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West Indies: Not the dark horse that was hoped for

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West_Indies_ODI_dark_horse_legacy_CricketCricket in the 1970s was synonymous with new innovations and the domination of West Indies. Cricket was moving towards limited overs territory and World Cups. A few good men from the Caribbean were making their presence felt with their wonderful stroke play, attacking batting and sharp fast bowling.

The legacy

Great players like Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall, under the effective leadership of ‘Supercat’ Clive Lloyd, created a legacy which very few teams were able to replicate. The first two World Cups were stories of West Indian dominance and success. Not only did they win both World Cups, they were unbeaten in the tournament till 1983. They lost their first World Cup match in the opening fixture in 1983 against some unfancied Indians, who would in less than three weeks shake the cricketing world by beating the mighty West Indies once again in the World Cup final, in one of the biggest upsets of limited overs cricket.

The fall

Since the 1980s the quality of West Indian cricket started to fall, especially in ODIs. Their intimidating reputation was long gone and the quality of players became mediocre. Since the advent of T20 cricket, they have shown some spark in T20Is, the shortest version of the game, as their power hitters like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell helped them win two World T20s. They also popularised the Windies by playing for franchises in domestic T20 leagues all around the world. But all these players are not regular for West Indies team due to various issues with the board including their payment and fitness.

In 2018, they faced their lowest point when they were out of the top eight spots of the ICC rankings and had to play a World Cup qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe to stake their place at the World Cup. Apart from the host Zimbabwe, all the other teams were new cricket powers like Afghanistan, Ireland and Scotland, teams who with nowhere near the tradition and legacy carried by the West Indian cricket. Thankfully, the West Indies qualified for the World Cup along with Afghanistan and have played half of their matches.

World Cup 2019

West Indies prepared a relatively stronger team with both Chris Gayle and Andre Russell in the squad. After a long break, Gayle was back in the ODI series against England early this year and delivered scores of 135, 50, 162 and 77 in the four innings. He had a mixed IPL and has not really fired for the West Indies in the World Cup, apart from the opening game against Pakistan.

Russell returned after a bigger gap and bigger fitness related issues. The last tournament where he played regularly for West Indies in ODIs was the 2015 World Cup. With a reputation as one of the best T20 players in the world, a lot was expected of him. After his one-year suspension due to breaking a doping-related regulation, Russell came back stronger and even finished this year’s IPL as the Most Valuable Player, despite his team (Kolkata Knight Riders) finishing fifth.

Along with these two experienced players West Indies have some very exciting young talents who may be short of experience but can shock the world on their day. Shai Hope may be the best among these youngsters. He has already scored more than 2,000 runs in ODIs with a 50+ average and has the ability to play crucial innings, which he displayed with his scores of 68 and 96 against Australia and Bangladesh respectively.

Players like Shimron Hetmyer, Evin Lewis and Nicholas Pooran have impressed occasionally, hitting any bowling attack out of the park on their day. But the question of their consistency still remains as each has managed only one fifty apiece.

In the bowling department, a lot has depended on young pace bowlers Oshane Thomas and Sheldon Cottrell. The experienced Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel have barely had a chance to bowl. Their attack is not that experienced on the world stage and neither Thomas nor Cottrell has been able to replicate the five-wicket hauls they picked up in their last home series against England. The team has hardly used a spinner, with Ashley Nurse and Chris Gayle deputising as needed, neither of them picking up any wickets thus far.

Jason Holder has been leading this team for quite a long time. He had an exceptional 2018 in Test cricket and capped it off with a wonderful series victory over England. In this World Cup, his performances have been good, but not enough to provide West Indies with that crucial, match-winning difference. A good all-round show for him with some tight bowling and some quick runs would help them immensely.

Fans and critics who considered the West Indies as the Dark Horse for this year’s World Cup will no doubt be a little disappointed. WI had a promising start to the tournament with their comfortable win against Pakistan, but have largely struggled since. Their big hitting formula hasn’t worked consistently, and their bowlers haven’t been able to make the most of the England pitches or the conditions.

The West Indies players should be relieved that they did not miss out on being a part of this cricketing extravaganza, but they have not brought glory to the island nations. This was a chance for them to raise the slowly decreasing interest in cricket in the Caribbean. Whether they can exit the 2019 World Cup on a positive note, with their heads held high, is the new question.



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