Written by Sanjay Suri
The West Indies have been known for being a terrifying force to play against. Historically, pitches in the region have been hard, bouncy, and pacey. Legendary bowlers such as Marshall, Holding and Ambrose fully exploited this and batsmen such as Lara, Sobers and Richards learned how to bat on these pitches. This gave rise to one of the greatest cricket teams of all time. Even in the modern era, the power hitting of Gayle, Pollard and Bravo have made them some of the best T20 batsmen of their era, yet as these players are reaching retirement, the West Indies have disappointed on the big stage. A shocking performance at the most recent World Cup, the retirement of Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, and a 3-0 whitewash against India in February is does not make for good reading, but can some positives be taken from this?
If West Indies’ World Cup squad last year can be described in one word, it would be ‘disjointed’. Half of the players were very much in the twilight of their careers, such as Rampaul, Gayle, and Simmons. The others were raw young talents who produced moments of brilliance as often as they simply failed to perform when required. They finished fifth in their group, above only Bangladesh, memorably getting bowled out for just 55 in their opener against England. This prompted Chris Gayle, arguably the greatest T20 player of all time, to retire, but at the age of 41, he had given all he had to offer to the West Indies.
When the T20 team travelled to India in February, there were a few major alterations. Jason Holder was brought back into the squad: a no brainer as he offered a good all-round option, plus his leadership on and off the pitch is something the team desperately needed. The middle order had a new look, featuring high strike-rates, yet few international caps. On the whole, they were outclassed by India, yet it would be unfair to compare these two teams. West Indies are in transition, and so experimentation and consistency are inevitable. They were away to India- now the top ranked T20 team in the world, who have a settled and established squad well in their prime. It has taken them a few years to transition from the Dhoni years and they are only now starting to fully reap the rewards, proven how they are one of the favourites coming into this year’s World Cup.
It was not the results that the West Indies were worried about on this tour, it was the performances. Nicholas Pooran, who has so far failed to deliver on high expectations, performed admirably, scoring 61, 62 and 61 in his three innings. Each time, he played the same role. He initially anchored the innings, allowing his partner to take risks and look for boundaries. Then, in the second part, he would attack the bowlers, adding vital runs quickly. His innings with Powell in the second T20 was beautifully executed by the two of them and would have worked, had their teammates offered more support with the bat. But as mentioned before, this is a raw team, which will take time to achieve consistency. Luckily, they are young and should be given the necessary time.
The general tactic for the West Indies in recent years was for their batsmen to be able to chase down any target, no matter how well the bowlers did. In this tour however, more emphasis was put on being able to bat deep down the order as well as having many bowling options. A good example of this was Roston Chase. He failed with the bat, averaging just 8, yet excelled with the ball, taking 6 wickets at an economy of just 5.17. Although the conditions suited him, as India is known for being very friendly towards spinners, it should also be noted that Eden Gardens, the venue for all three matches, was very high scoring this time around, with scores regularly exceeding 160. The seam bowlers were always going to struggle but the West Indies have a young and versatile seam attack. With the next two World Cups being in Australia and the West Indies themselves, this could be pivotal in how successful they are.
It should not be dismissed how much the West Indies still have to do to even come close to the glory days they experienced in the previous decade. The building blocks are there, however. Pooran will be pivotal, and he needs to prove that his performances in India was not a one-off. If he can consistently play this role, it gives the power hitters the freedom to do what they do best. And they are not short of power hitters. Their seam bowlers still need time to refine their skills and consistency, something that comes under even more scrutiny in modern T20 cricket and spinners such as Hosein and Walsh need to prove that they can be full time bowlers as well as being able to provide quick runs. The World Cup later this year might come too soon for this promising squad, but, with a home World Cup in 2024 to look forward to, silverware might just be on the horizon.