They are a team filled with individual flair, but the West Indies will have to move on from their rich history, off-field controversy, contentious squad selections and need to raise the bar to put up an impressive show at the cricket World Cup beginning Saturday.
West Indies are only one of the three sides – Australia and India being the others – to have at least two World Cup trophies in their cupboard. The players, therefore, have a rich history and reputation to keep in mind when they take the field in Australia and New Zealand in the 11th edition of the tournament.
To add to the misery, the past rulers of the game have endured a fragile build-up before the 14-nation tournament. The previous year was marred by the Caribbean team’s mid-way pullout of the Indian tour, owing to a payment dispute on the yearly contract agreed between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA).
The team’s senior most member Chris Gayle also had a bad relation with the WICB, so as well middle-order mainstay Marlon Samuels.
Following the controversial abandoned tour of India, the board dropped captain and senior all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and match-winner Kieron Pollard. However, chief selector Clive Lloyd said the omission of the senior duo from Cup squad is not an act of victimisation for their roles in the aborted tour. The board claimed that the team was picked on merit.
The omissions left a huge vaccuum in the squad’s depth. Young pacer Jason Holder was made the captain. The 23-year-old, who has 37 scalps from 26 matches, faces a big task. Neither he has the experience nor the performance to inspire the team.
However, they are a dangerous and unpredictable customers in the shorter format of the game, the win at the World Twenty20 2012 in Sri Lanka being a prime example.
Led by Holder and coached by Stuart Williams, the former opener, the side will have to rely on its power-packed batting to negate the lack of experience in the bowling department.
The side emerged champions in 1975 and 1979 under the leadership of Lloyd. A hat-trick of wins, however, was not to be as West Indies lost the 1983 final to India at Lord’s. Since then, the side has been on a steady decline.
The best finish since 1983 came in 1996 when it lost to Australia after dominating most parts of the semi-final clash in Mohali. In 2011, it lost to Pakistan in the quarter-final, while its fate four years prior to that, at home, was sealed in the Super Eights.
The quest to move past the final eight and possibly beyond, something the side hasn’t been able to achieve for a long time now, will drive the team.
The side has some much-needed experience at the top in the form of the big-hitting Gayle, who will be playing in his fourth World Cup. Samuels adds muscle to the middle order, but the side will need the younger players to punch above their weights to shore up the batting and bowling departments.
The pacers are talented and would find the pitches in the Antipodes conducive to their style of bowling, but lack of experience will make slog-over bowling a difficult proposition against quality batting line-ups.
Sulieman Benn, the left-arm spinner, leads the slow-bowling department, while Nikita Miller, another left-arm tweaker, who was part of the 2011 World Cup squad, was drafted in once spearhead Sunil Narine withdrew from the tournament, after failing to clear his suspect bowling action in time for the mega event.