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West Indies live another day

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West_Indies_ODI_World_Cup_CricketNot always do the West Indies generate polarized views on their performance. The recently concluded ICC World Cup Qualifiers was a tournament where they showcased sparks of occasional brilliance. Even though it didn’t result in consistency.

In some games, their batsmen came together. In others, their bowlers did the job when the batting looked pale and ordinary. Usually, on most other occasions, the West Indies are often downed by playing lackadaisical cricket; picture their previous campaign to New Zealand, from which they returned winless.

But during this vital series, there were a few joys. A bouquet of individual performances suggested the West Indies were determined to wake up from their state self-imposed of slumber. The likes of Samuels and Lewis shone bright in a series where it was all to play for.

It’s not always that one sees the somewhat lazy Marlon Samuels strike 3 fifties. Lewis, who struck just as many, struggled to convert great starts into hundreds. Nevertheless the runs came in handy. And where none were able to impact, Rovman Powell struck a fiery hundred. This was against Ireland, a side that has tasted victory against Windies before. In most games, captain Holder contributed with both bat and ball, including clinching a fifer and striking a career best unbeaten 99.

This was their greatest achievement from a campaign where they beat minnows- PNG, UAE, thumped Ireland and made it past Zimbabwe & Scotland, albeit with a scare toward the ending stage. And they lost horribly to Afghanistan. Twice.

Gayle seemed ordinary but struck a ferocious hundred early on. But time and again, the Windies demonstrated what might be called, for the lack of better term, school-grade cricket.

 

Barring the games against UAE and Zimbabwe, two occasions where their top batsmen were amongst runs – Gayle and Hetmyer striking hundreds in the former and Samuels, Lewis and Hope contributing match winning fifties in the latter – the West Indies clearly had their backs against the wall.

 

A handy word of advice from even the most irregular viewer of their game would point to their obvious shortcomings against spin. They just can’t seem to handle spin at all. In fact, if you were to distance yourself from the clatter of celebration that has feted the Windies having booked a birth in the ICC World Cup 2019, mediocrity has so profoundly defined their game.

A fitting example of this can be gauged from their repeated failures against Afghanistan.

Their problems now seem to go well beyond handling Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s talismanic spinner. They struggle against the likes of Sharafuddin Ashraf, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The trio, in addition to strike bowler Khan, ran rampant through the Windies batsmen.

In the two games where Afghanistan mercilessly took the mickey out of their familiar punching bags, thirteen of the eighteen wickets that the Windies lost fell to spinners.

On both occasions, it wasn’t too hard to see the West Indies batsmen offering paltry resistance to the Afghan spinners. In fact, so comfortable were Afghanistan in holding the Windies by the scruff of their neck that Rashid Khan wasn’t introduced until the middle of the innings.

That says a thing or two about Afghanistan’s sheer confidence in the West Indies’ weakness.

This is the one spectacular area of discomfort that West Indies have to urgently address. It cannot be possible that on the same, slow wickets where Afghanistan bowlers generated turn, the likes of Bishoo and Nurse seemed ineffective in troubling their opponents.

 

Even as the West Indies open a bottle of champagne or two, perhaps hearteningly raising a toast to Scotland and to the rains that saved them from disqualification, they still have a number of concerns to look after.

 

While Gayle has declared the ICC World Cup 2019 to be his last, a pretty obvious pronouncement considering the big fella will be closing on 40 next year, he might want to hit the nets hard. Get the problem against spin out of his mind. Often, it’s all in the head.

Although Samuels seemed far better in adjusting to the trials by spin, he would have to think about shifting gears quickly. It didn’t help that in two innings, his strike rate was immensely underwhelming.

Another area that the West Indies will have to consider and improve upon is how they approach the critical aspect of running between the wickets. It didn’t make for a pretty sight when Holder was asked to run for a second and immediately sent back. He was not even in the frame when the stumps were disturbed at the non-striker’s end.

If the West Indies could rally around to shrug off the laziness that surrounds their cricket and the plan of resorting to big shots (that always carry a risk) in order to make up for painfully slow starts at the beginning, their game would be in a far better state than it is today.

World cricket, it has been said repeatedly, needs a strong West Indies side. It would’ve been awful not to have had them participate in the world cup, having missed the bus to the Champions Trophy in 2017. But all’s not lost. For starters, having made it through to the elite cricketing fest is in itself a great reward. Maybe their cricket was searching for an avenue from where they could restart.

With Holder coming of age as captain and leader by example, exemplified by his recent all-round brilliance, the Windies have a man who can steady the ship during turbulent times. And maybe there lies an inspiration to further build on.

 

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