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Cricket news - Time running out for Windies before the World Cup
It's unthinkable really, a World Cup without the West Indies. It's never happened before, of course. But if last year's qualifying competition in Zimbabwe had had the Decision Review System in place, as it should have, Jason Holder's men would have probably been knocked out at the semi-final stage at the hands of Scotland. That would have meant no West Indies in England this summer and no World Cup campaign for the team to prepare for. It could so easily have been the case.
Playing for a place in the final of the qualifying tournament, and thus a place at the World Cup proper, Scotland were just behind the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern par score as rain clouds loomed in Harare. It was then that Richie Berrington was given out LBW to a ball which was clearly going to miss leg-stump. With no DRS available because of cost considerations, the decision stood, raising the DLS par score and meaning that Scotland fell, agonisingly, five runs short of victory. West Indies, who lost the final to Afghanistan, progressed to the World Cup as a result.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the ICC's decision to run a ten-team World Cup - and there are so many wrongs about it - West Indies can count themselves fortunate to be there, not just for the manner of their victory over Scotland, but also because their recent form in 50-over cricket has been dire. They have clearly not been amongst the best ten ODI teams of the past two years.
They have won just 11 of their 40 matches in that time, a win-loss ratio that places them 14th of all the teams who have played ODI cricket in that period. They have not won any of their last 17 series and failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy in 2017. It is little wonder then that they will start as severe underdogs in the five-match series against England beginning in Barbados on Wednesday.
There were similarly unfancied for the Test series of course, and we all know how that ended, but in the longest format they have had far more consistency of personnel if not results. During the last two years, West Indies have used 35 players in 40 ODIs and only five of them have played three quarters of those games or more. Whereas England have a settled formula, West Indies still have little idea of their best squad let alone their best team.
The selectors left out six players for the series against England who featured in their last ODI assignment and since then, injuries have added to the instability. Evin Lewis, Keemo Paul and Marlon Samuels are all absent while Shannon Gabriel, having not played ODI cricket since 2017, is now banned for the first four matches after originally being earmarked to play the final three games. At least Chris Gayle has returned.
In the lead-up to the series, Gayle, who will retire after the World Cup, said his younger teammates owe it to him to win the tournament in England. It was said tongue in cheek but it would take a minor miracle for West Indies to even reach the knockout stages of the World Cup given they have displayed hardly any of the basic ingredients needed for a successful ODI team. In short, they have been left behind.
Whereas the likes of England and India's batting oozes explosiveness and aggression, the West Indies have been positively pedestrian. The 39-year-old Gayle is one of only two players to have played more than one match over the last two years striking at better than a run a ball - the other is Shimron Hetmyer - while West Indies' run rate of 4.93 in that period is worse than any other team who will be at the World Cup bar Afghanistan.
The inclusion of the eye-catching left-handed batsman Nicholas Pooran in the squad for the first time should at least help add some oomph to a batting order which also needs to display far more consistency. Only four players are averaging more than 30 with the bat in the last two years - Gayle, Hetmyer, Shai Hope and Lewis - and West Indies have scored just nine centuries in their last 40 games. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have 12 centuries each in the same timeframe.
Despite these limitations, Gayle and Darren Bravo add experience to the top order, although it remains to be seen whether either can recapture their best form after periods of absence, while Hope averages 47 in ODI cricket. After impressing in the Test series, Hetmyer, who has scored three ODI centuries in just 20 matches, will be relied upon for middle-order hitting while all-rounders Rovman Powell, captain in Bangladesh, and Holder will add depth. It is not a batting order to strike fear into an opposition but nor is it one to be taken totally for granted.
Things have not been any better on the bowling front either. Only Sheldon Cottrell and Obed McCoy, who is not in the current squad, average less than 30 with the ball in the previous two years and they have played a combined six matches between them. Holder is the only bowler to average more than a wicket per game in that period and picking up dismissals has been a problem for West Indies generally, with each wicket costing 45 runs, the worst of the 18 teams to have played ODI cricket in those two years.
The selectors have kept faith with leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, realising that a modern ODI team needs a spinner who can turn the ball both ways in the hunt for middle-over wickets, but he has taken just 14 from his last 25 matches at an average of 70. Ashley Nurse, the off-spinner, has been better value but he is a defensive bowler, focusing on containment rather than wickets. And that simply won't cut it these days.
The selection of genuine pace in Gabriel, before his suspension, and Oshane Thomas, the young Jamaican quick, is a good move to try and add more bite to the attack while Cottrell offers left-arm variety which was successful on the tour to Bangladesh late last year when he took seven wickets in just three matches. Alzarri Joseph and Kemar Roach will hope to recreate their Test match exploits with the white ball.
So, what of their chances? If the form book is anything to go by, West Indies shouldn't have a sniff against England yet, a bit like ahead of the Test series, the individual parts of their ODI squad look slightly better than their recent results suggest.
Time is running out before the World Cup, though, and it remains to be seen whether they can get their act together before then. Given their ODI performances over the last two years, there is a lot to get together. And not much time to do it.
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