively. And against Sri Lanka in their previous Test, they recovered spectacularly from one top order collapse but were unable to achieve the impossible twice.
Staggeringly, the match isn't being shown live by any Bangladeshi TV channels, perhaps they already knew what was coming. As good as the West Indies bowlers were, it was a procession of ugly dismissals. Playing at balls that might be left alone (Hasan Joy, Mominul), creating a huge gap between bat and pad (Shanto), flicking at balls down the legside (Tamin amd Miraz) and shouldering arms (Nurul Hasan); they really were the worst ways to get out.
Another characteristic of Bangladesh's batting is the feebleness of the tail. After being 7 wickets down, wrapping up the innings becomes a formality. Like Test teams of yesteryear, the quick bowlers solely concentrate on bowling rather than batting. In this context being bundled out for 103, after being put into bat, on a pitch with patches of live grass on it, was par for the course. If recording 6 ducks in an innings, for the second consecutive Test, doesn't prompt serious change, nothing else will.
- Kyle Mayers likes Bangladesh
Few had heard of Kyle Mayers, before he set about writing himself into the record books during that improbable 4th innings chase, in Chittagong last year. His unbeaten 210 on debut, was the stuff of dreams. His subsequent challenge has been to prove he's not a one hit wonder.
He was entrusted with the ball as soon as the 15th over, and despite looking innocuous, he made an immediate impact. He claimed a wicket with his 4th ball; the in-form Liton Das fished at a ball which did little more than hold it's line. Mayers completed a double wicket maiden when Nurul Hasan Sohan desperately tried to get outside the line of a big inswinging delivery.
Sohan ended up in an awkward position, shouldering arms. If he was unaware that umpires now show little sympathy for those struck outside the line, not playing a shot, he will now be better informed. Despite reviewing the decision, hawkeye showed "umpire's call" for the ball hitting off stump, and another duck was registered.
Mayer's will no doubt play a part with the bat too, and in the absence of Jason Holder, his all-round ability has increased in value.
- Shakib watch
Bangladesh's most acclaimed cricketer, Shakib Al Hasan, was once again thrust into centre stage, after accepting the Test captaincy prior to the series. His lucid and relaxed pre-match press conference, immediately set a contrast against his predecessor's reign. Mominul, for all his good intentions, possessed neither the charisma but more importantly, the tactical acumen to be a successful captain. Shakib has been there, done it all and advertised millions of t-shirts along the way.
Shakib batted at number 6; the strategy was to capitalise on Liton Das's rich vein of form, he was playing as a specialist batter and promoted to number 5. All of that planning was rendered useless as the top order capitulated, with Shakib coming to crease at 41 for 4. He swiftly lost his last two recognised batting partners and was intent on throwing caution to the wind for most of his innings. Farming the strike and trying to collect boundaries, were his principal aims. It was rarely pretty but the 51 runs he garnered, gave the score a slight semblance of respectability.
In the field, he was an energetic presence, unafraid to use imaginative catching positions. His willingness to experiment almost paid off immediately, as Mominul, stationed specifically at leg slip for Brathwaite, grassed a chance that went straight to him. Brathwaite and his team were yet to get off the mark at the time.
- West Indies go slow
In reply, the West Indies set about consolidating their position with the utmost caution. It took them 32 deliveries to get off the mark, and the first boundary came in the 14th over. At tea they were 15-0 after 15 overs, the run rate only fractionally increased in the evening session. Sir Curtly Ambrose on commentary, was unhappy with the slow progress, but with so much time left in the game, the tactics were completely appropriate.
Bangladesh's bowlers showed the discipline that the batter's lacked, they bowled tight lines and never made scoring runs easy. John Campbell can count himself a bit unlucky to be bowled by the Fizz; he played on, the ball agonisingly found a way to trickle onto the stumps and dislodge a bail. Raymon Reifer however, probably received the ball of the day, a peach of a delivery from Ebadot Hossein which seamed away and took his outside edge.
At stumps West Indies trailed by just 8 runs, with 8 wickets remaining. They are in almost total control of the destiny of this match. Batting until tea on day two should ensure a sizeable lead and a position of ultimate strength. The visitors need early wickets and a West Indies batting collapse to gain even a foothold in the game.