Tuesday, 3 December 2013

West Indies neglect the art of seam bowling

Shannon Gabriel: quick, but not much else
Seam bowling is an underappreciated art. More plaudits go to extravagant swing and pace, but the skill of hitting the seam and nibbling it around a bit is as useful as any in some conditions. Those conditions most definitely include New Zealand, home of the dibbly dobbly seamer, and of course, Richard Hadlee (certainly not dibbly dobbly), who gained most of his success when he slowed down a little and focused on seam and swing.

Of course, nobody expects Tino Best and Shannon Gabriel to slow down, but they have a bit to learn about seam bowling. Their captain knows more, and he has to at his pace. On the first morning of New Zealand’s Test summer, he was the most consistent of the three seamers and got a little swing and seam, presenting the seam a fair bit better than the other two. Unfortunately, 75mph is too slow at Test level, no matter how skillful you are.

Best had Ross Taylor in a bit of trouble and picked up the wicket of Redmond, but Gabriel failed to find any kind of length, and just as troubling, failed to keep the seam anything near upright. If you want a role model for seam position, it’s had to look beyond Vernon Philander. Every time the cameras zoom in on the ball leaving his hand, you see it fizzing through the air, seam bolt upright.

Adding to that you have the fingers rolled down the ball, the backswing holding the seam upright, a skill that is alien to the bang it in style of Gabriel and Best. This Dunedin pitch is not hard like those in the Caribbean, and it suits those who skid the ball across it’s surface, like skipping a stone across water. Boult, Southee and Wagner will know this, and you can’t imagine them wasting the new ball like the West Indies did.

Sammy got his reward just before tea, Fulton pushing at a short ball outside off stump. That was a stark contrast to the short balls outside off stump from the quicker men, which Fulton let go with ease. Perhaps Sammy’s lack of pace made Fulton lose concentration, but what got the wicket was a little seam movement, a leg cutter, with the fingers run down the ball. Not an upright seam, but good use of a ball over fifty overs old.

Shannon Gabriel’s scrambled seam (a great name for a band if there ever was one) came into more use after that wicket, what looked like an off cutter narrowly missing out on bowling McCullum whilst leaving. Scrambling the seam with cutters isn’t a bad tactic to use with a soft, old ball, but with a new ball it’s worse than pointless. Even long hops can be useful with a bit of movement, but wasting the protruding seam of a new ball is a cardinal sin.

After that good period just before tea, it all fell apart after the interval, 36 off four overs from the attacking Taylor and McCullum. Thereafter they settled for singles and the odd boundary, as the West Indies wilted, and waited for the new ball. That provided no more joy, the captain and ex-captain making it to well deserved centuries.

What Sammy needed desperately was a bowler for these condition. So the cry goes up: Where’s Ravi Rampaul? Seven wickets in three ODIs in India prove nothing for his worth in these conditions, but they do prove that he’s fit and ready. Perhaps he’s not five day fit yet, but perhaps he could have been had he a chance for a warm up in New Zealand. Instead he was in India playing an ODI, as were many of the actual Test team.

All is not completely lost, but West Indies will have to improve quickly to stand any chance in this Test. At least the series is three games long, giving the tourists a chance to come back. That may be the single saving grace after a bowling performance which highlighted the skill deficit in the young (and old) fast bowlers coming out of the Caribbean.

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