According to the new chairman of selectors, Robert Haynes, the West Indies will be looking to pace to fuel their efforts to secure the 2019 ICC World Cup trophy. The wickets in England have been rather flat with little lateral movement, the former West Indies player explained during the press conference to announce the squad; express pace will therefore be a valuable commodity to have.
No surprise then that the 15-man squad has a strong contingent of fast bowlers. Kemar Roach, Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell, Shannon Gabriel, Carlos Brathwaite, Andre Russell, and captain Jason Holder all deal in pace. A few of them – Thomas, Gabriel, Cottrell and Russell, when fit – are all capable of hurrying most batsmen.
Gabriel has not played an international match in coloured clothing in over two years, but, with the West Indies’ pace-based World Cup strategy in mind, he was recently recalled. “Shannon is one that we see as an impact player,” said captain, Jason Holder, recently. “His role in this side is to come in and make inroads into the middle order. It’s probably an area of concern in the past where we’ve struggled to get some wickets in the middle period and having a guy like Shannon who obviously has the pace and experience, it’s good to have him in there to come and shake up things in the middle for us.”
Holder mentioned Thomas as one who “has a lot of pace as well,” and a player “who could definitely make an impact in the middle.”
Both captain and chief selector, therefore, are on the same page as far as investing faith in the potency of pace in the World Cup is concerned.
It is not difficult to understand the West Indies’ belief in the efficacy of pace. Their great cricketing structure was erected mainly on fast bowling. Some of the game’s great batsmen came out of the West Indies, but the edifice the fans mostly stare at and reminisce about and are all proud of, was founded mainly on the abundant supply of fast bowlers that came out of the Caribbean like items off an assembly line.
Additionally, it was pace, in the main, that led to England’s shocking demise on their 2019 visit. Joe Root led a team that was ranked significantly above the West Indies. And Kemar Roach, Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph, Sheldon Cottrell, and Oshane Thomas, all combined to give them a torrid time. They would have left England confident of victory against a side they, and most everybody else, thought was inferior. Yet they crashed to alarming and swift defeat in the Test series, shared the ODI series 2-2, before winning the T20 series.
The affinity for pace is therefore understandable. Still, this is the question that must be asked: Is the trust Jason Holder and the selectors have in their fast bowling assets misplaced?
The white kookaburra ball that’s scheduled to be used in the tournament has not been friendly to fast bowlers. And recent ODIs in England have shown, as Haynes said, that the wickets have been generally good for batting. The two largest totals in ODI history, both made at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, were made in the past few years: 444/3 made by England against Pakistan in August 2016 and 481/6 by England against Australia in June 2018.
The West Indies play Pakistan in Nottingham on 31st May, their first outing of the tournament. Six days later they return to the same venue to take on Australia.
Recent series in England have also shown that while the pacers have had their moments, it is spin that has been the more effective mode of attack. Spinners such as Kuldeep Yadav of India and Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali of England have had a number of good performances over the past year or so.
All of this hints that pace may not play the enormous role the West indies authorities think it will. On true, benign surfaces the ball that arrives quickly will also travel quickly to the boundary and beyond. Too heavy a reliance on pace might not yield the outcome the West Indies are hoping for.
Additionally, there are other teams equipped with good fast bowlers as well, many of them more accomplished than those from the Caribbean. If pace works for Jason Holder and his men, it could well work for England, Australia, South Africa, and India as well.
A rounded bowling attack, then, is what the West indies, and indeed all teams should strive to assemble. The West Indies have off-spinner Ashley Nurse and left-arm orthodox spinner Fabian Allen in the squad, with Nurse the more likely to feature in the games. Both are honest tryers, but neither are expected to disrupt opposition forces all that much.
Having said all that, it has to be acknowledged that the selectors didn’t have a wide array of quality spinners from which to choose. A finger injury has made Sunil Narine unavailable, and though some were pushing the claims of Rahkeem Cornwall and Khary Pierre, there is certainly not a long list of outstanding slow bowlers in the Caribbean.
The lack of a more rounded bowling attack puts the West Indies at a disadvantage against teams like England, India and South Africa, teams whose outstanding pace attack are complemented by excellent spinners.
Nevertheless, the West Indies have shown that they are not a side to be trifled with. They took on the top ranked side in the world recently and beat them in two games out of four (one game was abandoned due to rain). In one other game, it appeared as if they were going to chase down England’s mammoth 418. They were eventually dismissed for 389. It should be noted too that Andre Russell was not a part of that side, nor was Shannon Gabriel, who is currently bowling well in the tri-series involving Bangladesh in Ireland.
They are not the most reliable side in the world, but they can be quite brilliant on occasion. Few would see them as one of the favourites to wrest the trophy. But I doubt few see them as being unable to win the whole thing. They have some of the most incendiary players in the limited overs game. That gives them as good a chance as anybody.