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FAZEER MOHAMMED: On the hunt for ODI points


FAZEER MOHAMMED: On the hunt for ODI points

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IN THE immediate aftermath of a lengthy WICB Regional Super50 tournament, attention shifts to the international scene and the West Indies’ quest to qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup in England.

Of course, the mere fact that this is even a topic for discussion, coming as it does in a year when the Caribbean side will not be among the participants at the Champions Trophy in June, also in England, represents yet another marker in the long decline of a team that once defined excellence in the one-day game.

We get all misty-eyed at the memories of those triumphs in the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, and even the one that followed in 1983, when what looked like a certain hat-trick of titles at Lord’s was transformed by an inexplicable batting collapse into an historic day for Indian cricket.

But it was just over ten years ago that, in the midst of despair at the continued abysmal showing in Tests, the West Indies pulled off a remarkable two-wicket victory over hosts England in the 2004 Champions Trophy final at The Oval – ensuring the ninth-wicket pair of Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw cricketing immortality – and two years later reached the title game in defence of the prize only to crumple in a heap at the feet of Australia at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.

And it was only last year that the team led by Jason Holder exceeded expectations in eliminating South Africa to reach the final of a tri-nation series here at home. Notwithstanding another comprehensive defeat to the Aussies in the decisive game at Kensington Oval, there was a sense of optimism that the side seemed headed in the right direction.

That all changed in the second half of the year with the surreptitious departure of head coach Phil Simmons preceding a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, followed by the failure to even make the final of a tri-nation event in Zimbabwe in November despite a comfortable victory in the opening match against Sri Lanka in Harare.

Stuart Law is the man now charged, as Simmons’ replacement, with the immediate task of turning those fortunes around, beginning with the three-match series against England early next month in Antigua and Barbados.

Given West Indies’ record of just four wins from 17 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) since September 30, 2015, the Australian should be under no illusions as to the enormity of the challenge facing him.

You may be wondering why the date is important as a marker. Well, that was the cut-off point for the determination of the top eight teams in the International Cricket Council’s official rankings to qualify for this year’s Champions Trophy. With the West Indies scrambling to earn points to supplant Pakistan in eighth spot, a scheduled tri-nation series in Zimbabwe, also involving the Pakistanis, in the month before the deadline, was cancelled, leaving the regional team languishing in ninth spot and therefore humiliatingly eliminated from the global event.

Now, there is the threat of history being repeated as Pakistan and the West Indies are again eighth and ninth in the ODI rankings with September 30 looming as the cut-off point for the top eight to book spots in the 2019 World Cup. All will not be lost as in the Champions Trophy, though, for there will be a qualifying tournament for the teams ranked ninth to 12th in March of next year in Bangladesh, from which the top two will complete the ten-team listing for the World Cup.

There’s little doubt that when the venue was being determined for that qualifying event, it was probably felt that the Bangladeshis would be involved. However, their vastly improved form in ODIs over the past two years, highlighted by eliminating England at the group stage and reaching the knockout phase of the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, has vaulted them up to seventh in the rankings.

It is a tenuous position, though. They are presently on 91 points, just two ahead of Pakistan and a further three in front of the West Indies, so it obviously means that every one-dayer involving these teams over the next seven months will take on an added significance.

As fate and the International Cricket Council scheduling would have it, West Indies will be hosting Pakistan for three ODIs in Guyana in April, either side of two T20s (in Trinidad) and three Tests (Jamaica, Barbados and Dominica). So there is no prospect of easing into the job for Law, although he must have been acutely aware of both the immediate challenge and the wider context of what he was getting himself into.

Whether or not the Super50 was an encouraging prelude to the qualification quest, it’s now time for all involved to immediately raise the standard.

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.