Defending champions West Indies look muddled and have plenty of issues to resolve ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year, which means they are far from being the ‘favourites’ for the tournament, contrary to what skipper Kieron Pollard believes, writes Sarah Waris.
The West Indies T20I team, with its big-hitters and flamboyant personalities, makes for an attractive team on the field. They remain the kind of side fans would throng to watch and support, and the fact that the T20 World Cup final in 2016 had a packed Eden Gardens covered in maroon further emphasizes the point. However, their larger-than-life aura has not been able to stop the sport in the country from going downhill, with financial issues and constant tussles with the board hampering the team’s rich legacy.
With inconsistent showings since the win in 2016, the West Indies team are struggling, and despite Kieron Pollard’s belief that the unit starts as favourites for the T20 World Cup in the UAE later this year, the journey to retaining the title will not be an easy one. “West Indies are the favourites for the tournament, but we will have to play like it,” he told Cricbuzz.
Despite the return of big stars Andre Russell and Chris Gayle to the side after long phases of absence that saw them give priority to domestic leagues over playing for Windies, expecting a team that has constantly chopped and changed XIs to turn up without much practice as a unit and gel together is a long ask.
West Indies’ decline since 2016
The only team to win two T20 World titles, West Indies’ fortunes have plummeted in the last five years: they are currently ranked No.10 in the world in the ICC T20 Team Rankings, even below Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. A lot of it has to do with the unavailability of their top stars, but that does not explain why the side went down against South Africa recently despite having an almost full-strength squad at their disposal.
Since their title win in 2016, West Indies have won just 20 of their 58 T20Is, which gives them a win/loss ratio of 0.588 — the worst even among sides like the Netherlands, Ireland, UAE, and Nepal.
They have played 44 players in this interim, with just six players turning out in more than 30 games. Their big hopes, Gayle, Russell, Jason Holder, and Dwayne Bravo have played a combined 65 games, with none of the four playing more than 20 matches in the format for West Indies since their World Cup win in 2016. In the last year alone, only three players have played more than 10 matches for Windies in the format.
Though the country has produced some of the best T20 players, who have plenty of experience, expecting them to perform together at the grandest stage, and adapt with the youngsters almost immediately, might not be the best idea.
The lack of runs from Hetmyer and Pooran
Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer have been two players who have fairly been regular (though Hetmyer did not play the first two games against South Africa recently) in the West Indies XI since their win in 2016 — while Pooran has played 32 games, Hetmyer has played 30 of the 50 matches his side has played. However, their below-average returns remain a big woe, with the duo combining to score only 899 runs at a strike rate of 117.06 and an average of just over 19.
The duo has constantly struggled to capitalize on the strong starts by the top order, with their failure to notch up runs in crucial games remaining a big worry. Even in the recent series against South Africa, the duo failed to get going, with Hetmyer notching up 57 in three innings and Pooran scoring 71 in four innings. Though they have Pollard and Russell in the mix, the indifferent form of Hetmyer and Pooran could be the difference between a par and match-winning score.
The search for a spinner continues
With the T20 World Cup being held in the UAE after the IPL, the pitches are expected to be tired, which will bring in spinners into the game. However, this is an area that the side could struggle with — in the last two years, the West Indies have played 15 spinners, of which four have played in 2021.
Fabian Allen, the batting all-rounder has the best figures among the lot, but his form in the recently-concluded series against South Africa, where he picked up 2 wickets at an average of 38 will be a worry. Kevin Sinclair averages over 37 after six T20Is and was not considered for selection in the last two games against the Proteas while Gayle and Akeal Hosein (the other two spinners who have bowled this year for Windies), cannot completely be relied upon to complete their full quota of overs in a game.
Batting against spin is a huge worry
Not only is West Indies struggling to find a spinner who can tilt games in their favor, but they are also struggling with batting against slower bowlers. Since their title win in 2016, spinners have picked up 156 wickets against West Indies in 58 matches, averaging just over 20 against them.
In the recent series against South Africa, the duo of Tabraiz Shamsi and George Linde wreaked havoc, as they picked up 13 wickets combined at an economy rate of just over four. Whilst relying on playing the big hits has always been West Indies’ mantra, on pitches where the ball stops and turns, the players will need to grind it out in the middle, which will remain their biggest challenge.
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