Is over reliance on power hitters hurting West Indies Cricket's chance of redemption?
West Indies are loved universally but fans are appalled by their current state of cricket. There are fewer successes and constant failures.
No matter where they stand in current ICC rankings- whether they dominate the charts or fight among the bottom-placed teams of the table- the West Indies are darlings of international cricket. Despite their dwindling fortunes in world cricket evidenced by their continued downfall from the onset of 2000s, there is no denying the importance of West Indies to world cricket.
A team loved despite its torrential slip-up
Experts have long bemoaned their sad decline but have also been enthused by spurts of a spirited revival of Caribbean Cricket, especially in T20s, the briefest format. This is a team that knows how to entertain, turning fans into worshipers who feast on blistering strokes and a carefree verve of cricket.
West Indians are loved wherever they go. Even the nastiest sides don't quite fancy sledging West Indians. They smile, dance and parade with unfettered enthusiasm- whether they steal an improbable wicket or dance down the track to hoist a massive hit.
Moreover, the world loves it when the West Indies win; fans dance in tandem with the gleeful cheer masters who reign on the 22 yards posting a victory, no matter how infrequently that happens.
They owe their humungous popularity to a pool of rebel cricketing mercenaries who excel in the franchise and national T20s exhibiting an aura of chivalry and panache. The likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine command massive fan bases and have emerged as an inspiration back in the Caribbean. But there is a problem!
The West Indies are absurdly inconsistent in the long run and spurts of occasional brilliance, fetched at times in ODI and T20 Cricket cannot justify their shortcoming. While their twin successes of the World T20 (2012, 2016) have risen as astonishing reminders of their prowess in cricket's shortest format, the Windies in Tests and ODI's are a loosely knit side lacking in exuberance and caliber, their twin strengths in T20 cricket.
How long can fans hold on to limited success
No matter who you are - a fan unimpressed by their sad decline or an enthusiast attracted to the game in lesser known circles like Germany, USA or Finland, West Indies is a name that reverberates with excitement and a tinge of nostalgia. They are a distant cousin to consistency, this never being their strength ever since top rated players like Lara, Ambrose and Walsh descended into the sunset.
While the likes of Gayle, Samuels, Narine and Russell have sorted some of their problems, even inspiring a newfound interest in their cricket, a lot has to be done at the grass-root level to equip Windies Cricket with rigour.
Here is a team that plays bravely and has made a name for playing devastatingly aggressive cricket. But at the same time, you cannot help but find chinks in the Windies armour as evidenced often by a total lack of application by players who prefer mindless heaves over diligence, opting for long for instant success instead of thriving on patience.
They have demonstrated these weaklings in their tragic loss to Australia last year and during their tours to Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
What do the Stats warrant for West Indies?
While no adjective may ever suffice to aptly summarize one of the most loved cricketing units, it will also make for a soulless picture to narrate the state of their game minus some math. To say that the West Indies are currently one of the most attractive batting units in world cricket is fair. But to suggest that it is a consistently winning side would make for a foolhardy narrative.
Simply put, a big West Indian strength is to play breathtakingly attacking strokes, often helping them post lengthy totals and edge past their rivals. But that happens minus any consistency! They lack a mainstream pace attack that can bite and eat into promising batting orders. Jason Holder is mildly quick while Shanon Gabriel is highly inexperienced.
So what could be the problem?
Could it be that the team is too reliant on power hitters? Could it be that they lack frontline batsmen who could stay out long enough to construct meticulous and arduous innings on the merits of focus and application? From 2012 onward, they have lost 33 games and won 22 in the limited over format (ICC Champions Trophy and World Cup 2015 not included). This isn't impressive considering they have batsmen of the class of Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels.
Taking nothing away from their glorious triumphs in the subcontinent- the 2012 World T20 title and the inspired 2016 World T20 win, how long can Windies weave a revival story behind the cushy comfort of their T20 success?
In the past 5 years, the West Indies have lost 19 tests, losing out repeatedly to Australia and India whilst winning only 10 and drawing 6 tests. You could attribute a fairly inexperienced and young side to their current shortcoming in the longest format but it ultimately points to a boiling question: if they are to improve from where they are in limited overs and test cricket, shouldn't they find match winners instead of power hitters?
It most likely seems so
The 50 over format has unfurled champion hitters from the Windies camp, with the likes of Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Carlos Brathwaite and Lendl Simmons making headlines for brute stroke-play with 'six hitting machine' Gayle leading from the front. But Cricket isn't just about flexing those muscles and hoisting muscular hits out of the ground.
Their fledgeling cricket board, notorious for a strange chop-and-change policy will have to nurture rising talents to manifest their skills into becoming proven match winners. Moreover, individual successes of Gayle and Samuels won't go a long way to inspire a somewhat volatile, fired up but easily excitable crop of young players- of which Russell, Brathwaite and Simmons are an important part.
How their current stars stack up
The West Indies have stepped on important victories thanks to the tremendously successful trinity of Gayle, Bravo and Samuels, their most experienced and seasoned campaigners, the trinity yielding 17000 runs from 617 games with 34 centuries. But that is exactly the problem! What have the others accounted for?
The likes of Pollard, Russell, Simmons and Brathwaite; the rising names have only amounted for 2247, 985, 1958 and 151 runs respectively with none averaging up to 32, the bare minimum mark for a quality international batsman.
While none of these fairly inexperienced batsmen have featured in 100 individual games, it is also true that they are yet to demonstrate an ability to consistently play good innings. Merely belting sixes and occasionally batting the opposition out by throwing the bat at everything won't warrant for sizeable success.
But as the gods would have it, while Gayle and Samuels are edging toward the sunset years of their career, the likes of Bravo (32), Pollard (29), Simmons (31) and Brathwaite (28) have plenty of cricket left in them.
May the sun shine mighty on the West Indies!