Victory teaches few lessons. It is when you lose that you learn. You win and celebrate. You lose and reflect on why you fell short and endeavor to come back better next time. “That’s what learning is, after all,” wrote famed American Novelist Richard Bach in The Bridge Across Forever: A True Love Story, “not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.”
One lesson the West Indies should take away from their 15-run loss to Australia in their second game of the 2019 World Cup is this: If the Caribbean side is to win the tournament, they have to run a much tighter operation. Australia played better and deservedly won. But Jason Holder and his men flitted away the advantage on a number of occasions, and so lost a game that they should comfortably have won.
At times they did well to attain the ascendency, only to let it slip from their grasp. They fought hard to advance a few inches on the opposition territory, and having gained them promptly gave them up.
“You find out life's this game of inches,” goes one famous quote from the Oliver Stone film, Any Given Sunday, “so is football. Because in either game — life or football — the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it. One half-second too slow, too fast and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that's gonna make the…difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying! (sic)"
Cricket is a game of inches as well, and the West Indies just never secured the inches they had gained. For instance, they had the Australians cornered at 79/5, then allowed them to escape and build a fairly formidable total of 288 when they should have been shot out for less than 200.
Not enough pressure, it appears, was placed on Nathan Coulter Nile. Prior to this game the fast-bowling allrounder averaged 12 in ODIs with a top score of 30. Here, he rattled off 92 from 60 deliveries before being caught by Holder off Carlos Brathwaite in the dying stages of the Australian innings. He didn’t seem all that fond of the short ball when he came to the crease and yet was not made to smell the leather as often as Khawaja, for example.
Having said that, a fair bit of luck did run his way. But he might have been too easily let off the hook, and was even dropped by Shimron Hetmyer when he was 60. Steve Smith made an important 73 to help extricate his side from their early predicament. He, however, is one of the great batsmen of the game, one of the most difficult to dislodge. Coulter-Nile should not have made so many.
Hetmyer’s run out was also an opportunity squandered. It was a luxury the West Indies could scarcely afford.
While Andre Russell is one of the most effective players in the team, he should remember Uncle Ben’s dictum in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Is it too much to ask that he wields his powerful blade more responsibly? Granted, his explosiveness is legendary. And like all players of his ilk, you will have to tolerate the “bad” shot that gets him out if you praise the “good” one that races to the boundary or sails out of the ground. And yet, with the West Indies 190/5 when he joined the fray, needing 99 to win from all of 90 balls, the search for the big shot was unnecessary. The situation cried out for a cold, calculated approach. Scoring at the required rate, which was approximately six-and-a-half runs per over, is something Russell could do in his sleep.
The good thing for the West Indies is that this loss comes when they are just two games into a tournament that requires each side to play at least nine games. Therefore, they have a lot of time to identify their errors and take steps to avoid making them in the future contests. They have time enough to absorb the lesson of how to store away the inches they gain.
It is still very early days but the West Indies have been a bright spark in this World Cup. They set the tournament ablaze with their vicious bouncer assault on Pakistan, flattening them for 105 runs in 21.4 overs. They then used that same tactic to push Australia against the ropes, proving the efficacy of their pace-based strategy. If the feeling was that it only worked against Pakistan because they were an unruly, unreliable bunch who mostly played on low-bouncing subcontinent tracks, then how about the Australians who grew up on hard, bouncy wickets and who have the reputation of never taking a backward step. It largely worked against them too.
A number, of pundits, including this one, doubted that the “pace like fire” approach touted by the West Indies’ team management would work on wickets that have been notoriously flat in the recent past. We have been wrong so far and the team will want us to continue being wrong for the remainder of the competition.
Which brings us to their lack of wicket-taking spin. Ashley Nurse, the Barbadian off-spinner never bowled in the first game and sent down only five overs in the second. The selectors will have to decide if he is worth a place in the side on the bouncier tracks they have encountered so far. Might another fast bowler be more useful?
The West Indies next take on South Africa in Southampton. And while magicians Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal spun a web around the South Africans when they clashed with India there on 5 June, the surface was not unkind to fast bowlers like Kagiso Rabada and Jasprit Bumrah. West Indies against South Africa on Monday, 10 June, should be another shootout.