The Return Of The Caribbean "Fear Factor" > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - The return of the West Indies "fear factor"
Cast your mind back to March 2018. In Harare, West Indies were playing Scotland in a World Cup qualifier, a match that would decide who went through to the tournament proper. Scotland, in pursuit of 198, were coasting. West Indies looked dead and buried. Had it not been for a dodgy LBW against Scottish batsman Richie Berrington which changed the complexion of the match, they would have been. It was almost the lowest of low ebbs for the men from the Caribbean.
In the end, Jason Holder's team were saved from the embarrassment of not being at this World Cup by that LBW decision and rain, allowing them to scrape home by five runs on DLS. But at that time, with West Indies struggling to beat Scotland and defeated by Afghanistan in the final of the qualifiers, would any of the best eight sides in the world have feared them? No chance. Heck, hardly any ODI side would have. They might now, mind.
In the last six months, something has clicked for West Indies. Their batting, so meek and mild in the three and half years since the last World Cup, has been transformed. Between the last tournament and the end of 2018, West Indies were scoring their runs at less than five an over, preferring a leisurely walk while others strapped themselves in sports cars and put their foot down.
Since the turn of the year, that has shot up to 6.6 runs an over, second only to England. A year ago, they would have been no odds to make an impression in this World Cup. Now, although far from the complete team, not many will fancy bowling to them.
The fear factor is back, in large part because of the presence of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell - two players in fine, belligerent form. Their ability to win games on their own by virtue of sheer brute force is something no opponent can take lightly. Gayle made two hundreds, one of which was in the final warm-up match. There aren't many more destructive in the world. 162 off 97 balls, against England in February. Russell hit 52 sixes for KKR in the IPL and scored 54 off 25 balls against New Zealand as West Indies racked up 421 in their warm-up match.
Gayle's performance against England earlier this year seems to have been the catalyst for West Indies' resurgence. He scored a remarkable 424 runs at a strike rate of 134 in that series and had the world's number one side on the ropes. In the final game of the series, he larruped 77 from 27 balls and Eoin Morgan's bowlers had no answer. The manner of his play, all aggression and power, carried others along. Shimron Hetmyer, for example, scored a belligerent hundred in the second game - an innings straight out of the Gayle playbook.
During that rubber, it was as if Gayle had decided that the West Indies had to start giving it back in one-day cricket. That they had to start throwing some punches of their own after three years of being the punchbag. Then, right on time, Russell returned to the fold, initially as a non-playing member of the squad against England because of a knee injury and then as part of the World Cup party.
If ever there was someone tailor-made to take up Gayle's mantle of fearlessness, it was Russell. The pair of them are showing the other West Indian players the way.
Russell's form in the IPL was extraordinary. He scored at better than two runs a ball across the tournament, averaging 56, winning KKR a number of games from seemingly impossible positions. True, 50-over cricket is different to the shortest format but Russell's power and destructiveness can be just as effective in ODIs as he showed against New Zealand.
Hetmyer, Evin Lewis, Carlos Brathwaite and captain Jason Holder add to West Indies' power and not many teams in this World Cup can match them in terms of pure ball-striking ability or depth. They have some firepower alright.
They are not all about brute force, though. In Shai Hope, West Indies' most consistent one-day batsman, and Darren Bravo, they have finesse too. After a barren series against England, Hope's last five ODI innings have yielded scores of 170, 109, 30, 87 and 74. He also scored a hundred in the warm-up against New Zealand. After the power of Gayle and Lewis, his role at number three is one of batting through the innings, holding things together. He's a vital cog.
"Shai has been carrying some form for a long time in the limited overs format, and he's really confident" Jason Holder said. "I think he's worked out his method of scoring in this format. It's really good to see a young batter stepping up and being as consistent as he has been. Obviously we've got power around him. I think we've got a really good mix in terms of our batting line-up."
West Indies' recent performances have certainly been improved and given them confidence and belief that the aggressive route is the right one. They drew that series with England when many were predicting a whitewash and did well in patches in the tri-series against Ireland and Bangladesh earlier this month without Lewis, Gayle, Brathwaite and Russell, all of whom were at the IPL. Their destruction of New Zealand was the perfect reminder of what their improved game-plan can do.
"One thing I like coming into this tournament is that every player is in a good frame of mind," Holder said. "Everybody is playing with a smile on their face, and that's how we play our best cricket. We're fearless, we enjoy what we're doing and we enjoy one another's company. I can safely say within the group we've got that. We've got the energy going into this tournament that we would want to have.
"I think the rest is left down to us on the field. We've just got to execute whatever plans we formulate, and I think execution is key in this tournament, whether it's West Indies, England, India. The teams that execute their plans and be as disciplined as they can, more often than not they're going to come out on top."
While there are still issues with West Indies' bowling, an area of the game that Holder admits has been "inconsistent", the batting looks in fine fettle, with left- and right-handers, power and aggression, finesse and touch. No team will sleep easy the night before bowling to Gayle and company. The fear factor, for so long missing from West Indies' one-day cricket, is most certainly back. And at just the right time.
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