West Indies come to the World Cup looking to redeem a reputation tarnished by the events of 2014. The aborted tour of India due to a contracts dispute between the squad led by Dwayne Bravo, the West Indies Players Association and the West Indies Cricket Board fractured opinion in the West Indian community, and largely caused dismay among the cricket-loving public.
More critically, there were casualties. Amid claims of victimisation in many quarters and equally strong denials by chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd and president of the WICB Dave Cameron, Bravo and senior allrounder Kieron Pollard found themselves surplus to requirements for the World Cup.
Taking Bravo’s place at the helm is 23-year-old budding allrounder Jason Holder, the youngest man ever to captain West Indies, and a player who had just 21 ODIs behind him before the appointment. His will be the weighty task of galvanising a team still carrying the baggage of India with them to Australia and New Zealand, and having to deal with an assignment that was already going to be difficult.
Stuck in the lower half of the ODI rankings, the two-time former World Cup winners cannot, on statistics, be considered tournament favourites, especially since they have struggled to win with any regularity against the sides ranked above them. However, with power-hitting batsmen like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Darren Sammy, the classy Marlon Samuels, West Indies have the batting personnel to have a decent tournament. Their bowling, however, has suffered after offspinner Sunil Narine withdrew from the squad to give himself more time to work on his action, which was reported as suspect during the 2014 Champions League T20 in India. Left-arm spinner Nikita Miller has been picked to fill Narine’s shoes.
World Cup pedigree
As winners of the first two World Cups and three-time finalists, West Indies had set the benchmark for excellence in the limited-overs format. They have long since fallen away from their own lofty standards. West Indies have not been to a final since they famously failed to complete the hat-trick in 1983 against India at Lord’s. Only once since – in 1996 – have they reached the semi-final stage. Yet, they retain sufficient players who on their day can turn any game. The elusive trick for them is to string enough of those days together as a team.
All 11 players can fit the description because of the mercurial nature of the squad. However, should Andre Russell pick his moments to attack a little better, his awesome hitting ability can take a match away from any side; his seam bowling can deliver important wickets, while his often stupendous work in the outfield can do similarly. Known primarily as a Twenty20 specialist, Russell is nevertheless the type of player to pull an important game out of the fire, even in 50-over cricket. He recently showed a glimpse of that against South Africa where his 64 off 40 deliveries lifted West Indies to a one-wicket win.
Players in focus
A veteran of three World Cups, Gayle is still the side’s premier batsman at the age of 35. A superstar of the T20 game, Gayle is equally important to West Indies in the 50-over format. No West Indies batsman has scored more ODI centuries than his 21. He has not, however, done his heaviest scoring at World Cups and has just one century – against Kenya – to show for his three campaigns. Injuries have also become an area of concern for Gayle in recent years and in 2014, he underwent surgery on his back. Once he is fit enough to get to the crease however, Gayle’s runs will be crucial to any progress West Indies make in the tournament.
Marlon Samuels was one of the key factors behind West Indies’ World T20 triumph in 2012. At his best, he is the most accomplished batsman in the side but his best has not been on show come as consistently as either he or West Indies would like. On his return to the team in the series against India, after having been dropped earlier in the year, Samuels reeled off two centuries in three matches, including one in the fourth ODI of the series when matters off the field were in turmoil. It is that kind of focus and single-mindedness that his team will require in the World Cup, along with his economical off spin which can also take an important wicket or two. Being named vice-captain to Holder may also give the Jamaican a sense of purpose he hasn’t always seemed to have in his career.
At six foot seven, and nearly as tall as legendary fast bowler Joel Garner, Jason Holder has some big shoes to fill. He was unexpectedly entrusted with the captaincy in difficult circumstances and at a stage when his career has not quite taken off as a bowling all-rounder. The ODI series against South Africa was Holder’s only preparation for the World Cup and cricket’s biggest tournament will prove a fiery baptism. Credited with a shrewd cricket brain, Holder will have to rely on his thinking ability, developing skills as a seamer and useful lower-order hitting to convince his team-mates that he can lead.
Unpredictability is both West Indies¹ strength and their weakness. They possess a number of explosive batsmen who can either set the pace of an innings or provide late momentum, and bowlers who on their day as a combination can keep strong lineups in check. West Indies are a momentum team and should they get their confidence up, they can give stiff competition to the more fancied teams.
In 2011, West Indies got to the quarter-final stage and a last-eight finish remains a realistic goal. To get to the semi-finals, however, would require consistency of play currently missing. The troubles of 2014 can, however, act as a galvanising force if the players see it as a means to redeem their reputation as team.
World Cup stats
West Indies have won just ten of their last 21 World Cup matches, starting from the 2003 World Cup. Two of those wins – against South Africa (2003) and Pakistan (2007) – have come against countries ranked above them in the ODI rankings. Only twice since reaching the final in 1983 have West Indies entered the quarterfinals of the World Cup – in 1996 and 2011. If they were an actor Charlie Chaplin: A comedy of off-the-field errors has dogged and could continue to hamper West Indies¹ progress on the field. They could feel those effects again in this campaign.
“Rally Round the West Indies” – David Rudder