A Humbling End To A Campaign Of Expectations

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - A humbling end to a campaign of expectations. West Indies' title defence came to an end after the loss to Sri Lanka.

A Humbling End To A Campaign Of ExpectationsWest Indies' title defence came to an end after the loss to Sri Lanka.

Twenty days ago in Dubai, Dwayne Bravo celebrated his 16th T20 title victory, and promised to rib Kieron Pollard about it. Pollard, in Mumbai Indians colours, had found parity with Bravo less than a year before that night at the same venue with a 15th title win. But the scales had tipped in Bravo's favour again.

Such has been the story of two of West Indies' T20 giants, who arrived at the World Cup having played more than 500 games in the format each – with a combined tally in excess of 300 fixtures more than what the entire Sri Lankan XI on Thursday night (November 4) had. And then there's the third musketeer in Chris Gayle, with 452 T20s to his name.

It had been five years since Daren Sammy's West Indies danced away into the April night in Kolkata with their second T20 WC title in tow, but Pollard's squad with a few old, familiar faces came with the reputation and expectation for a third triumph.

The format expectedly moved forward at a typically break-neck pace in this time, and the West Indies stars aged – as per cricketing standards at least – but the two-time champions banked on a not-so-outlandish theory of trying to tame the most unpredictable format with experience and their default setting of unmatched flamboyance. But unfortunately for them, they could channel neither in the four fixtures. The two-paced, sticky surfaces of UAE sucked out all the flair, leaving their experience to make all the difference. But it just didn't.

Thursday was the fourth time this World Cup when Gayle was supposed to rekindle his old self, even though there'd been no recent evidence of such a possibility. He tamely lofted one to Wanindu Hasaranga at mid off in the second over, to slowly trudge off after adding a five-ball 1 to his World Cup scores of 13, 12 and 4.

“We made a decision of how we wanted to play T20 cricket this year, how we wanted the individuals to play and it didn't work,” captain Kieron Pollard said at the post-match press conference, before uttering a succinct yet damning verdict of West Indies' campaign: “I thought our experience would have taken us through, but it has not.”

“I think cricket smarts is something that has plagued us. We have spoken time and time again especially from a batting perspective what we need to do as individuals and we have not done well,” he opined – which in hindsight was a true reflection of their abysmal start against England. If there ever was a shortage of cricketing acumen, it was in that batting innings that saw them fold for 55 – painfully trying and failing to hit their way out of trouble in conditions where there just wasn't scope to do that.

West Indies have sworn by their six-hitting abilities and have not shied away from having to deal with an accumulation of dot balls in their quest to wait for the big-hitting opportunity. Strike rotation hasn't necessarily been too high up on the agenda as long as the sixes kept coming. In their first title victory, Gayle hit 16 sixes and Marlon Samuels got 15 of them. In 2016, Gayle smacked 11. In comparison, Evin Lewis is this edition's leading six-hitter for West Indies with 7, while Pooran's five is the next-best tally for the side.

In the absence of enough chances to flex their muscles, West Indies have failed to formulate a plan B. The botched up batting progression against South Africa is a case in point. West Indies went from 43/0 in 6 overs to 65/0 in 10 and 95/3 in 15, with opener Lendl Simmons making 16 off 35 balls – with 17 dots and not a single four or six. Even with 48 runs off the last five overs, West Indies got an under-par total of 143, which South Africa chased with eight wickets intact.

There's a case to be made that West Indies have also missed a genuine wicket-taker through the middle-overs, after Sunil Narine was omitted for failing to meet ‘fitness standards'. Both of West Indies' previous campaigns had at least one consistent wicket-taker [Narine and Ravi Rampaul with 9 wickets each in 2012; Samuel Badree with 9 in 2016], which they have lacked this time. Akeal Hosein's four wickets – two of them picked in the first game against England – is the best individual tally for West Indies in this World Cup.

On Thursday too, West Indies were thwarted first by the lack of even a semblance of bowling control – long before the batsmen once again came up short. Pollard's applause for his opposition for taking ‘minimum risks for maximum runs' while talking about Sri Lanka's tally of 17 fours and three sixes in their 189/3 conveyed more about what sort of a day his bowlers had.

On an Abu Dhabi pitch that eased with time, Pathum Nissanka and Charith Asalanka played the fields – which were far too defensive from Pollard, and did what West Indies' line-up brimming with experience have utterly failed to do – piled on the ones and twos by taking advantage of the skewed dimensions. Nissanka ran 17 singles and 7 twos; Asalanka pulled off 22 ones and 4 twos as the pair coolly added 91 risk-free runs off 61 balls while West Indies grappled for solutions.

There was still a chance to come good on Pollard's pre-match expectation of his batsmen ‘hopefully breaking the shackles' by staying in the chase, but that didn't materialise either. Instead, West Indies were hamstrung by questionable shot selection that left them with as many as six single-digit scores and Pollard's first-ball duck.

“A couple of young guys are putting up their hands but the experienced guys, myself included, have not done well. We are not going to hide from the fact that it's been disappointing for us. I'm sure all the guys are hurting in that dressing room. It's something we didn't see coming but we have to face reality,” Pollard admitted.

Reality was that West Indies fell way short of expectations, with the curtains coming down on their campaign even before their last outing. Phil Simmons had a tough time watching most of his batsmen make the same mistakes after he publicly called for better shot selection, but was still afforded a few moments of solace on Thursday.

While West Indies' experience deserted them, Nicholas Pooran (46 off 34) and Shimron Hetmyer (81* off 54) batted with a far better sense of purpose and application. It didn't secure a semifinal spot for the side, but with another World Cup coming in less than a year, it gives them a starting point to construct a squad around.

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