The reknowned commentator reviewed the selected West Indian squad and their chances at the 2019 World Cup.
By Fazeer Mohammed (30th April, 2019)
Given the heightened sense of anticipation ahead of the announcement of the West Indies squad for the World Cup, you would be forgiven for thinking that the two-time former champions should be one of the favourites for the 2019 event with the T20 globetrotters back in the squad.
Well, only one of the really big names – Andre Russell – has gotten the call while the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and two-time World T20-winning captain Darren Sammy will probably recognise that that their One-Day International days are over, although there is still the prospect of being part of the squad which will be defending the T20 title at the end of next year in Australia.
Chris Gayle is also in the 15 of course, but he was already part of the squad which competed neck-and-neck with top-ranked England in the Caribbean two months ago and his tally of 424 runs from the four matches suggests that the self-proclaimed “Universe Boss” has every intention of bringing the curtain down on a 20-year ODI career in a blaze of glory over the seven weeks of the big event in England and Wales.
Will Pakistan be the first to feel the weight of his mighty bat when they meet in the opening match for both teams in Nottingham on May 31? We will just have to wait and see because the conditions at Trent Bridge before summer really kicks in are likely to be very different from what prevailed in the West Indies earlier this year.
It is that anticipation of what they may have to face in terms of pitches and weather during those nine group matches which influenced the selectors to go with a bowling attack dominated by pace (Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell and captain Jason Holder with Russell and Carlos Brathwaite in support), leaving off-spinner Ashley Nurse and the relatively inexperienced left-armer Fabian Allen as the specialist slow bowling options.
There is every indication that Sunil Narine would have made the cut had he declared himself fit and ready. Yet again though, the mystery spinner announced his unavailability for selection, this time due to a finger injury sustained while playing for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League. Having pulled out of the previous World Cup in Australia and New Zealand because he was not convinced of the reliability of his bowling action (despite taking six for nine for Trinidad and Tobago against Guyana in the final of the Regional Super50 event that year), and based on a couple of other occasions when he declined to play after being selected, more and more questions are being asked in this part of the world over the sincerity of his claim that he really wants to play for the West Indies at every opportunity.
On the batting side, while Gayle is the obvious threat to all opponents, Caribbean fans are looking more to the younger talents of opener Evin Lewis and middle-order players Shai Hope, Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, together with the explosive power-hitting of Nicholas Pooran to not only provide the foundation for formidable totals at the World Cup, but also reinforce the message that the talent cupboard is far from bare in the West Indies. The encouraging signs of the home series against England, thus, can become more of a promise of an optimistic future for an increasingly competitive team way beyond the big event.
Notwithstanding this sense of optimism - much of it generated by the twin events of the heartening performances against England and the end of the contentious six-year tenure of Dave Cameron as president of Cricket West Indies – the fact is West Indies are not one of the favourites to make the semi-finals of this year’s World Cup, far less to lift the trophy after the final at Lord’s on July 14.
They possess in their team a couple of larger-than-life personalities, some talented strokemakers and a potentially lethal pace attack: all the ingredients of a championship-winning team. Yet history, both recent and distant, has shown the West Indies to be a team incapable of matching those celebrated reputations with consistent excellence when it really matters.
All of those big names, who many expected to be automatically welcomed back into the fold for the 2019 World Cup, featured in one or all of the tournaments between 2007 and 2015 and could not produce consistently at the level required to make their team a real contender for the title. And for all the evidence of their continued effectiveness in the T20 franchise cricket, it is obviously not a logical conclusion to assume similar success will automatically follow in the 50-overs-per-side format.
Still, there will be a sense of anticipation before that first ball is bowled against the Pakistanis. There always is for any team in the colours of the West Indies given the style, flair, outstanding performers and performances which defined the early editions of the World Cup. Those days are long gone, and it may be expecting too much to think this team can go all the way this time having not even reached the last four since the 1996 tournament.
But the glorious deeds of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and the incomparable array of fast bowlers still burn bright in the minds of West Indian diehards, who will continue to believe in Caribbean miracles, even if cold, hard pragmatism says otherwise.