Another moment of truth for West Indies Cricket History This Week
By Winston McGowan
Stabroek News
April 12, 2007

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Since the West Indies were dethroned as world cricket champions by Australia twelve years ago, the senior regional team has suffered major reverses. These reverses may be described as moments of truth designed to compel acknowledgement of the state of the regional game and provoke serious reappraisal and effective remedial action. Regrettably, these reverses have seldom, if ever, had the desirable results.

The failure of the West Indies team to proceed beyond the second stage of the current International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup competition is another moment of truth which should be instructive and sobering. The dream which the Caribbean had of its team defying history by becoming the first host to win the premier limited-over competition has proven to be an illusion. Regional cricket fans expected their team, which proceeded easily to the second round, to progress at least to the semi-final stage. Instead, Brian Lara's men have lost the first four of their Super Eight matches.

The reactions among Caribbean fans vary - sadness, frustration, disappointment, despair, exasperation, anger, etc. - but they all are extremely negative. All over the region cricket fans are pondering over the same questions, namely, why didn't the West Indies perform better?

The responses to this question are numerous. Many of the factors relate to what transpired on the field of play. Others are connected to issues beyond the boundary. In general, the competition has confirmed much of what we already knew about West Indies cricket.

The team's bowling was, as expected, at best moderate. In the second stage when pressure was exerted upon it by better teams, it proved to be completely inadequate, regularly conceding over 300 runs in the allotted 50 overs - 322 for 6 against Australia, 303 for 5 against Sir Lanka and 356 for 4 against South Africa. As Colin Croft observed after the match against Sri Lanka, the West Indies bowlers showed a "lack of understanding as to what to bowl and where to bowl."

The second stage of the tournament has demonstrated that the West Indies does not possess a single penetrative or economical bowler. The bowlers, both pace and spin, showed that they do not possess the capacity to put the opposition under pressure, much less to dismiss them. Where economy is concerned, Corey Collymore, whose command of line and length is often better than that of his team-mates, is arguably the best bowler in the side. His economy rate of 4.1 runs per over in the recent game against South Africa was in striking contrast to Daren Powell's 7.8, Ian Bradshaw's 7.3, Chris Gayle's 7.0 and Dwayne Bravo's 9.85. The bowling seemed helpless and hopeless especially in the last seven overs when the South Africans plundered it, scoring 95 runs, an average of more than two runs a ball.

It was perhaps understandable if the bowlers buckled under the attack of Matthew Hayden, a world-class batsman. To see it hammered, however, by a low achiever, A.B. de Villiers, who scored 146, with 12 fours and 5 sixes, off only 130 balls, was a totally unwelcome surprise.

The bowling of Jermaine Taylor, Bradshaw, Gayle and Bravo in the Super Eights was particularly disappointing, being expensive and virtually unproductive. Gayle, whose flat quick off-spin bowling is usually containing, in four games has conceded 167 runs in 25 overs, taking only one wicket. Bradshaw in two games also captured only one wicket, conceding 140 runs in 20 overs. Bravo, admittedly, did take a few more wickets, four in the four matches, but his bowling was also expensive. His 28 overs cost 209 runs. In short, all these bowlers conceded about seven runs an over, a completely unacceptable economy rate.

Something urgent needs to be done to remedy the obvious bowling deficiencies. However, if the bowling left much to be desired, the batting, usually considered the team's strongest department, was even more disappointing and culpable, as will be seen in the second instalment of this article.

The first instalment of this article focused on the poor performance of the West Indies bowlers in the current International Cricket Council World Cup, especially in the Super Eight matches. This second instalment will deal especially with the batting which has been more culpable and disappointing than the bowling, for it is widely regarded as the strongest aspect of West Indies cricket.

A team with as mediocre a bowling attack as the West Indies have usually can only win limited-over matches through very productive batting. The regional team almost throughout the competition has failed to achieve this, even in the three matches in the preliminary round which it won easily.

The batting with Denesh Ramdin at Number Eight seems to have some depth. However, as one cynic once remarked when an apparently strong West Indies batting side failed repeatedly in England, "the batting is strong on paper, but unfortunately the match is being played on grass."

In most matches the West Indies innings has failed to take shape. No batsman has given its batting the inspiration and direction it badly needs. In seven innings West Indian batsmen have scored only one century and five fifties. Only Chanderpaul has achieved as many as two scores over 50, 102 not out against Ireland and 76 against Sri Lanka. Brian Lara, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ramdin have each scored only one half-century and Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo none.

Apart from Samuels' 63 against Pakistan and Chanderpaul's century, it was clear that none of these six productive innings would have an effect on the outcome of the match. Sarwan's impressive innings of 92 off only 75 balls against South Africa was always going to be irrelevant to the result of the game. The same was the case with Lara's 77 off 83 balls against Australia and Chanderpaul's 76 against Sri Lanka. In short, the West Indies batsmen occasionally made a good score when it didn't really matter.

The batting was so deficient that in the Super Eight matches it has repeatedly committed the unpardonable sin in limited-over cricket of failing to bat through the allotted overs. The innings lasted 44.3 overs against Sri Lanka, 45.3 overs against Australia and 44.4 overs against New Zealand.

In the Super Eight matches in which the regional team has been involved, its batting has failed even to come close to challenging the opposition's total. Thus in reply to totals of 303 for 5, 322 for 6 and 356 for 4 made respectively by Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa, the West Indies succeeded in scoring only 190, 219 and 289.

This innings of 289 against South Africa was the only occasion in the competition that the West Indies reached 250, normally considered the minimum acceptable score in 50-over games.

During the competition, the West Indies batting has demonstrated most of the weaknesses which have characterized it during the past ten years. Notable among them were the poor starts and the inconsistency of the middle order.

Except in the match against weak Zimbabwe, when Gayle and Chanderpaul had an opening partnership of 73, the team experienced poor starts from which it almost invariably never recovered.

The first wicket fell with the score at 7 against Pakistan, 24 against Ireland, 11 against Australia, 20 against Sri Lanka, 14 against New Zealand and 5 against South Africa. The situation was particularly disastrous in the match against Australia when the West Indies lost its first three wickets, including both openers, for only 20 runs.

The deficiencies of the batting were largely responsible for the massive defeats which the West Indies suffered in three of their Super Eight Games - by 115 runs to Sri Lanka, by 103 runs to Australia and by seven wickets to New Zealand. The first two of these defeats were the heaviest suffered by the West Indies in the nine World Cup competitions dating back to 1975.

The most disappointing feature of the West Indies batting was the performance of Chris Gayle who, along with Sarwan, has been the most successful West Indian batsman in limited-over cricket during the past two years, scoring numerous hundreds and fifties with an average of well over forty runs an innings. In the current tournament, however, Gayle in seven innings has scored only 148 runs with a highest score of 44 and a paltry average of 21.14.

His bowling has also been poor, as he has captured only 3 wickets in 45.2 overs, conceding 223 runs, with an average of 73.66 and an economy rate of 4.87. These performances were not in keeping with his recent ICC ranking as the leading all-rounder in the world in limited-over cricket.

The inadequacy of the West Indies batting in the current competition is clearly reflected in the team's overall averages. Only three regional batsmen have an aggregate of over 150 runs in the competition - Sarwan (281), Chanderpaul (231), and Lara (218) - and none has reached 300 runs. Only two of them have a batting average of over 40 runs an innings in the tournament - Lara (43.60) and Sarwan (40.14).

As in the case of the bowling, World Cup 2007 is a moment of truth where West Indies batting is concerned. The team's batting is not as strong as it seems on paper. Its alleged strength is far more apparent than real.

Like the bowling, the batting urgently requires effective remedial action.