Dubai: The West Indies will be the dark horse in this edition of the World Cup as the form points towards the Caribbean outfit reliving some of the past glory on the big stage. After winning the inaugural two editions, incidentally also held in England, the Caribbean cricket spiralled down and hit the nadir — the low points being dismissed for under 100 in the loss against Kenya in the 1996 World Cup while bowing out in the first round of the 1999 and 2003 World Cups. One of the key reasons for their downfall is the lack of interest in cricket among the youth as they opted for other disciplines.
In the past, the cash-rich English County circuit kept their interests alive with high wages and acted as a constant source of supply chain and the birth of many legends. The restriction on the number of foreign pros in County teams had a spiralling effect on the Caribbean cricket. Thanks to advent of Twenty20 cricket and the numerous franchise leagues around the world, West Indies cricket is on the rise again and these players are the most sought-after in almost all the leagues.
The testimony to the fact is that they won the World Twenty20 Cup in 2012 and in 2016. In the last final in Kolkata, West Indies defeated England after Carlos Brathwaite hit four sixes off the final over of Ben Stokes to reach an improbable win. They have also made it to the Super 8 and the quarter-finals in the last three editions of the 50-over World Cups. In a late move, West Indies selectors have drafted Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, who retired from international cricket in October last year, into the 10-man reserves for the World Cup.
The natural flair and the attitude to throw caution to the wind is always a treat to watch, especially in the shorter formats. On any given day each one of them, starting with opener Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Andre Russell, Shimron Hetmyer and Carlos Brathwaite, can take the match away from their rivals with sheer authority. Shai Hope lends stability as the wicketkeeper-batsman is a consistent performer for his country.
As in the past, the bowling department will be filled with pacers with Oshane Thomas having the capability to make the batsmen hop on the crease and will be supported by Kemar Roach, left-armer Sheldon Cottrell and all-rounders Jason Holder, Russell and Brathwaite. Fabian Allan and Ashley Nurse will provide the variety as spinners.
The Caribbean Islanders have a natural flair for attack and over indulgence to play big shots could spell their doom on occasions. The team, with the support of a few veterans, lack the big stage experience and could stumble at crucial hurdle of the showpiece. In modern day cricket, familiarity of a player’s skills is important to assess his strengths and weaknesses and with many of these stars playing in various franchise leagues across the world, the rivals will be prepared with their gameplan.
The pacey wickets will help them play their brand of cricket. With a heavy reliance on pace, the conditions could be in their favour. The round-robin format will allow them to play freely as each team is guaranteed of nine matches. Gayle has been given the extra responsibility as a vice-captain, which should work in their favour. Skipper Holder has gained more control over the team and can garner better support from the present members of the squad.
In the last decade, constant fighting and bickering among the players and the board officials have left the team in tatters. Though there are signs of mending fences among the players and the officials, one hopes that it doesn’t rear its ugly head again. On the flip side of playing regularly on the world leagues, the star players will be weary and vulnerable to injuries, which the Caribbeans need to be guarded against in this long tournament.
Squad:Jason Holder (captain), Andre Russell, Ashley Nurse, Carlos Brathwaite, Chris Gayle (vice-captain), Darren Bravo, Evin Lewis, Fabian Allen, Kemar Roach, Nicholas Pooran, Oshane Thomas, Shai Hope, Shannon Gabriel, Sheldon Cottrell, Shimron Hetmyer.
■ Main player: Andre Russell
■ Appearances — 1975, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015
■ Won: 1975, 1979 (2)