Cricket

ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Will West Indies team prove to be the dark horse of the tournament?

  • Austin Coutinho
  • April 27th, 2019
  • 10:06:06 IST

This local cricket umpire from Matunga, in Mumbai, couldn’t sleep the night India won the Prudential World Cup of 1983; he wasn’t allowed to. A diehard Vivian Richards fan, he had predicted that the mighty West Indies would crush India in the final, at Lord’s, on 25 June. After the shock win, cricketers and fans from the area, therefore, took a morcha to his house, burst crackers, raised slogans and danced there till the early hours of the morning.

It was all in jest. The umpire, however, told me much later that it was scary. “Most of my friends were there and they were only rubbing it in. But a miscreant or two, mistaking it for a real morcha, could have stoned my house in the heat of the moment,” he said.

In 1983, Kapil’s Devils were rank outsiders; 66 to 1. In 2019, the West Indies are. Yet, despite my umpire friend’s experience that night, and being fully aware of cricket’s ‘glorious uncertainties’, I would venture to stick my neck out and predict that the Jason Holder led team will play in the final on 14 July. It’s my gut feeling.

Mind you, I am not saying who the other finalist will be; not yet!

In 1983, strong teams like Australia, England and the West Indies had underestimated India’s prowess. In 2019, in my opinion, teams like India, England, Australia and Pakistan — all of whom have the wherewithal to make it to the World Cup final — will underrate the men from the Caribbean Isles at their own peril.

Brian Lara recently stated that England and India would easily make it to the playoff of World Cup 2019. Could he have added West Indies to that small, celebrated list? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Brian Lara recently stated that England and India would easily make it to the playoff of World Cup 2019. Could he have added West Indies to that small, celebrated list? Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

A few years after the strong West Indies batting lineup had famously capitulated at Lord’s, to handover the Prudential Trophy to India, I had casually asked Gordon Greenidge, the legendary West Indies opener, in the Wankhede Stadium dressing room, if he had had sleepless nights after shouldering arms to a Balvinder Singh Sandhu inswinger in that 1983 final. Greenidge’s early wicket had triggered a collapse and chasing only 183 runs, the West Indies had been bowled out for 140 in 52 overs. “Why should I lose sleep over a dismissal?” he had shot back angrily. “Was someone in my family unwell? Our team was full of superstars; why couldn’t one of them guide us to a win, chasing what was a modest total?”

What I inferred from that response was that the wound — of losing to India — was still festering. What’s more, the West Indies’ team of 1983 was made up of brilliant individuals, but the team lacked cohesion. Greenidge had later said that Clive Lloyd wasn’t an inspirational skipper.

Sir Frank Worrell is credited with the building of a strong West Indies side in the early 1960s, which was then carried forward by Sir Garry Sobers. The baton was finally handed over to Lloyd, who took the West Indies to new heights of excellence in the 1970s and 80s, with the team from the Caribbean Islands dominating in both Tests and one-day cricket.

The West Indies had an indomitable squad in the first three editions of the World Cup, then known as Prudential Cup. The team led by Lloyd won the 1975 final beating Australia by just 17 runs. In 1979, qualifying to meet hosts England in the final, the West Indies won by 92 runs. In the 1983 edition, Lloyd’s plan to win the tournament consecutively for the third time was thwarted by Kapil Dev’s team, an Indian squad that few had fancied would even reach the playoffs.

Since that fateful day in 1983, the West Indies have managed to enter the playoff stage only on three occasions: a semifinal entry in 1996 and a last eight place in 2011 and 2015. Such has been the decline of a team that was once thought to be invincible. Over the last five years, West Indies’ ODI record has been abysmal by any standards.

What has then changed in West Indies cricket for people — and yours truly — to believe that the team from the Caribbean Islands will do well in the ensuing World Cup? The answer could be: 1. Twice making it to the playoffs in the last two World Cups. 2. The five ODIs won against the nine lost in home and away series losses to Bangladesh, a series loss to India in India and a 2-2 draw against a strong England side, at home, in the past one year. 3. A rare test series win in recent times, and 4. The administrative changes taking place in Cricket West Indies (CWI).

The 15-member squad that CWI has announced for the ICC World Cup of 2019 seems to be a strong one, at least on paper. The team led by Jason Holder includes Andre Russell, Ashley Nurse, Carlos Brathwaite, Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Elvin Lewis, Fabian Allen, Kemar Roach, Nicholas Pooran, Oshane Thomas, Shai Hope, Shannon Gabriel, Sheldon Cottrell and Shimron Hetmyer.

In Gayle and Russell, the West Indies have men who can literally win matches on their own. With Lewis, Hope, Bravo, Pooran and Hetmyer in the squad along with Holder, Nurse and Brathwaite, who too can contribute with the bat and give the ball a fair tonk, the team from the Caribbeans can bat really deep. After a long, long time, the pace attack consisting of Gabriel, Thomas, Roach, Brathwaite and Cottrell too looks intimidating and dangerous. All in all, the West Indies selectors have done a fair job and it is now up to the players to repay their trust.

In the latest ODI rankings of the ICC, the West Indies’ cricket squad lies in ninth place, with England, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka preceding it. With players from the Caribbean Isles now asserting themselves in international T20 leagues the world over and positivity slowly creeping back into its cricket, the time is not far when West Indies shall take its deserving place back at the top of the heap.

The legendary Brian Lara recently stated that England and India would easily make it to the playoff of World Cup 2019. Could he have added West Indies to that small, celebrated list?

P.S: Just in case the Jason Holder led squad doesn’t make it to the final, in World Cup 2019, don’t come looking for me with a morcha. I shall be a few hundred kilometers away from Mumbai that weekend. Ciao!

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he is now a mental toughness trainer.

Updated Date: April 27, 2019 10:06:06 IST

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