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What ails the West Indies in the ICC Cricket World Cup

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West_Indies_cricketWhen the West Indies arrived in the most exciting tournament of international cricket, they had their inconsistencies firmly placed among their playing eleven, and the tag of being a dangerous opponent resided merrily in the team dugout. Before the start of the tournament and well after the completion of its preliminary games, nobody was banking on the ability of the Windies camp to dismantle tougher opponents and yet, nobody completely ruled out the once mighty force from the Caribbean. It was largely presumed that their collective inconsistencies, coupled with spurts of occasional brilliance, would guide the unpredictable side over the ropes on most occasions. The West Indies, after all, have huge reserves of batting talent, whose abilities cannot be undermined and have been responsible for scripting victories in past one day games sans anything special from the bowling department. But just as one cannot take them lightly, it isn’t wise to bank heavily on the team’s prowess. Unfortunately the term inconsistency has chosen West Indies as its inseparable companion and perhaps the most appropriate reflection of coming to life. Having lost three crucial games miserably at the hands of Ireland, South Africa and India, in the right order, the Windies are on the verge of exiting Cricket’s most emphatic tournament. Their wins over an equally predictable Pakistan and a docile Zimbabwe notwithstanding, this was another low in the bag of Caribbean doom that weighs heavy on loss of morale and self confidence.

Yet, in doing all of this, the West Indies cricketers commanded a few headlines, largely thanks to a solid double ton by Chris Gayle, the consistent bowling performance of their lead pacer Jerome Taylor and the fine hundreds by Lendl Simmons and Marlon Samuels, whose talents weren’t enough in helping their team’s cause. One isn’t sure that the present generation realizes the value of protecting the rich legacy of their cricket that touched lofty peaks thanks to the geniuses of Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Sir Sobers and Clive Lloyd. A lot ails West Indies cricket at the moment. Great debaters can argue that the present lot aren’t at par on talent with past legends or that the best from the Island nation is over, but here are some plausible ground realities that appear as big road-blocks to the once mighty West Indies, hurting their game:

1) WICB’s administration:

The West Indies cricket board can largely be held responsible for the current misery in the entire West Indian camp. Poor selection process and a distinct chop and change policy in both test as well as one day games has done the side no good. The present crop of players still demand responsible answers for the highly controversial omission of star players like Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard. In the recently concluded elections of the WICB presidency, Dave Cameron was once again elected chief over Wes Hall, the latter bidding on contention with intent to spruce up some wisdom and mindfulness of administration of Caribbean Cricket. Inexperienced former players who didn’t exactly record stellar careers have been given high ranking posts in the cricket board of the West Indies. One wonders what good Wavell Hinds is serving as the chief of the West Indies player’s association in bringing no end to the discord between the players and that of the cricket board. Only as recently as the last week, did the Caribbean media reach out to batting legend Brian Lara in Australia to be part of the WICB and run for president in the next elections. This move could have sparked a few hopes of Windies resurgence but comes in very late given the fortunes of the home team in the present World Cup don’t look too promising. The present Chief needs to answer why players like Suleiman Benn and Jonathan Carter are part of the 15 member squad for such an eminent campaign having no promising national or domestic history. Their on ground performances lack the promise and credibility that justifies their selection.

2) Poor bowling attack:

If a side is to hope to advance to the later stages of a tournament like the cricket world cup, or at best make significant inroads toward lifting the cup, then it cannot possibly rely on the strengths of just 2 bowlers. Apart from the lanky pacers, Jerome Taylor and Jason Holder, the team remains largely on the lookout for a third promising bowler who can add some teeth to the bowling cauldron. While Jerome Taylor has been their strike bowler, Jason Holder, the young and inexperienced fast bowler, has looked impressive only in patches. He had a forgettable outing against South Africa, or AB de Villiers should one say, where conceding 104 runs from the quota of 10 overs did him no good. It also seems that he doesn’t get the support and response from rest of the team members and has been let down heavily by the hapless performance of Suleiman Benn. The condition of the Windies is so poor that Holder the bowler has had to don the batsman’s hat and struck back to back fifties against the Proteas and Indians when his batsmen let the team down. The selection of Kemar Roach was finally a positive sign but resting him in the crucial games against Ireland and South Africa didn’t inspire any confidence in the Caribbean camp. The experienced right arm pacer looked in fine form in the team’s last game against India, but together with captain Holder and Taylor, couldn’t do much to defend a score as meager as 182. The Windies bowling lacks discipline and its lead bowlers have recorded a 5plus economy rate in all its games so far.

3) Indifferent form of opening batsmen:

For any side in a one day game, a lot depends on the kind of start given by its batting openers. In the case of the West Indies, a side that relies heavily on the skill and ability of its big hitting batsmen, their openers have completely let them down. Chris Gayle, despite his memorable and career saving 215 knock, has lacked the zeal, flair and application that is expected of a batsman of his class and ability. His confidence has also been jolted by the kind of form his partner is in at the moment. With no score of over 40, let alone registering a fifty, Dwayne Smith has become more of a liability at the top of the order than an asset to his side. Even the handy experience of playing at the IPL for three seasons hasn’t done his game any good. His highest score remains 31 against South Africa. That is not what you expect from the batsman who takes guard for you in an inning. Far from looking in some form, he appears to mistime most of his strokes and holes out in middle looking to score through the big strokes that hardly ever come to surface. If his ability to convert the strike is an issue of some concern, then Gayle’s lack of any will to rotate the strike and convert the ones into two’s has hampered the batting in the initial overs for the West Indies. One is accustomed to seeing their promising no.3 bat Samuels walk into the middle at the outset of 5 overs with either Gayle or Smith making the customary walk back to the pavilion. That isn’t the kind of start a batting order expects from its top order talents.

4) Chris Gayle:

Always in the headlines, either for his swashbuckling ways or the lavish king-size manners with which he lives off the pitch, Chris Gayle is a tall figure in the West Indies playing eleven that constantly looks for some magic and inspiration to stay in the game. Over the period of last 2 and a half years, the mighty Jamaican has fared poorly with the bat, his 215 run knock against minnows Zimbabwe rescuing him from the torrid run of 19 innings that didn't feature a single ton in limited overs games. One would have thought that with over 9000 runs in the ODI game and tons of experience against every test playing nation, Gayle’s game would be reformed and based on playing the patient game. How much mileage can his game possibly achieve by operating in the destructive mode alone? But the big hitting batsman’s carefree attitude at the top of the order has plummeted his side’s fortunes toward despair. Gayle isn’t the only batsman to be struggling with an injury, other stalwarts of the game like MS Dhoni, McCullum and Clarke to quote a few have all lifted their sides toward glories every now and again despite not being nearly as fit as their earlier days under the sun. You cannot expect your best batsman to miss most of the routine training sessions and fitness drills. Gayle is known for this unpopular gesture every now and again. A light hearted and jolly man, Gayle has the kind of personality and record that can motivate youngsters merely by being present in the dressing room, for the sake of inducing some zest to the inexperienced lot. But it isn’t so. If the batsman at the other end plays a rash shot one too many, you expect the mature head at the other end to walk down and ask for some caution. But not with Chris Gayle. He believes that while batting it is best to let the bat talk and the matters of the mind must be curtailed. This doesn't help his side. Of late, the batsman has been punching over his weight through meaningless brawls with his cricket board. Being a rebel isn’t unruly till the time you back it with a purpose, and Gayle’s discord outside the pitch has raised the volume of disharmony, without there being any clarity in purpose. His batting looks brittle, unplanned and out of sync with the team's goals. Holding recently criticized the mindlessness of the left hander at throwing the bat at every ball that confronts him. At times, it seems Gayle only sets sights on clearing the boundary and forgets the task of sticking it out on the 22 yards. Where are the singles, doubles and cautionary strokes, one asks? Like his fans, his team has been demanding answers from the vastly talented bloke without any promising responses.

5) General attitude of the entire team:

For any side in international cricket, playing the Cricket World Cup is a matter of great pride and a reason for new hope to build a memorable platform for the team. Not for West Indies it seems, who persist with their obvious inconsistencies in a tournament of epic proportions, discounting from their game the urgency that should lift the hopes of the side in such an important outing. At the moment, it seems the West Indies are comfortably numb to the great opportunity of redeeming themselves at the most important and uplifting stage of international cricket. The shock defeat against Ireland stung them only for a while and the hurt lasted only till the end of the game versus Zimbabweans. It seemed the Windies didn't want to pick a fight versus the Proteas and were singled out by the de Villiers show. In their share of 50 overs, no one seemed to want to play out the entire innings and show some character. It was a fight they lost before their batsmen padded up, signalling a total loss of intent. While their bowling cheats their cricket completely, the batsmen fail to perform in unison. With such promising batsmen like Gayle, Smith, Samuels, Sammy, Simmons and Russell, the shot selection and timing of each dismissal continues to haunt their chances in every single game. You cannot be so casual at such an important stage of world cricket. The side lacks the camaraderie that binds even less fortunate sides like Afghanistan or Bangladesh together. It is usual to witness seniors like Sammy or Ramdin talk of an imminent revival in the forthcoming ties, but that hardly leads to improvements in successive outings for their side. A one off win in a particular game does not guarantee form and discipline in the long run. We have seen experienced players like Misbah, Kohli, Guptill and Bailey building inning upon inning by playing around strength of other batsmen, offering players a great hand in constructing long partnerships. This requires them to play the long game for 20-25 overs. Why can't Gayle and Samuels do this?  Presently, if one takes away Darren Sammy from the side, a player whose technique and stroke play lacks the gifts of a Chris Gayle or Marlon Samuels, it will be a devastating blow for the team. Sammy’s work ethic is more disciplined, judicious and in lines with requirements of the modern day sport and perhaps the solitary reminder to the playing eleven that flamboyance and wayward cricket shouldn’t precede application and intelligence; that cricket is far more than just being a big hitting sport. West Indies aren't short of talent, they are mindless in their application of their skills. Windies batsmen need not measure the distance of the grounds by their six-hitting abilities but by the honesty in every ounce of sweat they give toward protecting the glory that is West Indies. Not just for the jubilation of each independent Caribbean island, but for the betterment of this illustrious sport, cricket needs a resurgent West Indies.



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