Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Brathwaite and Chanderpaul

If you think of Caribbean batting, your mind goes to IVA Richards, to Gordon Greenidge and into the present day, to the likes of Kieron Pollard, and Darren Bravo. Power players, stylists, never dull. Maybe dull is what the West Indies need in their Test cricket.

Look forward four or five years, and it would not be too much of a stretch to see Tagenarine Chanderpaul and Kraigg Brathwaite opening together in Test matches. Both are players who many would find dull. Scratch that, their batting is dull. So far this season Brathwaite has a strike-rate in First-class cricket of 29.52, and Chanderpaul has 22.05.

“Don’t run before you can walk” goes the cliche. Other sayings make the same point, “Don’t put the horse before the cart”, for example. They may have been used beyond all useful purpose, but the meaning remains somewhere. Build things in the proper order.

For these two young batsmen it means that a solid defensive technique comes first. Brathwaite has faced 718 balls, more than any other batsman in the competition, in six innings so far this season, facing an average of 119.66 balls per innings. Chanderpaul has been similarly good in terms of crease occupation, facing 645 balls, in six innings, an average of 107.5 balls an innings.

Those are occupation rates comparable to the best in Test cricket. The two youngsters have taken a strange approach in the modern game: they’re First-class specialists. At the age of 21, Brathwaite’s already played 49 First-class games. That includes ten Test matches, and is accompanied by 12 List A games, but strikingly, not a single T20. Chanderpaul junior has six First-class games under his belt at the age of 17, and nothing else at the senior level.

What both need to do now is add extra dimensions to their games. Brathwaite may be Chris Gayle’s opening partner when next the West Indies are in whites, and a better player to open with if you struggle to move the score along could not be found. Still, if both are to open together when Gayle is gone, they’re going to have to add more shots.

Perhaps it’s time for both of them, especially Brathwaite, on the verge of Test cricket, to play more one day cricket, and maybe even some T20, to give them a way to develop shots. Both need to drill into themselves the balls that they need to put away, the short wide ones, the half-volleys on leg stump.

If they take the bad balls they’re give and put them away that should help both players convert their scores. It’s less of a problem for Brathwaite, he has five First-class centuries, and 19 fifties, but that conversion rate could do with being higher, and that will only happen if Brathwaite can start cashing in properly once he’s fully in, something he doesn’t really do so far in his career.

So far this season he has two fifties, but they both should have been converted into hundreds, rather than ending at 82 against Windward Islands and 91 against Combined Colleges and Campuses.

Chanderpaul has had a similar problem, but more acute. So far, in each match so far this season he’s made it to forty, but he hasn’t converted one of those into his maiden First-class fifty.

They’ve been hampered by the sort of pitches, and bowling they’ve received. The pitches don’t encourage bowlers to pitch the ball up, and the slowness means when they do, driving is hazardous. You’re more likely to see runs coming from full blooded cuts and pulls, shots natural to neither player.

Both need to find a couple of attacking shots to depend on. Alastair Cook makes a good role model for this method. For five or six years in Test cricket, Cook barely drove. Instead, he waited for the bowlers to err in line or length, to cut, pull and nudge them into exasperation.

If these two can find two or three shots to depend on, they can maintain a strike rate of forty or fifty, enough to keep the pressure off them and keep the scoreboard ticking. That’s all you need to be a Test opener of the old school. That’s what the West Indies need.

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