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Warm-up worries for volatile Windies

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Chris Gayle_West_Indies_cricket“They can come first or they can come last.” That was the pronouncement of former Jamaican batting stylist Lawrence Rowe when asked about the West Indies’ chances in the T20 World Cup. His response was his way of saying something well known about the Caribbean side in the game’s briefest version: highly capable but highly volatile.

It was his way of saying the West Indies could win the whole thing or, alternatively, they could be eliminated in the first round. They could -- as happened in Sri Lanka in 2012 -- soar above all others to hold the trophy aloft at the end on the tournament, or fall in a heap like plummeting autumn leaves.

Their capacity to thrill remains intact despite recent troubles. The contract dispute that surfaced shortly before the team travelled to India, and was the subject of captain Darren Sammy’s letters to the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), is now settled. There should be no residual ill effects, the captain says.

More consequential, perhaps, is the spate of injuries, mishaps and withdrawals that denied the squad of a few first-choice members.

Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons have been laid low by knee and back injury respectively. Darren Bravo has chosen, wisely many feel, to concentrate on the longer formats and so has withdrawn from the squad. “I’m of the firm belief,” the left hander wrote, “that I have a very big part to play in the resurgence of West Indies cricket in the longer formats of the game and I will like the opportunity to play in our Professional Cricket League (PCL) because it will put me in good stead and will allow me to achieve those goals that I have aligned myself for the year 2016 and beyond.”

Of all the enforced changes made to the original squad, however, Narine’s departure must be considered the most significant. Apparently not satisfied with the progress he has made in correcting his unlawful action, his absence will rob the West Indies of one of the most effective bowlers in T20 cricket .

The wily Trinidadian has been a major contributor to every T20 team he has represented. His consistency has been phenomenal. Thirty-four games for the West Indies have yielded 40 wickets for the mystery spinner. His 17.75 average is also remarkable, as is a 5.69 economy rate. His side will surely miss his services.

Another source of worry for Sammy’s men is the Andre Russell “anti-doping whereabouts” violation, a consequence of the 27-year-old missing three drug tests in 12 months. The incendiary all-rounder, capable of spectacularly turning a game while batting, bowling or fielding, will participate in the tournament pending a hearing of his case.

Russell will therefore play under the psychological weight of a sword hanging over his head. That sword drops if the panel does not find in his favour, and he will then face the real possibility of a two-year ban. Only time will tell if he retains his high level of effectiveness under the circumstances.

 

The aforementioned difficulties are a concern, but nothing the game’s second ranked team can’t overcome. A side with Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Andre Russell as members should not be taken lightly. These men are some of the most adept, most experienced players in this format. Opposing teams know there is a gigantic gulf between their inept Test team and their potentially terrifying T20 team.

Not much needs to be said about Chris Gayle. The tall left hander is simply the most powerful batsman there is. Half an hour’s big hitting from him will frequently end a game as a contest.

Marlon is likely to blow hot and cold. The stylish Jamaican will exasperate one game, one minute even, and thrill the next. Anyone doubting his capacity for mayhem, however, should have a look at a number of his big limited overs innings, especially his match-winning 78 against Sri Lanka in the final of the 2012 T20 Cricket World Cup. Has the excellent Lasith Malinga ever been collared in such a manner?

Dwayne Bravo’s exploits are well known. Speaking recently, bowling coach Sir Curtly Ambrose rang his praises. “Dwayne Bravo is a pro in T20. There’s no two ways about it. He’s a superstar. He understands T20 cricket and he’s going to be an asset for us in this World T20 tournament. There’s really nothing much I can say to him in terms of his bowling because he’s just a pro, and he’s one of the guys who’s going to lead the other bowlers.”  High expectations indeed but the Trinidadian is a high quality player with the ability to turn in stunning performances.

Captain Darren Sammy is not to be taken lightly either. His bowling might have fallen off a bit, but his batting and fielding remain major weapons.

One cannot place too much stock on a single game but the West Indies’ recent warm-up against tournament favourites India highlights some of the above concerns and indicates a few areas that need to be improved.

Batting stability has been a long-standing problem for the Caribbean side. Whereas Rohit Sharma was there from start to finish for India, the West Indies could find no one to play a similar role. All are aware of talent for explosiveness. There is a steadiness, however, that is required even in this fast-paced format that sometimes eludes them.

It is also worth mentioning that though they managed to restrict India to 62 runs off the first 10 overs they allowed them to romp to 185, which means the hosts smashed 123 off the last 10. Now, this is India; a team with some of cricket’s best T20 batsmen. But an inability to keep opponents to manageable totals has been an enduring weakness.

Indeed, the efficacy of their bowling is most likely the West Indies’ main area of trepidation. Narine’s departure has left a huge hole. Bowlers like Samuel Badree, Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn, along with the all-rounders will have to, with some consistency, bowl with purpose and direction. For while the batsmen will, on occasion, set or chase down forbidding totals, they cannot be expected to do the impossible very often.

With some luck, the West Indies could get close to or even get to the final game. But, as Rowe indicated, it could also end much too soon for their liking.

 


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