Andre Russell
West Indies’ Andre Russell reacts during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Super Eight cricket match against South Africa at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda on June 23, 2024. The West Indies lost the game and exited from the tournament. Image Credit: AFP

The West Indies are out of the T20 World Cup. Wasn’t a surprise, really. They haven’t been at their best in the tournament. Well, they haven’t been at their best for a while.

The run to the Super 8s could be an improvement for a team that missed the main draw of two recent World Cups (T20 and ODI), but as co-hosts, they should have done better. When the World Cup came to the backyard, the West Indies should have made the semifinals at least.

They nearly did. But a narrow loss to South Africa pushed them out of the tournament. A tournament they had won twice. But they never played like two-time champions.

Why West Indies are eternal favourites

A patchy win over minnows Papua New Guinea was followed by more scrappy wins, painful losses and big wins. None of which inspired confidence. So when Rovman Powell’s team crashed out, it wasn’t a surprise.

Whenever a World Cup rolls around, cricket buffs pencil in the West Indies as one of the favourites. That’s borne out of nostalgia. Memories of their exciting wins in the first two ODI World Cups, when Clive Lloyd and his merry band of Calypso cricketers swept aside rivals, refuse to fade away.

After dominating world cricket in the eighties and early nineties, the Caribbean’s stranglehold eased with Lloyd’s departure. It plunged further with the retirement of a golden generation that included Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, and others.

A West Indies fan
A West Indies fan waves the flag of Antigua and Barbuda during the Super Eight match against South Africa on June 23, 2024.

Darren Sammy’s World Cup triumphs

The arrival of Courtney Walsh, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and other stalwarts helped prop up West Indian cricket for some more time. But it never scaled dizzy heights until Darren Sammy led them to two T20 World Cup triumphs. Who can forget Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes in the final over to lance down England in the 2016 final?

That was their last fling with glory. The West Indies ceased to be the same force. The World Cup in the US and the West Indies was an opportunity to return the Caribbeans to the top of the totem pole.

That didn’t happen. I didn’t expect it to happen. The West Indies were never on my list of semifinalists, simply because I didn’t believe they could play good cricket consistently to make the last four.

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Shai Hope, Sherfane Rutherford and Nicholas Pooran scored in typical Caribbean style: soaring sixes and slick fours. But barring a couple of occasions, the West Indies batting never clicked into a higher gear. That’s partly due to pitches that afforded turn and low bounce, reflected in the success of Caribbean spinners Akeal Hosein, Gudakesh Motie and Roston Chase.

In low-scoring games, 10 or 15 runs can make a difference. The West Indians never could score enough in crunch games for the spinners to bail them out. That was evident in the Super 8 game against South Africa.

Despite the exit, Powell saw some silver lining. In a post-match chat with the broadcast, the skipper said the World Cup brought the buzz back to the West Indies. “If you can take a year to move from number 9 to number 3 in the world, that’s tremendous work,” he added.

Roston Chase
West Indies’ Roston Chase plays a shot during the Super Eight cricket match against South Africa on June 23, 2024. Chase struck 52 and grabbed three wickets, but that wasn’t enough to secure a Caribbean win. Image Credit: AFP

Has West Indies cricket improved?

“We haven’t won the World Cup, but there was a lot of improvement. There’s a lot of buzz around the Caribbean again about West Indies cricket. We have done some very good things over the last 12 months.” That was how the captain summed up his team’s performance.

The World Cup showed a mirror of the team’s progress. More work is required to return them to the pedestal. And that should start with selecting the best team. When a T20 specialist like Sunil Naraine refused to join the World Cup squad, it didn’t speak much about their team’s unity. Nor about the pride of playing for the West Indies.

Talent, there’s aplenty. It is just a matter of harnessing them. For that, you need a strong leader like Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd. Little wonder, the West Indies had their best days in the sun under them.