West Indies’ downward spiral
Before play in Nelson, Curtly Ambrose shook hands with Mike Atherton. Two adversaries who produced many a great battle in the 1990s. That was the decade which began with West Indies still a powerhouse in world cricket, but by the end the decline had set in. Since then it has become almost passé to refer to the downward spiral of West Indies cricket.
However, the speed of the unravelling has been alarming of late. These are desperate times. The World T20 title in 2012 was hoped to mark the beginning of something better, instead it is appearing increasingly like the final glory of a once great cricket nation.
Among the saddest aspects of West Indies’ display in Nelson, without for a moment diminishing another glorious World Cup day for Ireland, was that West Indies’ performance was entirely predictable. Being especially harsh, the fightback from 87 for 5 was the unexpected aspect. If Darren Sammy’s first ball edge had not eluded the left hand of Paul Stirling at slip, it could have been very one-sided. He and Lendl Simmons, at least with the bat, looked like two players who did care.
Sammy went as far as to say that West Indies had taken Ireland “for granted” with their performance in the field. “The batting partnership should have been motivation enough to go out there and want to run into the Irish,” he said. “We were lackadaisical in the field and we just thought ‘yeah, we scored 300 and are supposed to win’.”
It is little surprise that a team which pulled out of a major bilateral tour only four months ago, and against India of all opposition, continues to be the subject of murmurings of further discontent. Their public pronouncements of unity and ‘the team’ are sounding increasingly hollow. The encouragement in the field as Ireland hurtled to their target came from a few rather than plenty.
The “laid-back” attitude of some –– notably Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels –– is often mentioned and regularly dismissed with the same ‘it’s the way they play’ manner as when batsmen keep picking out deep fielders. You could not have had a more stark contrast to the hustle of Ireland’s fielders to the shuffle of West Indians.
Sammy talked of helping Jason Holder, the raw 23-year-old captain, but in truth he should still be the captain himself. He certainly does more than his fair share of cajoling and field setting. However, these experiences are draining even for someone of his exuberant nature.
“When things are not going your way it’s always difficult to motivate yourself, but as a group you have to keep believing and we need to find some inspiration somewhere – and we need to find it quickly. I will always try to be positive, help our young captain, and hopefully the rest of the team could follow.”
Talking on ESPNcricinfo’s Match Point show, Michael Holding asked why Holder was being burdened by the captaincy. There were glimpses today of his significant potential as a bowler. He was the most economical pacemen in the match, only to watch his fellow quicks plundered.
His speed was up a notch from the tour of South Africa, where he rarely nudged 140kph, but he has some major technical issues to work on. Better to allow him to do that without having to coax a rabble onto the park.
Not all fault is on the players’ side in the various problems that are inflicting West Indies cricket but the fractious nature of both sides only goes to highlight the deep divides that have opened up.
There are many decisions of late that do not make much sense in West Indies cricket. There are strange goings on back in the Caribbean, even leaving aside the debate around Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard missing this tournament. No satisfactory explanation of the situation regarding Kieran Powell, for example, the opening batsman who appears at odds with the board and management over his status following a period of absence from the game.
Then there is Sunil Narine who decided two days after taking 6 for 9 in the Nagico50 final that he was not confident enough in his action to go to the World Cup. What a hole he leaves in the side. Sulieman Benn’s back twinge was unfortunate timing but West Indies significantly misread the pitch in not playing left-arm spinner Nikita Miller, although neither of them come close to matching Narine in limited-overs cricket, and were out-thought by Ireland who had a brace of specialists plus a handy part-timer.
Their problems were exacerbated by Sammy’s own back issues. He battled through it with the bat, regularly flexing during his 89, but the three overs were less than comfortable: painful bowling, painful viewing.
“It’s one game,” Sammy said, a glazed look in his eyes, “we still believe”. It was words he had to say, but it was hard to know if he really believed them. Where West Indies go from here is difficult to say, but it would take a brave person to suggest it is a quarter-final of this World Cup.