Freddie Wilde tries to make sense of one of the great ODI matches in Manchester.
Sheldon Cottrell was interviewed at the innings break after busting a gut with the ball and in the field. Cottrell had a hand in seven of the eight wickets to fall in New Zealand’s innings – taking four wickets – two in the opening over of the match, three catches (one caught and bowled) and effected a run out. He was still out of breath as he spoke after a frenetic final over in which he had taken his third catch. ”We have to be careful,” he said of the West Indies chase of New Zealand’s 292. “It’s not a wicket you can blast away on.”
Cottrell’s superb bowling performance was marked by the way in which it was contrasted with previous bowling displays by West Indies in the tournament. Across the World Cup the West Indies bowling attack had adopted a clear short ball tactic – before the match in Manchester no team had bowled a higher proportion of short balls than the men from the Caribbean.
This was a strategy that worked brilliantly for them in their opening three matches as they carved through Pakistan, eviscerated Australia’s top order and landed a punch on South Africa’s before rain intervened. However, since then in matches against England and Bangladesh the approach was significantly less effective as it became increasingly predictable. The defeat against Bangladesh, failing to defend 323 was particularly chastening. The West Indies persistence with the short ball earned them criticism that their attack was one dimensional and inflexible.
Cottrell’s opening over was the perfect riposte. He did not bowl a single short ball and instead pitched two balls on a ‘good’ length and four on a full length. The first and the fifth balls – the two fullest deliveries of the over – removed both opening batsmen for golden ducks: Martin Guptill trapped lbw and Colin Munro bowled, both beaten in the air by lavish swing. Cottrell had dared to pitch it up and was rewarded with rare and precious white ball movement.
He continued to bowl full throughout the innings and the rest of the attack followed suit: in no match in the tournament did they bowl a lower proportion of short balls. It was clear that Cottrell and his teammates had learned their lesson from the defeats against England and Bangladesh and reconsidered their method. At the innings break New Zealand were still favourites but the West Indies excellence with the ball had given themselves a fighting chance of keeping their World Cup dream alive. The bowlers had done their job; then it was over to the batsmen.
Much like the bowlers, the West Indies batsmen have been criticised in this tournament for their one-dimensional approach. Possessing a batting order replete with power-hitters the West Indies have adopted a binary method to batting that involves a high number of boundary attempts, very little running between the wickets and a high dot ball percentage. This strategy is high-risk but high-reward. When it comes off it can be spectacular but it also makes them particularly prone to dramatic batting collapses with Shai Hope the only player performing a stabilising anchor-role.
The run chase against New Zealand was only the second time in the tournament that West Indies had been asked to chase a total and the first instance came against Pakistan when the target was a paltry 106 (they were also due to chase against South Africa but rain stopped the match getting that far). Following consecutive defeats against England and Bangladesh and with the West Indies unable to afford another loss would they adapt their method to chase a stiff but distinctly manageable target of 292? The answer was an emphatic no.
There is nothing wrong with attacking batting. In fact, in the modern ODI game positive intent, a fearless approach and boundary-hitting prowess are essential. But attacking batting is inherently risky and as such it needs to be calculated. Indiscriminate aggression, even in T20 and T10 cricket, is foolhardy.
The emphasis on the West Indies to calculate their aggression was increased against New Zealand by the lack of depth in their batting order. Even before the injury to Evin Lewis robbed the West Indies of a batsman their batting lacked depth: they had already rebalanced the team by leaving out a batsman – Darren Bravo, for a bowler – Ashley Nurse. Lewis’ injury meant Jason Holder was batting at number five. If ever a time called for a more prudent approach with the bat it was this innings. Hope’s early dismissal compounded the need to bat responsibly.
Attacking batting was central to the cameos played by Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer, but with regards to Gayle in particular who clearly targeted the left-armer Mitchell Santner, it was calculated aggression.
The dismissals of Gayle, Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran however were instances of questionable attacking batting. Pooran recklessly took on a wide-line bouncer from New Zealand’s best bowler. Hetmyer swung across the line to New Zealand’s second best bowler—although it was a brilliant slower ball. Before Gayle picked out a man on the fence when the required run rate was less than 5.50 RPO, when he was the last frontline batsman and the lone remaining left-hander to counter Santner.
Hetmyer and Pooran at least have inexperience as an excuse; Gayle’s innings was excellent but it should not absolve him from a poor dismissal. The ball before Gayle was dismissed West Indies were given a 41% chance win the match but when he got out that fell to 13%. Gayle’s assault on Santner had seen West Indies make their move; he had done the hardest part of the job but then lost his teammates and undid his good work by taking a risk he didn’t need to take.
The fact that Carlos Brathwaite’s otherworldly innings was defined by boundary hitting does not legitimise the dismissals of the three left-handers. There is a critical distinction between Brathwaite’s knock – shaped by power-hitting but marked by calculation – and the three dismissals. Brathwaite bided his time, only attacking 18 of his first 60 deliveries – taking his team to within striking distance.
Only when he lost Cottrell did he finally make his move, attacking 18 of his last 22 deliveries. But even then there was planning in amongst the pandemonium: Brathwaite picked his bowler: Matt Henry, and picked his length: full balls. He could, as he later admitted, have tried to take a single from the last ball of Jimmy Neesham’s over which would have reduced the equation to five off six balls, but if he thought the ball was there to hit he was going to take it on. Relinquishing the strike to Oshane Thomas – with only six ODI runs to his name – would arguably have been as risky as taking on the long on fielder.
At every turn there appeared to be thought behind Brathwaite’s batting. Unfortunately the same could not be said of the dismissals of the three left-handers who unlike their bowling counterparts—who later showed application with the bat that their teammates had been lacking—did not learn from their mistakes of previous matches and adapt their approach. If they had the West Indies would probably still be alive in this World Cup.