West Indies have had a topsy-turvy year. They lost the first and last Tests in both three-match series against Pakistan and England, while winning in Bridgetown and Leeds between times. But that has not lead to chopping and changing in what can sometimes be a revolving selection door for unpredictable teams, and ahead of the first Test against Zimbabwe, consistency – in selection and performance – was the keyword for both captain and coach.
“I think we’ve had a pretty reasonable year in terms of improvement,” said captain Jason Holder. “The guys have been getting attuned to Test cricket. We’re still not the finished product but we’re headed in the right direction. With a young and inexperienced side you have to give guys opportunities and be as consistent as you can. We’ve got to stick with a set of players who we believe can take the team forward.”
“We’re not about trying to pick players and discard after only a couple of games,” agreed West Indies coach Stuart Law, who has now been in the job for 10 months. “That just creates an atmosphere in the dressing room where you’re always looking over your shoulder. We want to get away from that. We want to make sure that we are consistent with our selections. We’re trying to give everyone a fair shake at putting something up on the board, something substantial.”
Along with consistency, Holder suggested that reverse swing could play a crucial role in the outcome of the first Test. “With the Kookaburra balls, reverse swing is always a factor. They tend to reverse earlier than most and go a bit softer. I would expect some reverse swing in these dry conditions. The square looks pretty decent but you never know what to expect.”
There too, Law was in agreement: “With the characteristics of this ground, it does favour spin bowling more than medium pace bowling. Having said that, we’ve got two or three guys who can crank it up to over 90mph and that pace it doesn’t really matter where you play, it’s hard to bat against. We will be focussing on the dryness of the conditions, the dryness of the pitch, and maybe spin will play a huge part, but also reverse swing.”
Law has backed his team when they have been under fire after poor performances, and has also said he wanted a settled unit going into the World Cup qualifiers in March next year. The upcoming matches are obviously of a different format, but building a cohesive, successful team has to start somewhere. So does responsibility for performance, Law is quick to add.
“There also comes a time where the players are responsible for their performances in the middle. They’ve got to perform, that’s the number one thing. It’s a game of performances. I’ve been involved in teams and campaigns before in domestic and international cricket, and you can’t focus on the end result,” Law explained. “You’ve got to focus on the little steps you’ve got to take to get through that. We have targets, we have goals.
“The boys want to make sure that we’re giving ourselves every opportunity to win every contest we’re going in to. We just had a reasonable result in the UK, where the second Test was outstanding. We lost the other two Tests but we started to show some fight. After that first Test, to come back the way we did was an outstanding effort. What happened, for example at Edgbaston, really toughens you up. We’ve got to be that tough from ball one coming up on Saturday. Hang in the contest for as long as we can and push ourselves.”