West Indies begin their campaign in the ICC Twenty20 World Champion-ships tonight against the Irish team at the Providence Stadium, and the home fans will be hoping that the local boys can get their campaign off to a winning start. Ireland are not considered powerhouses in cricket and as such the local boys are expected to win. However, the West Indies cannot afford to underestimate any team, especially a side like Ireland which performed commendably in the 2007 World Cup held in the Caribbean. Although a bit weaker than the team that played in 2007, Ireland have quality players such as the O’Brien brothers (Niall and Kevin), Trent Johnston, Alex Cusack, Andre Botha and captain William Porterfield who are all capable of delivering match winning performances. Having slumped to defeats in both their warm up matches against New Zealand and Afghanistan, Ireland will certainly be determined to put up a strong display in today’s might.
On paper, the West Indies have a handy team, but this means nothing as they are woefully inconsistent; with the stunning ability to reach the highest heights before they plunge to the lowest depths all within a matter of minutes.
The inconsistency of the West Indies was once again displayed in their warm-up match against New Zealand on Wednesday at the Providence Stadium. Having restricted New Zealand to 124-8, the West Indies collapsed after a strong start from openers Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul to be dismissed for 117 in 19.4 overs, losing by seven runs. So in spite of the encouraging bowling effort, the West Indies will begin the ICC World T20 Championships on shaky ground given their sloppy batting performance.
Simply put, if West Indies are to perform well in this competition, they will have to consistently string together outstanding batting, bowling and fielding performances. They also need to show killer instinct and take full advantage when they are ahead of their opponents.
There are three areas of particular concern though for the West Indies, namely their opening partnership, their middle-order and their death bowling.
The big question the West Indies will have to ask is who will partner Chris Gayle at the top of the
innings. In the warm-up match against New Zealand, it was Shivnarine Chanderpaul who partnered with Gayle to open the batting and the two put on 68 runs in quick time. Other options to partner with Gayle, include Andre Fletcher, Wavell Hinds or maybe even Ramnaresh Sarwan. But the Gayle/ Chanderpaul combination is perhaps the way to go given that recently the latter has struggled at times to get the ball away in the middle overs of an innings. Allowing Chanderpaul to open the batting, would allow him to bat through the innings and fulfil a similar role to that Jacques Kallis quite successfully performed for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the recent IPL. In this way Chanderpaul can pace his innings and be able to take calculated risks. Importantly, Chanderpaul is also a competent player of spin and his presence at the top of the order may counteract the now regular T20 tactic of introducing a spinner at the top of the innings. It is needless to say, that if West Indies are to succeed in this competition, a lot will depend on the aggressive batting of skipper Chris Gayle. His form will dictate how far the West Indies advance in the tournament.
The middle-order of the West Indies is undoubtedly the team’s weakest link. And quite frankly, removing Chanderpaul from the middle order will increase its instability, especially if he were to be dismissed early.
This is where Sarwan’s role is key. Although he is yet to set the world ablaze in his International T20 career (in 13 matches, his 10 innings have fetched him 201 at an average of 28.71 at a strike rate of 118.93), he is talented and a sufficiently adaptable batsman to be at home in this form of the game. And with a middle-order that is suspect to spin bowling, his role is even more important.
Dwayne Bravo will also have an integral role to play but he has to get over his recent hurdle of getting dismissed stumped, as a result of him wildly charging after the spinners.
Keiron Pollard has set the world ablaze with his powerful stroke play. However, he is yet to demonstrate these skills for the West Indies and this would be the perfect time for him to correct this fault. In 10 international T20 innings, he has scored only 104 runs at an average of 13.00 and a top score of 38. His strike rate too is 126.82, which is low for such a fearsome hitter. The team needs him to deliver especially in the closing overs of the innings, since a few of his gems could turn average totals into match winning ones.
Another area of concern for the home team would be their death bowling. West Indies have been unable to find any bowler that has consistently been able to restrain the runs at this crucial stage of the innings. Containing and penetrative bowling at the death is key, and that is why Kemar Roach should not be overlooked. He is the bowler most likely to deliver the crucial yorkers at this time. Supporting him in this role, should also be Bravo. Despite his failure in recent times to be as containing and penetrating in these crucial overs as he was in the past, Bravo’s cleverly disguised slower balls and bouncers could be useful at the end.
Further, the idea of having left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn bowl at the death should not be ignored. Batsmen tend to like pace on the ball in the closing overs and if Benn could maintain his control he could be handy at the end of the innings forcing the batsmen to make their own pace.
The West Indies first hurdle will be to defeat Ireland today, since a slip up could cost them a place in the next round. The team will face a stiffer challenge on Monday when they clash with England.