Who would have thought it possible? There is a cricketing Chase that Virat Kohli cannot get the better of. The master of the run chase, Kohli has done it with panache in all formats, but this Chase, Roston Lamar Chase, remember the name.
In only his second Test match, a man who many were calling to be dropped after he made 31 nondescript, unmemorable runs on his debut in Antigua, Chase subdued an Indian team that did little wrong and had its eyes firmly on the prize.
Taking five wickets and scoring an unbeaten century in the Test that concluded on Wednesday (August 3), Chase took baby steps towards filling out the giant boots of one of the most hallowed routes to Test cricket. Combermere High School in Bridgetown, Barbados, where Chase did his schooling, has produced more Test cricketers than any other similar institution in the Caribbean. Empire, the club that Chase played his cricket at, has given the world the likes of Sir Everton Weekes and Charlie Griffith.
One other most worthy is a combination of these two institutions: Sir Frank Worrell, the first black captain of West Indies, and one whose leadership was so blessed with charisma and wisdom that it overshadowed his considerable batsmanship.
To say that Chase has stepped out of Worrell’s shadow, after only two Test matches, would be overstating the case, but both Combermere and Empire can rest easy, knowing that there is a shining light emerging from the darkness. The Combermere name is a household one in cricket, having a player in almost every West Indian Test XI that ever took the park, starting from the first game in history. In this squad alone, they are represented by four alumni, Chase, Carlos and Kraigg Brathwaite, and Shane Dowrich. But, before you think Combermere is all about cricket, remember that Chase’s schoolmates include the incredibly pretty and wildly talented Rihanna.
But this is not about Combermere. This is about Chase. This is about a man who batted so well that he made the patron saint of batting, Sir Viv Richards, smile. The King who was knighted, was shooting the breeze in the North Stand at Sabina Park, taking a break between commentary stints when Chase was past a century and the game as good as over. “Chase’s innings pleased me no end. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen West Indian batsmanship like this. Especially, with the situation the West Indies were in, for a young man in just his second Test match, Jesus!” Richards told Wisden India, the trademark 1000-watt smile back on his face after months of enduring West Indian losses. “These are the sort of breakthrough innings that pave the way for someone to make a career. For him to believe this early, this should be a stepping stone for special things in the future. Especially against an Indian team that has dominated through the course of two Test matches, for him to be still out there batting, who would have believed that yesterday? That he would bat all day. Earlier I did say that anything is possible and they are proving that.”
For a man who did not really know the meaning of the word losing, the recent past can’t have been anything but tortuous. And naturally he was happy to see someone stand up to the opposition. “The fight they showed is great. I was cheering every run. It’s not just going out and winning Test matches that makes you a brilliant player. There are times when you have your backs to the wall – 48 for 4, 300 behind and you have to mount a rearguard action. This was looking like an Indian win, just some boxes to be ticked,” said Richards. “But, anyone who has played or watched the game long enough knows these kind of things can happen. These are the things that make heroes out of individuals. And certainly it made a hero out of Chase, with strong contributions from Blackwood, Dowrich and the captain now.”
It was the partnership between Chase and Dowrich that pushed India back, not merely by the 144 runs that were added to the total, but the manner in which these came. “It was a very essential stand. When you are facing totals like this everyone thinks you have just go out there and defend. But, it’s not about that,” said Richards. “You can defend stoutly, but because of the aggression of the field, men in catching positions, there are bound to be gaps. You have to utilise that to the best of your ability. Chase and Dowrich certainly did that.”
Naturally, Richards enjoyed the aggression and the flourishes. “Oh yeah maan, it is the West Indian way. Young Blackwood, hitting nice and straight, no fielders in that position. You have to say the selection has been pretty good,” said Richards, scotching suggestions that this team was unfairly dominated by Barbados players. “We always had issues over the years. So long as someone steps up to the plate, nobody can complain. Chase, Dowrich, the captain, they’ve stepped up to the plate. Holder couldn’t get the job done in the first Test in Antigua, but here he had a chance to redeem himself and he did that.”
If Richards’s praise for Chase was fuelled by Caribbean pride, there was someone who had nothing to gain from the innings, but yet was classy enough to give credit where it was due. “It’s creditable to someone playing his second Test match to bat through the day and save the game for his team, shows the character,” said Anil Kumble, coach of the Indian team. “Chase’s approach today was very good. He looked to attack when needed to and blocked literally every other ball and kept our bowlers at bay.”
Holder, who smiled for the first time in a press conference since this series began, has known Chase all his life. Naturally he was pleased for his mate. “Roston is one of many things. He is a character. People don’t know Roston off the field but he is a fighter. I played all my cricket throughout my entire life with Roston – junior cricket, 13, 15, 17, 19, West Indies A and now West Indies senior team,” said Holder. “I have honestly enjoyed playing with Roston because the character he is and you know the way he plays cricket. He is a very good fellow and he may come across lackadaisical and lazy and smooth but he is a wonderful individual. It’s nothing new to me, this performance from Roston, because I know what he can offer and credit to the selectors for having the faith in him and giving him the opportunity. Credit also must go to Roston for showing why he should be playing Test cricket.”
On his day, it’s only fitting that the final word rests with Chase. “The captain asked the players to show some fight. We just went with the mindset that we were at war, and we can’t die today.”
West Indies did not die, in any sense, and Chase breathed life into a series, a collection of islands and a cricketing world that wants to see his team strong and vibrant.