Though the newly-elected administration installed a new selection panel and amended the eligibility rules, there were few surprises in the West Indies squad chosen to contest the 2019 ICC World Cup tournament in England. The selectors, led by former West Indies ODI player Robert Haynes, mainly stuck by the incumbents, and talk of the return of those regularly seen on the T20 circuit, such as Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, came to naught.
The most debatable selection will probably be that of Fabian Allen. His inclusion could be thought to be something of a surprise. He has done little in four ODIs and his List A numbers are not special either.
Still, Allen is seen as a player of some promise. He is an excellent fielder, bowls decent left-arm orthodox spin and has a few good First Class and T20 scores to his name.
Questions may also be raised about the selections of Ashley Nurse and Carlos Brathwaite, even though both took part in the recent ODIs against England in the Caribbean. Narine’s absence due to a finger injury, which he reports makes ten overs too taxing, and a reluctance to turn to heavyset all-rounder Rahkeem Cornwall, more or less paved the way for Nurse’s retention. The Barbadian off-spinner has not exactly set the world alight in recent times, but the selectors did not have a whole lot of realistic spin-bowling options.
Brathwaite did not feature in many of the speculative teams chosen by fans prior to the naming of the official 15. Yet the tall all-rounder might have been the West Indies’ steadiest fast bowler during the England series. Leaving him out would have been difficult.
Recent results have made West Indies cricket fans hopeful of their team’s World Cup prospects. Having recently drawn their five-match series (One was rained out) against England – the number one ranked team in the game – the prevailing view is that the West Indies have as good a chance of winning the trophy as any of the top teams.
This is not just coming from overly optimistic members of the Caribbean cricket community. Former England captain Michael Vaughan feels the same way: “I’ve got a feeling this West Indies side will shock a few people at the World Cup,” Vaughan remarked on Radio after witnessing the West Indies rattle off 389 in the fourth ODI against England. This they did in a losing cause, as England had posted 418, yet it was a mighty effort nonetheless.
Featuring the likes of Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Andre Russell and Shimron Hetmyer, the West Indies batting possess the kind of fire-power that is not to be scoffed at. All four are potential match-winners with “serious power,” according to Vaughan. They could well cause a few headaches.
Having not played in a while, Lewis' form is to be seen. His capabilities are well known, however, and he could well rattle off a few big scores. Hetmyer is one of the more exciting young talents in the game. A poor start for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the IPL has seen him lose his spot in the team. But he is a known quantity, and with four rollicking ODI centuries already under his belt from 25 outings, he could be one of the players of the tournament if form revisits him.
Gayle and Russell have been unstoppable in recent times. The Universe Boss, as he calls himself, has recently returned to his best. All should beware. Runs have been raining from his bat in the IPL, and against England in the Caribbean before that. He will turn up in England confident of making a serious mark on the tournament.
Russell will want to make his mark as well. The powerful right-hander specialises in lost causes, in bringing his team to victory from positions they have no right coming back from. No matter the required run-rate or the number of runs needed, it is never over with Russell at the crease. No wonder then that he is being called Superman.
The rest of the West Indies batting, while not as incendiary, is made up of some quite handy players. Hope, Bravo and Holder, might not have the power nor the approach of the aforementioned ball beaters, but they are all capable of making telling contributions.
Pace, the selectors believe, will play a big role during the summer. There will not likely be much swing, chief selector Haynes argued, and so high pace could well be an effective weapon. To that end they included Shannon Gabriel, who hasn’t played an ODI in a while, Oshane Thomas, a burly Jamaican capable of disturbing pace, and left-armer Sheldon Cottrell.
The white kookaburra has not done a lot in recent years and scores in England have consequently been rather huge. The West Indies pacers could cause some discomfort. But they sometimes lack steadiness and is unlikely to be the source of all that much concern. If the West Indies are to do well the batting will have to compensate for any shortcomings the bowling reveals.
The West Indies are ninth in the ICC rankings and suffered the indignity of having to play qualifying matches in order to take part in the tournament. They will therefore not be one of the favourites when hostilities commence on 30 May.
It has, indeed, been a long time since the West Indies were regarded as a likely World Cup winning unit, perhaps not since the 1990s. This time, however, they could well be the surprise team of the tournament. To do well they need what they have often lacked – consistency. “The West Indies have match winners,” said Brian Lara a few months ago, “but that’s not enough to play in English conditions and win the World Cup. We need a team that is consistent.”
The West Indies will arrive in England as a unit with sizeable strengths, but one with glaring weaknesses as well. One of the more fancied teams, England, India, or Australia perhaps, will be expected to hold the ICC World Cup Trophy aloft at the end of the 51st match of the tournament. But it is not that far-fetched that it is the West Indies that will be on the podium accepting the prize in the end. Jason Holder and his men have the skills. Throw in a little luck and they could well win the World Cup for the third time.