by Wade Gibbons
Cricket might not carry the taint of international cycling or athletics, but the West Indies team continue to make a good case for the introduction of performance-enhancing drugs into their game.
It is admittedly a facetious suggestion as no concoction will make the struggling regional side bat any better, but tomorrow they get the opportunity to improve their performance – substance-free – when they take the field against Pakistan at Providence for the second match in their five-match One-Day International series.
West Indies enter the game with their only positive, other than the splendid bowling of Jason Holder in the first ODI, being the knowledge that their opponents are as unpredictable as they are and prone to self-destruction with equal efficiency. But having convincingly won the first battle the momentum is with the visitors and will have to be wrested from them.
There appears little hope of that.
The form batsman in the side is currently opener Johnson Charles, which says very little for the rest of the batting. The selectors have now tasked the belligerent St. Lucian batsman, and, potentially retarded his progress, with the burden of wicketkeeping and opening, when commonsense screams for a specialist behind the stumps.
That West Indies are struggling strangely seems a surprise to many, even though the rock of the middle-order batting is plying his trade in Derbyshire, and a squad of mainly Twenty20 specialists finds itself apparently clueless as soon as the 21st over begins.
The lack of runs from the previously consistent Marlon Samuels has exposed the lack of quality in the middle-order and accentuated the folly of prematurely retiring Shivnarine Chanderpaul from One-Day Internationals.
Kieron Pollard’s last five scores in ODIs have been 3, 0, 0, 4 and 0, but with an average of 25.19 is a sure pick in the squad, and as hinted by selectors, a possible future captain. Captain Dwayne Bravo’s last five completed knocks have produced scores of 0, 14, 25, 19 and 12 to add to an ODI average that is even worse than Pollard’s at 23.61. Chris Gayle, on whom the side is heavily reliant at the top of the order scored a century against Sri Lanka in the recent Tri-Nation series but that has been accompanied by scores of 1, 14, 10, 11, 36 and 21 since June 11. But he remains the West Indies’ main threat and most consistent batsman. The alternative batsman in the squad to whom the selectors can possibly turn is Devon Smith but even an inebriated Groucho Marx wouldn’t find that funny.
The Pakistanis for all their batting unpredictability are a much stronger unit than Zimbabwe with a superb bowling attack and the West Indies, in the absence of stanozolol, clenbuterol and additional testosterone, will have to draw from their own intestinal fortitude, and put up a better showing than the abject one which they showed on Sunday.
Captain Bravo acknowledged as much following Sunday’s demise.
“Overall, we’re disappointed with today’s result and we know we have to come back on Tuesday and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. The batting let us down again and we need to get better, especially in the batting to get back into the series and beat them.
We have to get this defeat out of our system and come hard at them again on Tuesday,” he said.
Not for the first time West Indies had their opponents on the ropes on Sunday at 47 for five but Pakistan recovered to make a score of 224 for nine on a difficult pitch that many at providence, given West Indies’ recent history, would have looked at with some trepidation. Promising fast-bowler Jason Holder took four cheap early wickets but with their usual threat Sunil Narine, perhaps still feeling the effects of a finger injury, bowling poorly, Bravo had no where to turn as the dynamic Shahid Afridi took the game away from them with an audacious innings. West Indies will have to find a formula to continue their early good work with the ball deep into the innings and the best possible place to start would be to limit the abundance of extras which they continue to gift.
Pakistan, too, have their batting challenges and apart from Misbah ul Haq look short of real quality. But their strong bowling attack and West Indies’ inconsistent batting could serve to camouflage their own batting inefficiencies.
ul-Haq hailed Sunday as “Afridi’s day” after a stunning performance that saw him bludgeon 76 off 55 balls and then return to rout West Indies for 98 with figures of 7 for 12, the second best ever ODI figures. The Pakistan captain was even more complimentary of Afridi’s batting given the difficult batting track.
“It was the most difficult pitch on which I have ever played. The ball was seaming and stopping, but it was Afridi’s day, the way he batted and bowled.”
Afridi said he tried to keep it simple.
“Sometimes I get good turn off the pitch and if I don’t get turn I try to bowl straight ones for leg before wicket decisions. I try hard and I back myself and I want to thank people back home. It’s not time for me to survive in the team, but to give a lot to the team,” he said.
“Perhaps, some in the West Indies team who have been simply “surviving” should decide to give a bit more to the team tomorrow.
The match starts at 9.30 a.m.
West Indies: (likely) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles (wk), 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Lendl Simmons, 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Dwayne Bravo (capt), 7 Kieron Pollard, 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Sunil Narine, 11 Jason Holder
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Nasir Jamshed, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Umar Akmal (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Asad Ali, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Irfan