West indies celebrating-1718291098457
West Indies players celebrate a wicket during the Group C match against New Zealand in Trinidad on Wednesday. Image Credit: Source: ICC X

Dubai: West Indian cricket is synonymous with the Caribbean flair that had been associated with their game since time immemorial. You love them for the swagger they have on the field or hate them for their merciless assault on the opposition with mean pace machines that steamrolled rivals with ease. The bottomline is they have been the invincibles for almost two decades in the 1970s and 1980s.

Then, since the beginning of the 1990s, West Indian cricket started plummeting to great depths after many of their young talented athletes opted to play basketball to earn a place in the lucrative NBA until the Twenty20 format revived Caribbean cricket. It was tailor-made for their brand of cricket, and the players were an instant hit, globetrotting the numerous franchise leagues that enabled them to secure their own and their families’ futures.

Triumphs and challenges

The West Indies have so much talent on offer that they easily clinched the Twenty20 World Cup in 2012 and 2016. Along with the success came complacency, and internal rifts also played a big role, with the West Indies Board trying to curtail the players from giving importance to the franchise leagues over national commitments.

The end result was that the two-time champions lost out in the first round of the 2022 World Cup. The bigger blow came when the champions of the first two editions of the 50-over World Cups missed out on a spot in the showpiece for the first time in the history of the white-ball format.

West indies new
West Indies skipper Rovman Powell has some match-winners by his side including the dangerous Nicholas Pooran (left) and Akeal Hossain. Image Credit: ANI file

Such was the impact of the blow that it ended the squabbles and fired them up to put on a united show. Under the leadership of Rovman Powell and the guidance of former skipper Darren Sammy as the coach, the 2024 World Cup co-hosts eased into the Super Eight with a 13-run win over New Zealand.

A new era

The rise of the West Indies is coinciding with the downfall of New Zealand, who are set to be eliminated in the first round of the World Cup after making at least the semi-finals of the World Cups since 2015.

“As individuals, we play some good cricket around the world. We just have to try our best to put it together as a team when we play for the West Indies. That has been a struggle for quite some time now, but when you look at our franchise performances, we are good players. In the West Indies clothing, sometimes it just seems to not work. As players, we have to ask ourselves why,” Powell told Gulf News in Abu Dhabi in November last year.

“Sitting at home and seeing West Indies not being at the 50-over World Cup has left a bitter taste in our mouth. And last year, when we were playing the World Cup qualifiers, things just didn’t go according to plan. Then, as a team, we went to Zimbabwe for the 50-over World Cup and just struggled as individuals and as a team. It was heart-wrenching to see us not make it to the World Cup. Having said that, I think strides are being made to make sure that we’re at the next World Cup.”

Copy of 389224-01-02-1706442843220
West Indian pacer Shamar Joseph celebrates after guiding his team to a stunning win over Australia in Gabba Test. Image Credit: AFP file

The catalyst for revival

The catalyst for the West Indies’ revival came in the form of the young fast-bowling sensation Shamar Joseph, who ended West Indies’ barren run to give them their first Test win in 27 years Down Under. The win at Australia’s fortress in Gabba was even more special for Caribbean cricket, triggering wild celebrations at the ground and at home.

Joseph’s sensational seven-wicket haul to beat defending Test champions Australia must have given the belief that was missing in the West Indies ranks.

“When you’re looking at West Indies cricket and see what the guys have achieved over the past 12 months or so, it shows that talent isn’t an issue in the Caribbean. The issue with the Caribbean is the facilities. With the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean, that should help a little bit where facilities will be improved by the ICC. So that’s one of the advantages of a World Cup being in the Caribbean and, as Twenty20 captain, we are excited to have more chances in the World Cup and, hopefully, the guys can continue to play good cricket going into the World Cup,” Powell said in January while playing for Dubai Capitals in the DP World ILT20 league.

West Indian batter Sherfane Rutherford's blistering unbeaten 68 gave the co-hosts a total to defend. Image Credit: Source: ICC X

Recent success

The victory against New Zealand was the icing on the cake for West Indies. The manner in which the co-hosts fought back through a gallant knock from Sherfane Rutherford before the bowlers contained the New Zealand batters in the Group C match in Trinidad on Wednesday was impressive.

Rutherford’s unbeaten 68 off 39 balls (two fours, six sixes) lifted the home side from the depths of 30 for five in the seventh over and 112 for nine in 17.5 overs to a competitive 149 for nine after they were put in.

Thrashed in their opening match by Afghanistan in Guyana and therefore in a virtual must-win situation, the Black Caps never developed any momentum in the chase and were restricted to 136 for nine.

Pacer Alzarri Joseph (4 for 19) and spinners Gudakesh Motie (3 for 25) and Akeal Hosein (1 for 21) kept the home side in control to clinch their third consecutive victory and a place in the Super Eight phase of the competition with one group match still to come against Afghanistan on Monday in St Lucia.


Future prospects

“Looking at their bowling line-up, I knew they were short two overs and I told myself to just be there at the end to make the most of it...and I thought I did that.”

Rutherford received invaluable support from the lower order, adding 28 with Hosein for the sixth wicket, 27 with Romario Shepherd for the eighth, and then plundered all 37 runs in the last two overs of the innings, bowled by Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner, with last man Motie happy to look on from the non-striker’s end.

“We knew it was going to be difficult to get runs on this wicket, which is why the quality of Sherfane’s innings was of the highest,” acknowledged losing captain Williamson. “We took a decision to try to bowl them out, but unfortunately it didn’t come up for us today.”

Russell fielding-1718291103037
West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell makes a diving save off his own bowling against New Zealand Image Credit: Source: ICC X

Individual brilliance

After victories over Papua New Guinea and Uganda at the Guyana National Stadium, West Indies’ batting seemed unprepared for the challenge, until Rutherford intervened to transform what was shaping up as an abject capitulation.

“It is good that, after finding ourselves in so much trouble early on, the guys dug deep and we were able to pull this one out,” said skipper Powell. “From the hotel, the message was that someone would have to play a blinder. We always believe that individual brilliance is needed sometimes in T20 cricket and Sherfane’s knock was a fantastic effort. It gave us confidence and at the halfway mark, we believed we could do it.”

With a plethora of match-winners in the ranks, West Indian fans must be hoping that there are more individual brilliances to bring Caribbean cricket back to the top and clinch their third title.

— With inputs from agencies