On the morning of the first day of the second Test in Hyderabad, West Indies won the toss and decided to bat without a second thought. The pitch looked great for batting and India skipper Virat Kohli revealed that India would have also done the same.
But it took a special innings from Roston Chase to prevent what was turning into an all-too-familiar batting collapse for the Windies on Friday.
Just a few overs into the match, it was clear that the decision was a good one. The ball was not doing too much. There was not much lateral movement and the bounce was consistently good.
Then, it got better for the West Indies. After bowling just 1.4 overs, fast bowler Shardul Thakur injured his groin. It meant India were a bowler short — perhaps more crucially, given the role reverse swing can play — a fast bowler short.
Most good teams would have approached this scenario with a simple mindset: tire out the opposition attack. Four bowlers can be adequate but the lack of another pace option robbed Kohli’s attack of some variety.
But what the West Indian top order do?
They thought it was a chance to punish the Indian attack and they didn’t want to wait. In the old days, teams would bide their time, let the opposition bake in the sun and then attack. But the era of Twenty20 has perhaps robbed the batsmen of patience. Much of the early batting was two-dimensional — the batsman was either defending or looking to hit a four.
On television, they put up an interesting stat showing how only 16 percent of the runs West Indies had made in the series had come in the singles. The corresponding number for the Indians was 26 percent — but you also have to remember that India dominated the first Test.
Early on, the West Indies continued to play in the same pattern. Kieran Powell loves to use his feet to the spinners. In fact, he almost compulsively uses his feet to them and that worked in the second innings of the first Test but today, he clearly overplayed his hand.
He was out of his crease too early, Ashwin saw him, shortened the length, bowled it a little wider and Powell had to chase it. The shot went straight to Ravindra Jadeja in the covers and that was that. The opening stand put on 32 runs and had looked comfortable doing it. But from that point, West Indies lost regular wickets to be reduced to 113 for the loss of five wickets.
“I can’t worry about what is happening at the other end. (I try to) play each ball on merit, keep things simple, put away the bad ball and move on,” Roston Chase later said.
This was when Chase and Shane Dowrich decided to take a stand. Their batting had a simple, uncomplicated feel to it.
“After the first game, we spoke about trusting the defence more. Mix defence with attacking shots. Make the most of the defence and not be ultra aggressive,” said Chase after the close of play on Day 1. “My process is simple, I play each ball on its merit. Don’t play the ball before it leaves the bowlers hand.”
The pitch doesn’t have great pace and it was only day one so there wasn’t much wear and tear either, so Chase was often playing the good length balls off the backfoot with a fair degree of ease. When the spinners tried to go fuller, he used his height to great advantage, but smothering the ball with a solid forward stride.
And because he was defending with ease, the Indian bowlers were constantly trying to come up with another plan.
“Spinners dominate the bowling in first-class cricket in the Caribbean, so I am used to playing spinners. But these wickets are good… tried to overhit the ball in the first Test, but realised I don’t have to do that on these outfields.”
Plan. What plan?
Chase’s words also show how the other top-order West Indies batsmen simply ignored the plan. Shai Hope looked good while he was there but the others just didn’t look the part. The 69-run stand between Chase and Dowrich gave the innings some spine before Chase and Jason Holder gave it substance.
Once again, the trick was reading the match situation better. Chase and the West Indian lower order just seemed understand the rhythms of Test cricket better than the top order. That was the vital difference. The top order went looking for the big shots… for the impact shots while the lower order looked to stay there in the middle, content in the knowledge that if they could do that, the runs would come.
The Chase-Holder partnership was characterised by the calmness the two batsmen displayed in the middle. Simply put, they were comfortable taking their time in the middle and in doing so, they put on the fifth 100+ partnership for the Windies in Tests in 2018. Three of these 100+ have come from the 6th wicket partnership or lower.
Holder’s wicket (he gloved a delivery from Umesh Yadav which was going down the leg-side to Rishabh Pant) came at an inopportune time for the West Indies but his 104-run partnership with Chase showed that there is more to this West Indies team than the love of the big hit. The visitors ended day one on 295-7 which is way more than what anyone would thought possible once they were reduced to 113-5 in the early going.
Chase ended the day on 98 – just two short of a well deserved century – but one can be sure he’ll begin day two in much the same manner as he ended day one — by playing the ball on its merit and not worrying about anything else. In that approach alone, there is a lesson for the Windies top order.