West Indies captain Jason Holder had spoken at length about how they need to be patient, but also recognise scoring opportunities. That they should do all they can – without being reckless – to put the pressure back on India. There couldn’t have been a better opportunity to do so than the first day in Hyderabad, after winning the toss and getting to bat on a flat track with the opposition reduced to only four frontline bowlers. Fast-forward to around tea and he was walking in to bat at No. 8 with the score 182 for 6.
Holder had mounted a stout-hearted defence of his team in the pre-match press conference, highlighting that they were still a developing side and even those from the past – with greats such as Brian Lara in the side – couldn’t consistently win in India. That is certainly true. The last time they were on the right side of a result here was in 1994.
But it is hard to remember a more poorly equipped top order. Even someone of the quality of Kraigg Brathwaite currently averages 8.66 from three innings. Only one West Indian batting in the top four has ever fared worse on a tour of two or more matches to India – Deryck Murray back in 1974.
Shimron Hetmyer is fourth on that list, so clearly it is an area that needs a lot of work, but for now it can be put in the back of the mind, and that’s only because of Roston Chase. He bats at No. 6, which looks two spots too low, but it is understandable because he’ll be required to do a lot of bowling on the pitches West Indies often play on. Back home, the tracks have become slow and low and here in India, the more spinning options a team has, the better its chances.
Chase’s entire career is built around spin. It kicked off when he made an unbeaten 137 against India in Jamaica in 2016, facing and besting the threat of R Ashwin. It gained momentum when he showed himself the equal of Yasir Shah and were it not for one stroke of bad luck he would have had two backs-to-the-wall, match-saving hundreds. Nevertheless, the quality of his batting – the footwork and shot selection especially – was refreshingly normal on a day when his team-mates either showed a total lack of interest in scoring runs or went after the bowling rather recklessly.
He walked in with West Indies 92 for 4. He sent the 16th ball he faced for a six. His ability to read length quickly coupled with a wristy style of play allowed him to feed his innings with singles. There was never a point where he was stuck at one end with India able to build pressure against him. In fact, for the first 50 balls he faced, he was perfect. Cricviz tweeted there were no false shots. There could not have been too many even after that considering he finished the day with a control percentage of 94%.
There’s a simple reason for that. Of the 174 deliveries that Chase faced, 136 were from spin bowlers and since his debut in July 2016, he averages 52.75 against them. That puts him among the world’s top 10 players. If you’d like to take out all the subcontinent batsmen from the list, only Joe Root and David Warner have fared better.
The West Indies coach Stuart Law said Chase was “lucky he was a natural player of spin”.
“I think he understands spin. They’ve faced a lot of spin back in the Caribbean in domestic cricket. Also he’s got long levers. He’s got long reach. He takes half a stride and he’s almost down the length of the pitch so he uses that to his advantage. He’s a clean striker of the ball. He plays good cricket shots. And, apart from that, we try and get the dirtiest, dustiest pitches to bat in the nets so we do learn to bat against spin quicker.
“You don’t have to talk to him too much either. He’s a deep thinker. At practice, you mention one thing and he just goes about it his way and you can see him thinking about it – he doesn’t talk initially – but if he agrees with you, he’ll come back and say yeah that’s pretty good and if he doesn’t, he’ll come back and say it’s not working for him. He’s working out how to play the game which is better, you learn quicker and you get success quicker if you’re actually learning the game rather than people telling you the game. You try and give him – hopefully you try and give him everything that’s going to be thrown at him. Discuss how I’d go about it and he works it into his game.”
To become a complete player – the kind that can take West Indies’ batting forward for the next five or 10 years – Chase will have to do better when conditions favour fast bowling. So far, he’s only faced them in England and New Zealand and he’s struggled to score runs there.
He had a tough time against Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami here in India too, when they managed to produce reverse-swing. At the pre-match press conference Chase spoke about that threat rather like a man who didn’t appreciate being the only one that had to make runs against 140kph deliveries that kept tailing into middle stump. The message was clear. He wanted his own bowlers to be just as menacing. Perhaps, they might be, now that they have a good total on the board on a pitch that will get difficult to bat on as the match progresses.