Skipper Sammy turns his focus to spin

Skipper Sammy turns his focus to spin

 The sudden slight, from out of nowhere, took the West Indian captain completely by surprise when he was asked what his team’s realistic target was from this series – to draw a Test match, or to force India to bat twice in every match.

“Force India to bat twice?” he countered when he had recovered from the shock. “This is Test cricket. Every team plays to win. As simple as that.”

The West Indies did the early running the first Test, making a more than respectable 304 on Sammy winning the toss, and then winkling India out for 209. That’s when things began to horribly wrong for the Caribbeans, knocked over for 180 in their second innings as R Ashwin began to weave his magic.

Ashwin throughout the match, and Pragyan Ojha in the first innings, have left scars that the West Indies will struggle to overcome ahead of the second Test, beginning on Monday. Between them the spin twins picked up 16 of the 20 wickets to fall, and this on a slow, low track where edges didn’t carry to silly-point or bat-pad, and the batsmen had enough time to play the ball off the surface even if they didn’t read it off the hand.

Sammy, who made a counter-attacking 42 in the second innings to show the way, admitted to disappointment at the way his team tackled the Indian spin challenge. “Yes, no doubt,” he mused. “Spin has affected us. As long as I know, spin has been our problem. Losing 15 wickets for 220 odd runs (the last five in the first innings and all 10 in the second)… Had we scored another hundred, it could have been a different ball game. So we need to find a way to score against spin and not let them get us out.”

Worryingly from a West Indian perspective, neither Ojha nor Ashwin would have been seriously high on confidence coming into the Kotla game. Ojha was playing his first Test since November last year, Ashwin was playing his first Test ever. Now, after seven and nine wickets in the match respectively in reasonably unhelpful conditions, they will be doubly dangerous at the Eden Gardens, where there is expected to be more assistance for the tweakers.

One way of neutralising the spin threat, Sammy pointed out, was to embrace a more positive approach like Shivnarine Chanderpaul did during knocks of 118 and 47, when he used his feet, didn’t allow the spinners to settle down, and forced them to bowl to his strengths. Yes, that could be an area we can look at,” Sammy agreed. “As soon as the spinners settled down, we went into a shell. Maybe we could bat a bit more positively, like Shiv showed us. Of course, we should play each ball on its merit but still be positive.”

Teams touring the sub-continent have generally come up short against the turning ball, but having spent four weeks in not dissimilar conditions against a spin-heavy Bangladesh, and having had no little success, the West Indies were expected to give a better account of themselves. “We are building for future,” Sammy pointed out. “The openers are coming off a hundred-run partnership in Bangladesh. Kraigg Brathwaite’s idol is Chanderpaul, and he likes to bat long. Kieran Powell has presence in the crease. It’s a learning experience for them.”

Both teams had the day off on Thursday and travelled on Friday, leaving them with just two sessions of practice before the next Test. The rapid turnover leaves little scope for meaningful preparation, especially when it comes to focussing on specifics, but Sammy said the West Indies were fortunate in that regard. “We have Desmond Haynes as batting consultant and he used to play spin well,” said Sammy. “He has been working hard with the younger guys. Most of times, we have been out leg before, playing with our pads instead of the bat. If we can play more with the bat, that can help us eliminate some mistakes.”

Marlon Samuels, an accomplished player against spin apart from Chanderpaul, will have fond memories of the Eden, having made a Test century there in his last appearance in 2002. If he can put on his dancing shoes and come to the party, things will be infinitesimally better for the one-time rulers of world cricket.

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