West Indies' seven-wicket win against Pakistan seems such a long time ago. The West Indies showed pace, power and promise in their World Cup opener, to lift the spirits of the Caribbean fans, and urged those who looked askance at their prospects to take a second viewing. However, it has been all downhill since. It is as if Jason Holder and his men fired the one effective arrow in their quiver and have very little left.
The overall campaign has been disheartening for the West Indies supporters. In fairness, the games against England and India were the ones in which the Windies were outplayed, for the other games it was their own undoing that cost them.
West Indies found themselves in assertive positions against Australia, Bangladesh and New Zealand, only to squander their ascendancy like schoolboys.
Their bowling wasn’t good enough. It lacked variety in both make-up and method. Their spin bowling posed barely any threat and their tactics too one-dimensional. Too much faith was reposed for too long in a fast, short-pitched attack that scorched Pakistan and then Australia, to an extent, but mostly sputtered thereafter.
While their batting was no better either. Windies batsmen played with injudicious and irresponsible haste, failing to absorb the lessons they ought to have learnt observing players like Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson.
Former West Indies player Daren Ganga during commentary intimated the West Indies’ problems may have something to do with primarily T20 players coming to the team for the ODI World Cup with a mindset of shortest format. Former fast-bowling great, now a renowned commentator, Michael Holding has stressed, almost every game, that 50-over cricket is “proper cricket”. There are “300 balls,” he’s fond of saying. Their assertions have a lot of merit.
Asked, during a post-match interview with the Indian captain, Sanjay Manjrekar, asked Kohli, what his advice to other batsmen would be. Kohli shed light on his batting outlook for the 50-over game. After explaining that all batsmen must develop their own methods according to their own strengths and weaknesses, the batting master offered this: “That’s always been my game plan and my strength to asses conditions very quickly, and I’m very happy knocking the ball around as well. All my innings, 70% of the runs I rely on singles and doubles, which I think in one-day cricket is the most important factor. If you look for big shots, more often than not you gonna get out…”
There are a number of West Indian batsmen who should be placed in a classroom and made to listen to that piece of wisdom over and over again, like students in detention made to recite lines.
Ill-advised shot-making has been the West Indies’ major downfall this tournament. The watchful approach that Kohli expressed in this game and that Williamson exhibited in the previous one, is almost never a part of the West Indies’ game plan. They prefer to score in sixes rather than singles and while dealing in the game’s highest currency is the most effective way of racking up big scores quickly, there is peril inherent in hitting the ball long and often.
This point is lost on a number of West Indian batsmen. It is a lesson they often seem incapable of learning. Why else would Andre Russell, for example, after unnecessarily heaving away his wicket against Australia, do the same against England in the very next game? Young T20 stars like Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran also showed a lack of patience on crunch occasions. They would be batting beautifully one minute, only to gift their wicket away the next.
Against India a first innings total of 268 is something, the Windies would have readily accepted at the start of the game and their bowlers did a reasonably good job getting them to that position. Jettisoned after the Pakistan game, Kemar Roach, the most skillful bowler in the side, returned against New Zealand to show his worth. He continued the demonstration in the game against India with three important wickets for just 36 runs off his 10 overs. Jason Holder had his best outing as a bowler so far, returning figures of 2/33 off 10 overs. His team might have had fewer to chase had wicket-keeper Shai Hope not missed stumping the batsman off Fabian Allen when he was eight. MS Dhoni went on to make 56, adding crucial runs near the end of the innings.
Run-scoring was never easy on an Old Trafford surface off which the ball did not always bounce as the batsman expected. India, led by Kohli and Dhoni, fought hard to eke out a defendable total. The West Indies, on the other hand, displayed no stomach for such an arduous battle and crumbled for a measly 143.
There was no heroics this time, like Carlos Brathwaite’s against New Zealand, to stoke even a glimmer of hope in the hearts of Caribbean fans. Now, the West Indies have no chance of making it to the semi-finals, an achievement some of their more optimistic followers saw as a real possibility.
The West Indies now have to look beyond this tournament. Their current approach to the 50-over game will not do. They will have to look to play “proper cricket” in this format, as Michael Holding often says.
The good thing is that there are players, many in this current squad, that, with more experience and study, ought to be able to make the necessary adjustments. Players like Pooran, Hetmyer, Sunil Ambris and Oshane Thomas are capable of thriving in all formats of the game. But they will need to be more convinced that steady and calculating cricket will be considerably more successful than chancy and belligerent. This might be hard lesson for a number of them to learn but it is one they have to absorb if they are to perform consistently in ODIs.