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CWC 2019: How will Windies fare and what will it mean for them 

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
141   //    25 May 2019, 18:00 IST

England v West Indies - 5th One Day International
England v West Indies - 5th One Day International

West Indies haven't made any changes to their preliminary World Cup squad, whose biggest inclusion was that of Andre Russell. Russell’s heroics in this year’s Indian Premier League has earned him a place in the World Cup fifteen. Russell has been inhumane this IPL.

He scored 510 runs in 14 matches at an astounding strike rate of 205. He smashed a staggering 52 sixes and was close to breaking Chris Gayle’s record of most sixes in an IPL season. He has redefined power hitting with his muscular stroke play. But will an extra-ordinary performance in a domestic T20 tournament, that’s what IPL is, for all its commotion, make him a wise choice for the biggest international 50-over tournament?

Will Russel be as influential in the 50 over tournament?

For all the heroics, Russel has hardly played ODI cricket in the last four years. Disappointments and disagreements have prevailed over West Indian cricket for a while now, and the lucrative revenue sources from T20 leagues around the world kept a lot of big names away from the West Indian setup.

Russell, one of those, has played just 2 ODIs after the 2015 World Cup, the period which also includes a one-year ban. Over that period, though, he made a name for himself as one of the most destructive batsmen playing T20 leagues all around the globe.

 But cricket, in itself is no longer a complete term. It now has to be accompanied by a suffix , either Test, ODI or T20. Cricketers, now-a-days have to be justified with the format they play. There are Test cricketers, one day cricketers, and then there are T20 cricketers. Very few players in recent times have been able to assert themselves as a cricketer in all three formats. The reason, obviously being all the three formats requiring different skill sets.

Big Bash League - Sydney Thunder v Adelaide Strikers
Big Bash League - Sydney Thunder v Adelaide Strikers

Russell, clearly a T20 specialist in recent times, is unarguably a brutal power hitter. But, does he have the temperament required for One Day International cricket? It is a question that remains to be seen. When the equation is not all about sixes, can he change his game? Can he milk one’s and two’s and wait for the right moment to launch an assault? Perhaps he should have played a few ODIs. But then, when?

In an ideal situation, West Indies would have wanted to give him a few ODIs to adjust himself before the huge tournament. But how close are West Indies to an ideal situation? Perhaps the farthest among the World Cup teams, somewhere far away in the company of a Sri Lankan team that has fallen from featuring in two consecutive World Cup finals to a team that can be considered lucky to have gained automatic qualification.

Andre Russell makes the West Indies exciting. But can the KKR power-house become the World Cup superstar that the West Indies hope?

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Improving situation of West Indies cricket

The fact that they had to look at a player who has played a mere 2 One Day Internationals in the last four years replicates the dearth of options for West Indies. But the fact that the player is Andre Russell makes the team exciting. Their financial problems combined with the rise of T20 leagues around the world has led to a loss of many of their star players.

In an interview with Cricbuzz, Ricky Skerrit, who was recently elected as the WICB president, stated that the "strongest possible squad" would be selected for the World Cup and also added that “administrative issues, politics or petty emotional situations” will no longer prevent players from being considered for World Cup selection.

"If Brain Lara was the batsman that a fading West Indies team needed, then Jason Holder is the captain that the faded Windies so desperately required."

This renewed approach saw Gayle make a comeback into the squad before Russell. Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, who last played an ODI in 2016 was also recalled. The pool for player selection had broadened. After an emphatic series win in England, this was another step in the right direction. Their economy also moving in the right direction.

The recent sponsorship deal with the Colonial group not only included the international ODI series but also the regional 50-over tournament (which hasn’t had a sponsor for years). The World Cup qualification couldn’t have come at a better time. A good showing will certainly help in getting new deals and attract the local market which they have failed to do in recent years.

The World Cup squad

The renewed approach promised picking the “strongest possible squad’ and the selection saw a few comebacks. The squad includes a destructive opening pair of Gayle and Evin Lewis followed by a dependable middle order of Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmeyer. The all-rounder slots look crowded with the captain Jason Holder, and Andre Russell accompanied by Carlos Brathwaite along with spin bowling all-rounders Fabian Allen and Ashley Nurse.

Young Nicholas Pooran will travel as a backup to the frontline wicketkeeper batsman Shai Hope. Kemar Roach will lead the pace attack consisting of Shannon Gabriel, Oshane Thomas and Sheldon Cortell. Most good limited overs side have quality spinners and the recent trend suggests that wrist spinners have been largely influential in limited overs cricket.

The team selection though went against the trend and overlooked Devendra Bishoo. Quality spinners and experience are what West Indies lack. Only Darren Bravo (104 ODIs), apart from Chis Gayle (289 ODIs) has crossed the 100 ODI mark. Lack of variety in bowling can also hurt them, especially given the flat nature of pitches in England.

Leading from the front

Australia v West Indies – One Day International
Australia v West Indies – One Day International

In the form of Jason Holder, West Indies cricket has been blessed with a passionate, excellent leader at a time when it was most needed. He has done a more than admirable job of building the team with very limited resources. The recent victory in England might not be termed as the rediscovering the long-lost treasure, but it certainly unveiled a map to it.

The fascinating victory had certainly evoked memories of West Indies of the old. Holder certainly deserves major accolades. If Brain Lara was the batsman that a fading West Indies team needed, then Jason Holder is the captain that the faded Windies so desperately required.

His evolution as an individual over that period has been equally fascinating. From a medium paced bowler who could swing his bat a little to one of the best all-rounders in the world, the story of Jason Holder as a cricketer and as a leader is excellent and it could see a fairy-tale finish if West Indies can find their glory days back.

What to expect in the World Cup?

 While West Indies won’t be the bookmaker’s favourite to make it to the knock-out stage, their power-packed line-up led by an ambitious captain has the ability to spring a surprise. Natural power hitting ability and the West Indian cricket were never too far away. The likes of Gayle and Russell can take apart any bowling on their day.

West Indies won’t be a straight forward opponent for any team, and they can certainly pull off an upset or two, even if they don’t make it to the semi-finals. The fact that they will be underdogs and won’t have the pressure of high expectations will enable the power hitters to play pressure-free cricket, which will make them more dangerous.

What will the World Cup mean?

Their World Cup campaign looked in threat when they missed automatic qualification. They had qualified from another tournament alongside Afghanistan. Their inclusion in the World Cup will have a huge say in their development. The World Cup can improve the financial position of the board, and they can start finding solutions for the disputes within.

A decent performance in the World Cup will be another massive step towards reviving the West Indian grandeur. A good World Cup will pave way for good sponsorship deals. This will improve the domestic setup and the board’s economy making it easier for the future generation. The recent transformations might not be termed as a complete rejuvenation but are small but steady steps in the right direction.

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