In Test cricket, a paceman is at his lethal best when he marries his brawn with some brain. For an apparently emaciated West Indies bowling attack which has long ceased to induce fear in the minds of opposition batsmen, Shannon Gabriel’s match haul of 13/121 against Sri Lanka in the second Test of the three-match series at the Darren Sammy Stadium, St. Lucia, is equivalent to that small dose of aspirin which relieves patients, albeit temporarily, of frequent bouts of headache.
Playing his 34th Test for the Windies, thirty-year-old Gabriel claimed his third Test five-wicket haul (5/59) in the first innings and followed it up with career-best figures of 8/62 in the second to wrap up the Sri Lankan second innings for 342 and give his side a realistic chance of winning the contest before a light drizzle brought play to a premature end on day five.
In the process, Gabriel raced to 100 Test wickets and became the third West Indian after Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh to take thirteen or more wickets in a Test match. More importantly, this match-winning performance has helped him jump up eleven places to no. 12 on the latest ICC Test rankings for bowlers.
Seldom has any West Indian fast bowler of recent years looked as threatening with the red cherry in hand as Gabriel looked at Gros Islet, for his vicious pace (always his forte), aided by some lateral movement off the pitch, set in motion a long Lankan procession back to the pavilion. His hot and cold form—ever since he made his Test debut at Lord’s six years ago—has hitherto been a plaguing factor for the player and the management alike, but he finally seems to have made amends.
The ongoing series against Sri Lanka has seen him reach the peak of his prowess, amply testified by the unwavering discipline he has shown so far, bowling most of his deliveries full and around the off stump. The no-ball, however, continues to be a persistent drawback to his bowling, and the sooner he is able to fix the problem, the better his bowling stats are going to get.
Going forward, consistency will be of paramount importance for the sturdy Trinidadian—if he is to break into the top five rankings that is. His great appetite for learning and constant endeavour to improve exudes enough confidence to suggest that he will embrace his elusive ‘consistency’.
Gabriel’s Trinidadian teammate and fellow Windies pacer, Rayad Emrit, thinks along the same lines. “Shannon is one of the hardest working fast bowlers in the Caribbean. I have seen him spend hours on end with Kelvin Williams at the National Cricket Centre and he is someone who never hesitates to push that few extra miles. All his diligence is paying off now’’, Emrit said exclusively to cricfit.com.
With age not being on his side, Gabriel will have to take special care to stay injury free from hereon. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the conditions in the subcontinent where the surfaces generally offer no help to the faster bowlers. Improving his seam position in a bid to extract more swing from the wickets is another area that he must tend to. Former West Indian fast bowler and current bowling coach of the national team, Corey Collymore, shed light on this aspect of Gabriel’s bowling in an interview with SportsMax.TV on Wednesday.
“Shannon has also worked hard on his seam position, something that I talk about with the bowlers since I have come onboard. I think the best way to do that is to keep your wrist locked behind the ball, also looking at your target as long as possible and then executing by putting the ball in the right areas”, the forty-year-old Barbadian emphasized.
The next twenty-four months will be crucial in determining the longevity of Gabriel’s Test career. Whether he will perish under the burden of mounting expectations, or be able to restore the fearsome reputation that comes along with the privilege of being a Windies fast bowler is a question which, at present, should be left in the custody of Time alone, but one thing goes without saying: for the next one week or so, the burly Trinidadian will be the cynosure of all eyes in the Caribbean islands..