At the ready

Chris Gayle getting in a final net practice today.

When West Indies take the field tomorrow for their eighth ever Twenty20 International against Australia, squaring the win-loss imbalance with the men from Down Under will almost certainly lead to advancement to the Super Eights.

Australia have a four to three advantage in the win column but West Indies’ recent showing against them in the Caribbean suggests that the bookmakers’ odds could be upset if the regional lads turn up at the R.Premadasa Stadium in Colombo with the right mind-set and then play to their potential and the pre-tournament hype.

Australia have already beaten Ireland in this Group B and the regional side, though expected to defeat the Irish as well on Monday, will not want to go into that encounter with the pressure of a must-win situation to advance. Beating Australia, therefore, is paramount.

Despite their billing as one of the favourites in the competition, West Indies’ record in Twenty20 world cups, has not been particularly flattering.

They crashed out without a win in 2007, losing to South Africa despite a brilliant Chris Gayle century and then went down to Bangladesh. They did better in 2009, reaching the semi-finals before being undone by the gentle seam of Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews. In 2010 West Indies flopped again and were eliminated in the Super Eights with their batsmen managing only one score above 30 in the entire tournament.

West Indies’ strength is in the batting department and in Gayle possess a player of such power and intimidation that he will hold the key to the side putting large totals on the board. His support cast of Dwayne and Darren Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy and Andre Russell, all have the power-hitting capabilities to upset the bowling plans of any opposition.

It is perhaps the bowling that is West Indies’ chink in their armour. They have not bowled consistently well as a unit in limited-overs competitions over the past months and have become heavily dependent on the wiles of off-spinner Sunil Narine.

Need for consistency

With more all-rounders in the side than specialist bowlers, the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Pollard, Samuels and Russell will have to show more consistency with the ball. The Aussies have already indicated their intentions of targeting Narine, and if they follow through on the threat, how he reacts to the resultant pressure will be critical.

Australia already have a foot in the next round after their victory against Bangladesh where Shane Watson was the star performer with both bat and ball. He will want to continue in the same vein and maintain that winning momentum.

Watson, David Warner and Cameron White all performed well with the bat against Ireland but were largely untroubled by the bowlers. They can expect a stiffer test tomorrow.

Australia’s bowling, led by Watson and including the talents of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, will prove challenging for the West Indies. But Australia’s trump card is likely to be the veteran left-arm unorthodox spinner Brad Hogg now enjoying his second spring.

Leadership will have an important part to play in the tournament and Darren Sammy’s ability to cope with pressure situations and make correct decisions will be vital. He is no Sir Frank Worrell, Clive Lloyd nor Viv Richards, as some in academia who should know better, have propagandised. But he has brought a level of commitment to the job that has been noticeable, even if he needs to contribute more with bat and ball, the latter especially.

Sammy has already stressed that victory will come through team effort but the individuals make up the team and they all need to pull their weight.

“It’s good to have guys who dominate. Everybody in the team is looking at one common aim, which is winning. It won’t take one person, it’ll take an entire team to put all the ingredients together so we can get a nice little soup to eat,” he said, prior to tomorrow’s game.

Sammy also stressed that the West Indies would not be lulled into any complacency by the “favourites” tag that has been thrust upon them.

“Being favourites doesn’t guarantee you a place in the final. You have to play every match and play it well. It’s about executing properly. It’s good to have guys who could clear the boundaries with ease, but at the end of the day you’ve got to do it on the pitch… The most important thing for us is the belief we have in our team that we could go all the way. Tomorrow we play Australia and all our focus and attention will be towards this game,” he said.

Pitch conditions in Colombo have so far been uncharacteristically pacy with generous bounce.The match starts at 10 a.m. Barbados time. (WG)

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