When I ponder the West Indies team’s performance in this year’s Cricket World Cup the first thing that comes to mind is a broken clock: dysfunctional and out of sync. But to be fair to broken clocks, at least they are correct twice a day. The Windies have gotten it right only twice the past month.
The Windies posted a 23-run victory Thursday against Afghanistan in their final match. The World Cup will continue until July 14 but the boys from the Caribbean have been sent packing early. They lost six of their eight games during cricket’s pinnacle event in England and Wales (a ninth game was rained out). There is no worse place to be exposed than on the world stage. And the Windies today must face the naked truth: They are not quite ready for prime time. Although they salvaged some pride in the finale, it must be noted that the victory came against a team that lost all nine of its games.
Windies finished next-to-last in the standings, ahead of only Afghanistan, which gained full member status from the International Cricket Council just two years ago. The storied West Indies team has been around since 1928.
There are many variables to explain the West Indies team’s worst showing ever at the Cricket World Cup, an event it won in 1975 and 1979. Some issues were beyond their control. Most were not. There is blame to go around, from selectors, management, the captain and, of course, the players. But all is not lost. There are several promising Windies players.
So let’s analyze the West Indies team’s World Cup performance:
The rise of Nicholas Pooran: The 23-year-old Trinidadian left-hander entered the World Cup having played in only one One-Day International match. And in that match February 20 against England he was dismissed for a duck. Yet he was the West Indies’ best and most consistent player in the World Cup. His inexperience surfaced at times, especially with his fielding, but at the crease he showed great composure in pressure moments and knew when to temper or unleash his aggression based on match situation. He and Carlos Brathwaite were the only Windies players to hit centuries at the Cup. Pooran’s batting average of 52.24 led the West Indies by far, and his 100.27 strike rate was excellent. He has likely cemented his place in the lineup.
Brathwaite’s fight: Brathwaite almost single-handedly rescued West Indies to an improbable victory against New Zealand on June 22. With Windies chasing 292, he scored 101 before being caught at the edge of the boundary with six balls remaining and West Indies behind by five runs. The passion, determination and eventual disappointment Brathwaite showed during that chase was inspiring.
Cottrell’s consistency: Jamaican left-handed seamer Sheldon Cottrell deserves a salute for his focus and attitude. He takes the game seriously and he was the West Indies’ smartest bowler, utilizing variation with his deliveries to keep batsmen guessing. His 12 wickets led the West Indies. His eight catches were the most by a West Indies fielder other than the wicket keeper.
Poor mid-match strategy: There is an old adage in the sport of boxing: “Everyone has a great game plan until they get hit.” When the Windies are the fielding team and the game plan works, all is wonderful. They targeted Pakistan with short-pitched deliveries in the opener and won handily. But when the script fails, West Indies cannot improvise. The top teams such as Australia and India have Plan B and Plan C when Plan A falters. When the Windies plan fails, they seem to freelance and hope it works. News flash, gentlemen: Other teams watch game film.
Setting fields for bad bowling: One of the golden rules in cricket: Fielding should never be adjusted to accommodate bad bowling. That’s like the tail wagging the dog. Instead, bowlers should bowl to their field. Windies bowlers have been wayward at times with seemingly no idea how to close the floodgates when runs bleed. Oshane Thomas, who entered the World Cup in great form, played poorly after the opener against Pakistan. Shannon Gabriel was also a disappointment. Captain Jason Holder has also erred with how he manages the bowlers’ 10-over limit, although to be fair he didn’t have many options once Andre Russell went down.
Gayle giveth, Gayle taketh away: Chris Gayle has had a wonderful career and will go down as one of the West Indies’ greats. The powerful opening batsman can score in bunches. But he also comes with an intractable liability. If the bowling is tight, as it often is with the new ball, he does not turn over the strike as often as he should because he dislikes running. Hope, who shared a lot of partnerships with Gayle, had a poor strike rate of 70.43 in the eight games. That is partly due to Gayle’s tendency to focus on boundaries. Even when he runs for singles it appears as if he’s running in quicksand. So although Gayle can score quickly, he also leaves a lot of runs on the field — precious runs that sometimes come back to haunt the Windies.
Walking wounded: West Indies selectors gambled that Russell would be healthy. They lost big-time when he aggravated his knee injury. Russell was actually bowling well but ended up playing only four games. The decision to relegate Kemar Roach might also have been a poor one. In four games, Roach took six wickets at an average of 20.16 and excellent economy rate of 3.66. Windies was also unlucky to lose Evin Lewis to a thigh injury for several games.
Fielding blunders: All teams make errors in the field. But many times West Indies fielders treated the ball as if it were a hand grenade. Even the sure-handed Cottrell dropped a sitter in the finale. Fielding must improve — and fast.
No specialist spinner? Sunil Narine was unavailable due to injury, and Davendra Bishoo was overlooked. When the Windies turned to Gayle it was a red flag that the team was in trouble. Ashley Nurse could have been replaced by an actual nurse and no one would notice.
India hit 28 sixes through eight games at the Cricket World Cup and is headed to the semifinals. The West Indies hit 59 sixes and is headed home.
During the glory days, the West Indies demolished opponents with glorious shots and lethal fast bowlers. They not only won, but they won in style. But the days when the Windies overwhelmed opponents on sheer talent are gone. The rest of the world have caught up. Today’s cricket requires analytical skill along with physical skill. Technology has allowed teams to diagnose and exploit opponents’ weaknesses. Teams don’t just employ physios anymore. They have technical consultants whose main task is to provide every tangible and intangible advantage possible. The West Indies team does not need a total makeover, but it needs some reinvention. They must decide if they want to play entertaining cricket or winning cricket. There was one glaring stat: In eight games at the Cup, India hit 28 sixes as a team. The West Indies hit 59. One team is headed to the semifinals; the other is headed home.
That being said, there are positive signs. The young players can only get better. Pooran, Hope, Fabian Allen and Shimron Hetmyer can all be future stars. But ultimately it’s defense that wins championships. India has top-class batsmen Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, but the key to their success is new-ball bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. It’s no coincidence that the top teams at this year’s Cup all have a star bowler who can stifle the opponent’s run rate and take wickets when called upon: Shami, Australia’s Mitchell Starc, New Zealand’s Trent Boult, etc.
And now look what’s around the corner: India, the No. 1 Test team in the world, the squad that demolished the Windies by 125 runs on June 27, is set to visit the Caribbean for a summer tour. Can the broken clock be repaired for the India series?
Only time will tell.