What better to lift the sagging spirits of a West Indies touring team after their hiding at the hands of a modest Cricket Australia XI than the unveiling of a verdant green surface at Bellerive Oval?
While the pitch’s appearance four days out from the Thursday start of the first Test for the Frank Worrell Trophy is likely to be deceiving, as warm temperatures will affect its colour and moisture content, there was an unmistakable spring in the step of the pacer Kemar Roach as he contemplated a kind of strip seldom seen in the Caribbean.
For all their recent woes, West Indies have a strong enough bowling unit to cause Australia’s transitional batting line-up some problems, given the right conditions and circumstances. Plenty of members of Steven Smith’s team can remember Jerome Taylor’s piercing spells in Jamaica earlier this year, and many will also recall the duel Roach fought with Ricky Ponting at the WACA Ground in 2009 – his pace causing an uncertainty hitherto unseen in the then captain.
“Of course, there aren’t many wickets in the world like that, so it’s good to see that for a change. I’m pretty excited to get a go on Thursday,” Roach said of the pitch. “Yeah I think so [it will still be green on Thursday]. I know Australians play very hard cricket and they believe in what they do, so that’s what they give us, and that’s what we’re going to take.
“There’s some very good fast bowlers in our group, our job is to go out there and give it our best shot. Jerome Taylor has been leading the attack very well, he’s in good form, one of the fastest bowlers in the world Shannon Gabriel, and then myself. And Jason Holder the captain has been good as well. I think we can give the Australians some trouble.”
A grassy pitch is West Indies’ best chance to get into the contest, as their batsmen have commonly lacked the application and technique required to build the more substantial innings required by flatter wickets. This much was confirmed by a glance at their morning net session, where edges abounded, and the young right-hander Shane Dowrich was at one point clean bowled, by a ball the coach Phil Simmons delivered with a “dog thrower”.
Roach’s speed and skiddy bounce had been similarly disconcerting for Ponting six years ago. He was struck a painful blow near the elbow, its effects on tendons and muscles described by the team physio Alex Kountouris as similar to a cut of meat being tenderised by a mallet. Years and injuries have dulled Roach’s speed, but he is a useful man to have on tour for his experience and effervescence.
“It was good memories, Ricky Ponting was a great batsman for Australia, and to go out there and give him a hard time at the crease was a good thing for me at a young age,” he said. “My role has changed since 2009, I’ve had a lot of injuries the last couple of years and that’s set me back a bit.
“But I’m here and there’s a reason I’m here, the selectors have put their faith in me to come down here and do the job. I believe in myself as well, so given a go on Thursday I’ll go out there and give it my best shot. Consistency, hitting the areas as much as possible has always been the way in Australia. I watched Australia and New Zealand and it’s simple, just keep the ball in good areas and just do something with the ball as well, then you should be on top.”
West Indies’ troubles have been many and varied, with several of their best players now skipping Test duty to play in the Big Bash League, and more recently Simmons being suspended from his role for disputing the choices made by a selection panel of which he was a part. Roach said Simmons’ return had a positive effect, while also welcoming the “underdog” tag that is indisputably theirs this week.
“I think Phil Simmons is a great coach,” Roach said. “I like him around, he has been working with the guys very well, he has a comfortable dressing room, and that’s what most guys need to perform, once they’re comfortable then there’s no other reason you can’t perform.
“I love being the underdogs. If we can come out on top then it’s going to be a whole different story, they will change their mouths, I think we’ve got to go out there, do the best that we can and give Australia a good run.”