Earlier, in February this year, West Indies had played three ODIs against India in Ahmedabad, which they lost 3-0. Since then, West Indies won the ODI series against the Netherlands before entering a six-match losing streak, facing defeat at the hands of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Former fast-bowler-turned-commentator Ian Bishop speaks about the batting concerns of the West Indies in ODIs, the reasons behind them being unable to use their full quota of overs with the bat, his views on India’s opening pair, and how their playing eleven shapes up. Excerpts:
Q. Head coach Phil Simmons had said that batting was a huge concern and needs urgent attention after a 3-0 loss in India in February. Now, again in July, West Indies will be facing India in ODIs. Do you still see their batting as a huge area of concern ahead of the upcoming three-match series?
A. The coach was absolutely right when he identified the main concerns. There are priorities of concerns; the batting being the ultimate one. If I may just preamble and say, why batting? Just to reflect on some work that was done by Ben Jones in his seminal work, where he identified that England heading into the 2019 World Cup, they identified that the main thing which helped teams win World Cups in the last five-six editions was batting strength. So, you are not alleviating the bowling concerns.
But I think that West Indies have been bowled nine out of the last 12 innings batting first; they have not batted their allotted overs. So, it remains a concern, where, mind you, they batted on some tough pitches against Bangladesh. They struggled against spin, but mainly all types of bowling. In Pakistan, they had their opportunities and didn’t take them with the bat. Batting remains a priority but there are one or two other areas they also need to get better at.
Q. You just mentioned about one or two other areas of concern for the West Indies. Can you explain what are those areas of improvement you see for the West Indies?
A. Taking wickets across the innings. For example, in Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie, they have two really good left-arm spinners. In Alzarri Joseph, they have an outstanding young fast bowler. Now, how do they package all of that together and add in Jason Holder? The rules of one-day cricket now facilitate higher scoring, right?
You are looking at 300 being a par score depending on conditions. You want wickets in power-play, especially in the first power-play. Then you want guys who can take wickets in middle overs, where there could be a Lockie Ferguson-type enforcer in Alzarri Joseph or your spinners get to work. So, getting wickets across the innings is a priority.
There are key roles in this West Indies batting line-up that when conditions are ripe, someone like Shai Hope or Shamrah Brooks, who can anchor the innings for you. Those are the key guys who set up the batting effort.
Q. Skipper Nicholas Pooran had spoken after the series loss to Bangladesh about the West Indies being unable to use their full quota of overs with the bat. Where do you think they are falling short in not being able to last for 50 overs with the bat?
A. It’s a batting line-up that is young, so they aren’t as experienced as others as some of them are still learning their trade. So, the errors are coming from one or two areas: being impatient enough and someone like Shai Hope, who has averaged around that 50-mark for a long time, what is his role? His role when he plays at his best is to bat deep into the overs to allow other guys to play around him.
But if he falls early, then Shamrah Brooks is the other guy, who has played Test cricket but is not on the Test team right now. But his role could also be to bat deep and allow the Poorans, Powells and those power players to bat around them. If you get a Shai Hope back to his best, scoring hundreds and allowing guys to play around him, that’s fine.
The other thing is a mindset and understanding that you can be patient enough and still trust, what I call, the defensive capabilities when conditions are tough to get you through that phase and capitalise on the end. So, patience and one or two guys in that top three playing that extended batting role and allowing other guys to bat around them in this line-up.
Q. For a very long time, India has had a top three in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli. Do you feel that time is on the West Indies side to find their solid top three in ODIs?
A. With South Africa, like they have a (Rassie) van der Dussen or Quinton de Kock, where they have a few world-class batters. India have a few world-class batters. But West Indies, barring Shai Hope, I suppose they still need to find world-class batters and get guys stepping up. If you get that sort of quality, then you can go out with a different tempo in ODI cricket. West Indies batting is still trying to find its way and we all have to accept that where they are in the rankings.
Time is running out, but allow them, Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran, who is understanding that he needs to take his ODI batting to a different tempo. So, once Pooran continues to develop, Shai Hope finds his way and find one other player to stand up and become close to world-class, then their batting tempo will be different. But for now, this is the muddle they have to build on against an Indian attack that is still without their top-class guys like Jasprit Bumrah, which is a very testing one.
Q. Akeal Hosein, the left-arm spin all-rounder, excelled with his all-round abilities despite not being at his best during the Bangladesh ODI series. Your thoughts on his all-round capabilities and what do you see his primary role — to restrict runs or take wickets?
A. That goes for every bowler or most of the bowlers, where someone like an Akeal, who’s a finger spinner, there will be a time for him where he will come and have to do the holding role or an economical job, which in the end could also build pressure and lead to a wicket. Or he can come in and try to bowl with guile, lines or lengths prise out an odd wicket or two. With most bowlers, not all but most, their roles will fluctuate depending on the situation in the game and what is required.
Apart from the last one-day series, where Akeal wasn’t at his best since he entered international cricket in Bangladesh in 2021, he’s been outstanding up until that Bangladesh series. So, it’s both roles for Akeal Hosein and with someone like Gudakesh Motie, who did exceptionally well in that last series. I don’t know if there is going to be a competition there but I think competition is healthy.
Q. Left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie did well in his first ODI series against Bangladesh, picking six wickets in three matches. Can you give an insight into what Indian cricket viewers can expect from him?
A. A left-arm spinner who gives it a rip and is still learning his trade. But he’s been around the first-class scene here in the Caribbean for a few years now. He’s come through the system from the same club in Berbice, as another spinner Veerasammy Permaul, who’s played Test matches against England and Sri Lanka here earlier in the year.
Devendra Bishoo as well, from that side, the Albion Sports Club, a leg-spinner whom Indian fans will remember from a few years ago. He’s also an aggressive lower-order batter but against Bangladesh on some helpful pitches, he was superb. It’s just his consistency and subtle variations that you will find not too dissimilar from Akeal Hosein.
Q. With no Rohit Sharma, who do you think will partner with Shikhar Dhawan to open the batting for India? Will it be Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad, or Ishan Kishan?
A. The great thing about India is that they have a really good number of options. It speaks to the depth of their cricket that if you look at this squad on paper, it can tackle several of the better teams from around the globe. I would look at several things: Shikhar Dhawan is the man to lead. I could look at Shubman Gill, who’s opened the batting for his state team and also feel that he would make a good fit in ODI cricket. I would look at a right-hander as one of the options, which also brings Ruturaj Gaikwad in although he could be down the pecking order.
His last List A season was a good one and I am hearing a lot of talk about Ishan Kishan. That would mean two left-handers at the top of the order, which is not a bad thing as they are good players. But I could formulate a batting order with Dhawan, Gill, slot in Ishan Kishan at three, then look at Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda and then the rest follow. It depends on what India are looking for and who they have identified. I would go with Gill but I am hearing a lot of talk about Ishan Kishan.
Q. In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, how do you see India’s pace attack shaping up with Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja as the spin options?
A: Prasidh Krishna, for me, even though he picked an only couple of wickets in England, he had a good series against the West Indies last time. He was the leading wicket-taker when the West Indies were in India. For me, he gets another run to try to lead the attack. I would go with Avesh Khan as seeing him in the IPL and come through the system in U19 cricket is someone who has that energy, bowls the heavy, hard length and has shown a lot of improvement to bowl at the end of T20 innings. He can transfer that skill into 50-over cricket.
Then, there’s Yuzvendra Chahal and you go with someone like Jadeja, who’s batting really well and gives some key overs to partner Chahal, which adds great depth to the eleven and with slightly more pedigree than Axar, certainly with the bat. Arshdeep can do well, especially in the death overs, but we don’t know if he’s fit. Shardul Thakur could also slot in due to his seniority. So, it’s an abundance of riches. But Prasidh and then, I would like to see Avesh get a run and Shardul Thakur.