Whatever hopes remained of the West Indies getting to the semi-finals appears to have fizzled in the face of a stunning Bangladesh batting onslaught. The 321 runs that Jason Holder’s team made seemed a reasonable total, especially as it was achieved after a rather pedestrian start that saw them only reach 32/1 after the first powerplay overs. But the Tigers, led again by the impressive Shakib Al Hasan whose unbeaten 124 was his second century in consecutive games, rushed them to victory by seven wickets with more than eight overs to spare. It wasn’t even close.
“Less than ordinary,” was how fast bowling great Curtly Ambrose described the West Indies’ effort. “They can kiss their chances of reaching the semi-finals goodbye.”
Come to think of it, West Indian fans shouldn’t be all that surprised. A month or so ago, their team was beaten by Bangladesh three times in Ireland. Those games weren’t close either. And while the West Indies were missing a few key players, those defeats should certainly have served as a serious warning.
The losses against England and against Australia, in particular, were, in the main, due to batting that was less than judicious — T20 batting in a 50-over game. However, it was the bowlers who seem to have come up short in this game against Bangladesh.
It is not entirely their fault. The short-ball tactic that worked so well against Pakistan in the first game and against Australia, though the West Indies lost that game, was persisted with. Ashley Nurse and Fabian Allen, the spinners in the squad, sat on the bench, and the slowest of the fast men, Carlos Brathwaite, joined them there as well. The plan was therefore clear: The bowling was to be fast and short.
In fact, according to Cricviz, 55 percent of the deliveries the West Indies pacers bowled were short. And while in their first three games the short ball accounted for 11 wickets at an average of 14.63, it accounted for only three wickets in the last two games and at a staggering average of 88.66. In other words, the method of attack that worked beyond their imagination against Pakistan and Australia and against South Africa before the rains, was a disaster against England and Bangladesh.
It is mind-blowing that the West Indies felt they could be so reliant on the fast and short strategy. The fans rejoiced when Pakistan were blasted out for 105, with many recalling the heady days of the outstanding four-pronged attacks.
While the Nottingham venue, with its lively surface and large outfield, fitted nicely with the West Indies’ plans, the Taunton ground was another matter. The ball hardly lifted off the surface with any venom and the boundaries were short. The batsmen, therefore, had time to counter the short ball and so they peppered the boundaries square of the wicket.
That Bangladesh only lost three wickets in overtaking the West Indies’ sizeable total is an indication of the innocuity of their bowling in this game, especially as one of those wickets was due to a spectacular fielding effort by Sheldon Cottrell.
In a way, the success of their approach in the first three games did them no favours. It lulled them into a false sense of security, urging them to invest even more firmly in a mode of attack that was bound to run aground when faced with unhelpful conditions and opponents willing and equipped to confront the challenge. The opponent who knows exactly how you will hit them has an advantage because he knows exactly how to prepare. You might still be able to defeat him but don’t be surprised if he adapts and devises a suitable response that nullifies your assault.
Fast, furious and short will not always pay dividends, particularly when the situation cries out for seam and subtlety, or for spin. Sometimes, the conditions will be such that you simply have to outscore your opponent in a full-blown batting contest. The point here is that a well-rounded team is almost always your best bet in a competition as protracted as the World Cup.
Still, as former American Secretary of State Don Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have…” The West Indies came into the World Cup with a squad very much lacking in wicket-taking spin options. One could well quibble with the choices the selectors made but that hardly matters at this point. Their main spinner is Ashley Nurse, who no one expects to set the world alight. But might his inclusion have been more effective than playing a bowling unit staffed only with pacers?
Also, perhaps it is time the West Indies selectors forget about Andre Russell as a bowler in this tournament. He may be Superman but he is clearly restricted by injury and it cannot be wise to have him in the side as one of five main bowlers.
After the game, the West Indies captain said they fell short by 40 or so runs. He could well be right. But fluent scoring was difficult in the beginning and despite getting nothing from the two big guns, Gayle and Russell, their eventual total was not one to be scoffed at. They should have done a much better job defending it.
Simply put, the West Indies’ bowling against Bangladesh and their overall bowling plans were not only ineffective on this occasion, they were misguided from conception. It is an approach that needs to be revisited, one that has to be more shrewdly deployed in the future. It may be too late for this tournament, but there will always a lot of cricket to be played.