The West Indies innings was nearing its end. They were 203/8 and the game had reached its 41st over when the following exchange occurred between Nasser Hussain and Michael Holding.
Nasser said on air: “Fifty-overs becoming a long time for the West Indies side, the difference between 20-over cricket. And they can be a bit gung-ho, go all out cricket. The innings by Andre Russell, I think was an odd one. Just go out swinging in a 50-over game. These men have to try and bat time here.”
Holding had this to say in reply: “It’s just a matter of thought, you know Nass. So accustomed to playing in the shortest format of the game all over the world, hitting sixes. You go out there, you bat eight balls, you get 32 runs, they say you have played a fantastic knock. Well this is proper cricket. It’s 300 balls in an innings…”
Holding’s lack of affection for the 20-over game is well known. He even refuses to commentate on it. Here, he and Hussain were making a valid point about the West Indies batsmen’s attitude towards the longer 50-over game.
The West Indies have won two T20 World Cup titles. They have a bevy of players participating in the numerous T20 leagues that dot the cricket landscape, with a number of them being amongst the game’s biggest drawing cards.
Opener Chris Gayle is sometimes referred to as the Bradman of T20 cricket and the huge reputation he has built is based mainly on his exploits in that format. Andre Russell is probably T20 cricket’s most sought-after player and certainly its most feared ball bludgeoner. He is also capable of winning a game with his blistering fast bowling – examples of which we have already witnessed in this tournament – and also grabs some of the more ridiculous outfield catches. Others like Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Oshane Thomas are all upcoming stars who feature in a number of T20 tournaments.
Holding’s argument is that the West Indies batsmen have taken the T20 game too much to heart, so much so that they can’t seem to appreciate the difference between the two formats. That accusation might seem slightly harsh on its face, but then how does one explain, for example, Russell’s innings.
The Jamaican walked to the middle at the end of the 32nd over, with his side 156/5. He swung hard at the first delivery he received, a wide one, and was lucky not to redirect it onto his stumps via his inside-edge. He was dropped off his eighth delivery at deep mid-wicket, a wild slog that should have been caught easily by Chris Woakes. He smashed his 10th and 12th deliveries for sixes, his 15th for four, before falling for 21 next ball, caught by the man who had dropped him earlier in the same fielding position, off a short ball from Mark Wood.
We all know of Russell’s power and his capacity to score runs rapidly, but his team would have been hoping for a better assessment of the situation it was in and a better response to it. Eighteen overs remained. Had he stayed and faced even a half of the remaining deliveries he could have easily ended with at least a 70, and the West Indies might have gotten close to or past 300. They still might not have won. But it would have been a more respectable performance.
Russell was similarly injudicious during the previous game against Australia, a game that his team lost by only 15 runs. A little more patience from the man who is probably the West Indies’ most effective weapon would have served his team well.
Russell was not the only offender, however. There was substantial blame to go around. Chris Gayle made 36 off 57 balls, but he too could have battled harder to try and ensure his team got to a decent total. Combating the English pacers was difficult, especially during the first few overs. The bowling was accurate and the pace, from Archer and Wood in particular, was singeing. But there didn’t appear to be enough effort put in by the big lefthander to bat deep into the innings. Things were bound to get easier and he would then have been able to score more quickly without taking as much risk.
Hetmyer was not at his fluent best throughout his innings. Widely seen as a highly talented young batsman, the Guyanese left-hander did not seem willing to curb his stroke-making in a way that may have lengthened his stay at the crease and therefore his partnership with Pooran. He lost his wicket to a clever piece of bowling by Joe Root, but, like a few others, he should consider modifying his approach.
The one batsman who stood above all others was Pooran. The young batsman, who has been in good form of late, first gave signal of his quality during the 2014 Youth World Cup when he scored a stupendous 143 against Australia. He is quite capable of going hell for leather, yet he curbed his stroke-play somewhat and crafted a high-class knock, scoring 63 off 78 deliveries with three fours and a six. Those who might have doubted that he belonged at number four in the batting, will be convinced that he should continue playing the way he did against England.
The West Indies now find themselves in danger of not advancing to the semi-finals. All is not lost but it will be a difficult climb from here. They can’t afford another slip. Their bowling in this game was not of the highest standard and changes should be made going forward. They need to consider, for instance, the value of having Carlos Brathwaite in the side; the Barbadian pacer’s offerings have been rather tame. But their bowlers won them the first game, placed them in a position from which they should have won the second, and took two quick wickets against South Africa before rain ruined the game. They have, for the most part, done a good job. The batsmen now need to step up.