Roston Chase: Dare to Dream

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The day was meant to belong to Misbah-Ul-Haq and Younis Khan, the two Pakistani giants with nearly 200 Test Matches, 15,321 runs and 44 centuries between them. For both of them, this was to be their final day of active participation in Test Cricket. With the West Indies stumbling along at 93-6, over 200 runs from victory, or more plausibly 50+ overs from safety, it seemed destined to conclude early.

However, although it may not have felt like it at the time, they may now consider that they owe young Roston Chase at least a small debt of gratitude. Chase had earlier arrived at the crease with the West Indies sinking at 47-3. He then intelligently dropped anchor and paced himself to a 206-ball century, whilst he marshalled his team to the final ball of the penultimate over, and the brink of safety. Only then, did the rear-guard wilt in the Caribbean sun as Shannon Gabriel inexplicably unleashed an outrageously injudicious heave, against the persistent Yasir Shah (5-92).

As the ball cannoned into the stumps from the inside edge of Gabriel’s bat, the careers of two Pakistani legends departed the scene along with West Indian hopes of a series levelling draw. The record books will now forever remember Misbah as the first Pakistan captain to record a Test series victory in the Caribbean (albeit against an opponent dwarfed by the shadow of the great West Indies teams of old.)

For his part, Younis remains Pakistan’s finest batsman in terms of both runs (10,099) and centuries (34). His legend is safely secured along with that of his erstwhile skipper. As the players left the field all these achievements filed themselves quietly into the past.

But 25-year-old Roston Chase is manifestly of the present. He performed with an authority and character that belied his relative inexperience at the highest level. Chase’s 2nd innings unbeaten 101 exuded calm and confidence. Rather than be strangled and subjugated into an old school “blockathon” he was instead able to work the ball around and successfully keep the scoreboard ticking over.

It was merely due his misfortune that he couldn’t find a teammate with sufficient longevity to see the vigil through with him. This knock also followed on the back of a top-scoring 1st innings of 69 and a combined match haul of five wickets, courtesy of his off-spin.

Across the entire series Chase has eclipsed the performance of his teammates with the bat and also played a solid support role with the ball. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Guyanese debutant Vishaul Singh (63 runs at 10.50) who has appeared woefully out of his depth, especially against pace on what have been mostly placid pitches.

Indeed, Chase’s series tally of 403 runs at 100.75 has overshadowed even the retiring Misbah (271 runs at 67.75). In many instances his application and resolve has merely illustrated the brittleness of the West Indies batting. It is a sad indictment that none of the West Indies batsman could reach the modest series milestone of 200 runs or prove able to pull their averages out of the heavily sub-par mid 20s, with the exception of course of rock-like captain Jason Holder (182 runs at 45.50 / 10 wickets at 21.00) who performed with his usual pride and commitment.

Roston Chase, a native of Barbados, made his first-class debut in 2011, a match in which he appeared alongside his future Test captain. He performed solidly making 30-odd in his only innings and picking up a couple of wickets. He was primarily deployed as a batsman who could supplement this role with a few utility overs of off-spin.

His breakthrough came in the 2015/16 season when he amassed 710 runs in 10 appearances for Barbados at an average of 59.16. His bowling had also developed into more of a threat as evidenced by his capturing of 23 wickets at less than 20.

His consistently strong performances brought him to the attention of the WICB selectors and he was drafted in for the four-Test home series against India. It began relatively inauspiciously with a thumping defeat in Antigua courtesy of a double ton from the outstanding Virat Kohli and a seven-wicket demolition from Ravi Ashwin. Chase achieved an unwanted 1st innings century as he went wicketless (0-102) against a clinical Indian batting performance. His batting (25 & 8) also left little to be excited about.

However, he quickly proved his mettle in the next match at Sabina Park. Stepping out in the 4th innings at 48-4 and 250 adrift, another innings defeat seemed inevitable. However, Chase dug in for a 269 ball innings of 137 not out, ultimately seeing the West Indies through to a comfortable draw, with the support of Holder and Shane Dowrich.

This was a towering innings from the young Bajan in only his second Test Match. Coming as it did as part of an inexperienced team, devoid of confidence and accustomed to losing. Not altogether unexpectedly Chase was not able to follow it up in his next appearance where he fell cheaply in both innings and with the final Test all but completely washed out, he had no further chances to impress.

With precious little experience outside of the West Indies it is probably not surprising that Chase struggled on his first overseas tour. The challenge of Pakistan in Dubai is markedly different to anything he had previously faced and he thus had a quiet tour (135 runs at 22.50).

A batting berth of 7 was perhaps one or two places too low in the order for him. When promoted up to six in the final test, he did at least score a first-innings half-century to help his team to an unexpected and rare overseas victory.

It does, however, leave a small question mark against his promise. That is around his effectiveness outside of the Caribbean. This would of course though be a distinctly harsh judgement based on what is such a small performance sample.

The latest series though has noticeably proved that Chase is more than a one-innings wonder. He has evidenced that he can apply himself and has the ability to accumulate runs, a precious quality in a team that has routinely folded under pressure. His technique and ability to adapt will be tested all the more as his side face a late summer tour to England and a game under lights in Birmingham.

Jason Holder, at last appears to have found an able ally in his ongoing struggle to revive the fortunes of West Indies cricket. He may finally have a team-mate that instead of delivering rare touches of brilliance, can instead routinely sustain an average above 40 in Test cricket; perhaps, even a player that one day can fulfil the role that Shiv Chanderpaul played so efficiently and for so long.

It is of course early days and ultimately unfair to make such a comparison against a veteran of 164 Test matches. But, from what they have seen so far, one could almost forgive the West Indian fans for daring to dream.

For those members of the cricket public that mourn the demise of West Indies cricket, Chase presents the hope of a better and brighter day. The Champions Trophy begins in earnest next month and is the first without the participation of the West Indies. It offers another sad reminder of their continued fall from grace.

If West Indies wish to fend off the attack from Bangladesh on their already embarrassing 8th place in the Test table, they will need him to maintain this early promise. They need a hero more than ever and Roston Chase may well prove to be it.

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