In hindsight, Jerome Taylor could have announced his Test retirement after the home Test series against India – using it as a motivation to finish his Test career on a high by leading his side to a home series victory. In fact, if he had taken such a decision, his teammates too would have wanted to give him a grand send-off and the entire outlook of the series, from the home side’s perspective, will have been different. But, Jerome Taylor decided to call time on his Test career and will now be concentrating on doing well for the West Indies in ODIs and T20Is.
Jason Holder and co. will now have to focus – and not become distracted – and use Taylor’s absence to prove to themselves, that they can produce results even without a terrific fast bowler as Taylor, who, let us face it, any captain and team would want to have in their ranks. The challenge is going to be huge, but the cricketing world will get to see the true character of the West Indian side which has been picked for the first of the four Tests against India. Darren Sammy’s men used criticism and contempt directed at them from many angles, ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2016 in India, as a source of motivation and appropriately replied their detractors and naysayers through exhilarating performances in the middle. Can the West Indian Test side against India produce similar performances and a similar story, albeit in a different setting and format compared to the one they are masters of (T20)?
Can the West Indies cope without Jerome Taylor?
Taylor made his Test debut way back in 2003, but the 32-year-old fast bowler played just 46 Tests during his 13-year career. He was impeded mainly by back problems, an aspect which is not eccentric for a fast bowler and more so an athlete as Taylor, and also wasn’t picked for the Tests played by the West Indies from 2009-2014. So, you can say that a bowler with Taylor’s potential – Taylor was just 18 when he made his Test debut – could have picked a lot more wickets than the number he ended up with (130) if he simply had played more.
Shifting focus to the Tests against the touring Indians, Virat Kohli and co. would have had a major factor to contend with if Jerome Taylor had not announced his retirement from Test cricket right before such an important series. The Jamaican fast bowler, as aforementioned, is an athlete who the fielding captain can rely on. He can bowl long spells, which is an essential trait for a Test cricketer, and more importantly, be consistent with his lines and lengths.
Jerome Taylor cannot be categorised just as a swing or hit-the-deck bowler because he can bowl full, has an incisive short delivery and above everything, can run in all day – making him a complete package for a Test bowler. So, even if a settled batsman is in the middle, he will know that Taylor has the ammunition to get past his defence. Thus, Taylor, with his repertoire and a big heart for what he does, can get into the psyche of the batsman quite easily. Someone like Shikhar Dhawan, who has many batting flaws which he worked on during India’s preparatory camp at the NCA before they left for the West Indies, would have found facing Taylor to be disconcerting – simply because the West Indian can bowl in the areas where the Indian opener least likes the ball to land. You bowl full and Dhawan’s considerable lack of footwork and predisposition to hit on the up through the covers, will bring the slip fielders, LBW and bowled into play; you bowl short and again, Dhawan might well keep you interested by playing the hook or by not swaying out of the line quickly enough.
Shannon Gabriel is the only pure fast bowler in the 12-man West Indian squad for the first Test against India in Antigua, and for him, consistency in line and length is a major problem. Unlike Taylor, Gabriel does not present an upright seam and thus deprives the ball from moving in the air or off the surface. Ishant Sharma too had this problem for a while, but during India’s home series against South Africa in November-December 2015, the lanky Delhi seamer seemed to have rectified it. But, because Ishant’s natural length is around the six-eight metre mark, getting the ball to swing and seam is a hassle for him.
Now, I just do not see enough wicket-takers in the West Indian ranks. Jerome Taylor did not pick enough wickets in the Test arena, at least not as many as his potential warranted, but since he made his Test comeback in 2014, Taylor had been in very good rhythm and carried a wicket-taking threat. Gabriel’s Test bowling strike-rate of 64.5, which is the number of balls per wicket, is an indication that he isn’t a bowler who can be banked on for wickets. He will hurry the Indian batsmen with his pace, otherwise, Gabriel is unlikely to pose a wicket-taking threat. Jason Holder, the West Indies skipper, has to take on additional responsibility owing to Taylor’s absence. He can bowl long spells and is a very good out-swing bowler. Because of his height, Holder can also get the odd ball to bounce awkwardly from a good or short of a good length. In case you are wondering if he is a wicket-taker, well, his bowling strike-rate is 87. Having said that, Gabriel and Holder have played only 16 and 13 Tests, respectively, so this duo should be given the benefit of the doubt for their current Test bowling strike-rates.
Indian batsmen have had problems with negotiating all kinds of spinners in recent years. Moeen Ali, who played as a floater during the early phase of his Test career, troubled them incessantly on their tour of England in 2014, picking 19 wickets in eight innings. Back home, in the Freedom Series against South Africa, the Indian batsmen could not handle Dean Elgar’s part-time left-arm orthodox spin – hope you read the sentence right – so they will mentally be aware of their current problems against spinners. Whether Devendra Bishoo, the solitary spinner in the West Indian squad for the first Test against India, can exploit Indian batsmen’s weakness will have to be seen. He has played in six Tests against India before and has bowled to the likes of Kohli and Murali Vijay in West Indies’ erstwhile series against India. So, for him, the question is whether he can utilise his experience, exude reliability and be consistent with his lines and lengths.
Jerome Taylor was not only a threat with the hard and shiny red kookaburra ball, but the Jamaican was also very much lethal when the ball became slightly older and started reversing. Taylor’s pace and ability to crank it up will have been a major boost for the West Indian attack in general. The likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and probably Stuart Binny too, depending on the team combination India decide to go in with for the first Test, are quite efficient with the bat in hand and I just wonder if the West Indian bowling attack which is likely to play, can dismiss India’s lower-order without conceding too many runs. Ashwin’s Test centuries (2) have come against the West Indies and R Jadeja is no mug with the bat too, although the Saurashtra all-rounder has the self-sabotaging propensity. With Taylor’s ability to harness reverse swing, bowl the right lengths and lines consistently and at a disconcerting pace, the Indian lower-order would have been in for a different ball game altogether.
West Indies with Jerome Taylor would have been a different proposition altogether. The hosts do not have enough wickets, or experience, for that matter, in their bowling ranks and the Indian batsmen, I can tell you, will be itching to get out there and garner big runs. Holder and company ought to show character and ensure that they do not make life easier for the touring Indians, whose batsmen can be gotten at if you bowl in the right areas and exude a bit of penetration. The big question is, can a bowling attack comprising of the Gabriels, Bishoos and Holders – bereft of a spearhead – provide enough incision to make inroads into the Indian batting line-up, and also do so over a long, four-Test series spanning more than a month?