India in West Indies – Romario Shepherd takes big step towards his goal

India in West Indies - Romario Shepherd takes big step towards his goal

Romario Shepherd was named after the Brazilian footballer, one the greatest strikers in that sport. Shepherd was born in Linden, where football – or track and field – is arguably more popular than cricket, but he took to cricket. Tall, strong and muscular, Shepherd towered over other boys during age-group and regional cricket. He has a big presence in the middle and there are no half-measures with him. He was always meant to be a cricket allrounder.

On Saturday, Shepherd towered over India’s IPL stars, taking career-best ODI figures of 3 for 37. He took out Ishan Kishan, India’s new No. 4 Axar Patel, and Ravindra Jadeja to help dismiss India for 181 and fashion West Indies’ first ODI win against India in almost four years. India were without their regular captain Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, who were both rested, but nevertheless, Shepherd’s spell was a significant step in his progress.

Shepherd has played 24 ODIs – and T20 cricket all around the world – but popular opinion is that he leaks easy runs, as his T20 economy rate of 9.08 confirms. His List A economy rate of 5.49 is more acceptable, and though Jason Holder is also prone to leaking runs at the death, he offers West Indies greater control in the powerplay and middle overs. In the absence of Holder, who has made himself unavailable for the ODI series against India, Shepherd married his hit-the-deck hustle with control and proved that he could do the job in fairly helpful conditions.

Odean Smith was West Indies’ hit-the-deck option against UAE in Sharjah, but Shepherd is much taller than him and pounds the deck even harder. Keemo Paul had recently played for West Indies in the World Cup Qualifier and the Emirates, but he is more known for his new-ball skills and slower variations at the death.

The Barbados pitch for the second ODI on Saturday was a used one, but Shepherd still generated enough pace and bounce to leave India shaken. When Shepherd was called into the attack, Kishan was already in his shot-making groove and then got four more when he chopped Shepherd between backward point and deep third. Two legal balls later, Shepherd bowled a similar short ball, but this skidded on to the bat and had Kishan splicing a catch to backward point, where Alick Athanaze leapt to his right to complete a spectacular catch.

Then, in his next over, Shepherd dug the ball in even shorter and created a sharper angle from around the wicket to end Axar’s promotion after eight balls. Axar had tried to sway his upper body inside the line and drop his gloves, but Shepherd rushed him and cramped him. Shepherd proceeded to bounce Jadeja out, too, and damage India even further.

“It was just more intent,” Shepherd said after the innings. “I just tried to run in hard and hit the pitch because when you hit the wicket, you get something out of it. So, that was in my bowling plan and especially to some of the Indian batsmen, I don’t want to get too full to them. When I came in, I got a wicket and set the tone. Basically, the guys started to push a bit and then we get another wicket that put pressure back on them.”

The past few weeks have been particularly grim for West Indies cricket, starting with the failure to qualify for the 50-over World Cup for the first time. Then in the ODI series opener against India, West Indies folded in 23.2 overs – their second-shortest completed innings in the format.

Shepherd toasted West Indies’ fightback and his own spell in the second ODI.

“It’s a big job from me,” Shepherd said after West Indies won by six wickets. “Basically, against a big team like India… it doesn’t matter whatever team they put out on paper, India always have some great batsmen in their line-up. So, to get my best figures against India was a great feeling for me.”

The challenge will only get stiffer for West Indies’ attack as the track in Trinidad for the third ODI might not offer as much assistance to the bowlers. Plus, Rohit and Kohli will likely return for India, with the series on the line.

“I think our bowling is the side we need to work on a bit more, especially because it’s going to be a batting wicket there in Trinidad, so whoever bowls well is going to get the victory,” Shepherd said. “In Trinidad, the wicket is flat and there is nothing in it for the bowlers and we’re expecting a great game.”

In such conditions, West Indies will need Shepherd, the six-hitter, to turn up as well, if they are to surprise India once again.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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