Windies can do it again
THE BATTLE LINES are drawn for the one day series in the mould of the just concluded Test series.
England were highly favoured to take the Tests based on recent form and the rankings. The English rank number one in the world in ODIs and the Windies ninth. Quite a gap, even when you consider that the regional team had to play qualifiers to make it to the upcoming World Cup.
Many predicted an easy win for England in the Tests but they had to eat humble pie after the West Indies secured the rubber with crushing victories in Barbados and Antigua before England won a consolation in St Lucia.
The truth is that was the medicine they needed to restore confidence, so they are also coming into more dominant terrain with great momentum.
The question is whether West Indies can surprise them again and demolish them at their own game.
I would say that it is possible if they display the same level of intensity and discipline in the Tests. I honestly thought they slipped a few rounds on the ladder in St Lucia as evidenced by their batting performance particularly in the first innings after the bowlers had put them back in the match. It was to England’s credit that they capitalised in the circumstances even though diehard West Indian fans would fire back by saying the series was already decided.
Not only that, several players who featured for the West Indies in the Tests won’t be involved in the ODIs so we won’t be predictable. This can be used to our advantage. With the World Cup just months away, I think West Indies are still looking for their best line-up inclusive of the starting 11 that can ensure they will be in England to compete and not just participate.
The quandary they find themselves in is that since the last World Cup some of their players best suited to the limited-overs format haven’t been available for different reasons. This has severely disrupted continuity and provides regional selectors with major headaches.
Cricket West Indies (CWI), in its wisdom or through expediency, have reached out to some who they were at odds with to ensure they assemble the best pool to choose from in relation to the qualifiers and ultimately the World Cup. I think that was a commendable approach because it opened the door for those who still cherished the privilege to represent West Indies and also the opportunity to show some loyalty to the grassroots of their success.
Again, it must be noted that CWI never put a stumbling block in the path of those who ventured to lucrative leagues in preference to representing the maroon at various times. Let’s say it is all water under the bridge as we prepare to eye the greatest prize on cricket’s biggest stage.
This in itself is a huge motivating factor as every player with the credentials should want to be in the World Cup. The five-match series is the perfect place to impress the selectors.
In fact, before a ball was bowled they had to make changes to the original squad announced for the first two matches due to injuries to opening batsman Evin Lewis and all-rounders Keemo Paul and Rovman Powell.
Jamaican opener John Campbell gets a look in and you can ask if he should be overlooked for the World Cup if he comes good in this series. He has the chance to prove his worth. Seeing him in the Tests it seemed that at his current level of development, his batting is in concert with this format.
It would appear that Carlos Brathwaite is more on the borderline of selection rather than a certainty in the ODI squad so he can convince the selectors that he can fill one of the all-rounder roles in the World Cup. Pacer Sheldon Cottrell is in the same position if he makes the final 11.
He might be advancing in age but the “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle is still one of the most feared batsmen in international cricket. He has belted 9 727 runs and scored 23 centuries in this format at an average of 36.98 so he will want to prove he still has what it takes to stand and deliver. More important, his experience will be premium as he helps to build a very strong foundation with his partner for the benefit of the team.
There is no doubt that Jason Holder has grown into a strong and inspirational leader while improving all aspects of his game, in the past four years. He is now arguably the best all-rounder in the game so leading from in front is the best way to marshal the troops.
Ideally, England have put together a tapestry of players with tremendous all-round skills and this has been one of the key reasons they are top of the charts in ODIs.
Anyone seeing how they smashed the world record of 481 for six off the beleaguered Australian attack at Trent Bridge last year can grasp their capabilities. It can be pretty intimidatory if you don’t contain them. That too, should present a big challenge for the West Indies bowlers who must find a way to constrain their aggression.
Looking at it objectively, the English have the depth and a far more settled and established side than West Indies. They will start as overwhelming favourites as they did in the Tests but West Indies can use this to their advantage again. The West Indies are capable of another big surprise in their own backyard.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist. Email [email protected]
GROUP TALK: Interim West Indies coach Richard Pybus (fourth left) speaking to his players in the nets at Kensington Oval ahead of the ODI series.
(Picture by Kenmore Bynoe.)