After two days of the World Twenty20, a few certainties have already been established.
There won’t be any shocks this time from the two associate teams, as there were from the Irish in the 2007 World Cup and the Dutch in last year’s World Twenty20.
On generally slow and low pitches, as at Providence and Beausejours and possibly even Kensington, allied to ample outfields not reduced to favour six-hitting, slow bowlers have already featured prominently in every team’s planning.
In the gripping opening match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, spinners sent down 19 of the 39.5 overs. The two most economical bowlers have been left-arm spinners, the 17-year-old Irishman George Dockerell (4-0-16-3 against the West Indies) and the Indian Ravindra Jadeja (4-1-15-1 against Afghanistan). So it is likely to continue.
Providence on Friday night, packed to capacity for the West Indies’ opening match, indicated that the affordable ticket prices and the tournament’s “Bring It” campaign have won over the fans, shortchanged by the World Cup three years ago and starved until now of the newest, shortest and most popular version of the game.
Most worryingly, it is clear that the West Indies will not survive the Super Eights round if they continue to bat with the negligence that marked their faltering innings against Ireland.
This was no aberration, no blip on the night. In the limited-overs series in Australia in February they failed to bat 40 of their allocated 50 overs in three of the four completed matches.
Against Zimbabwe at home in March, they were rolled for 79 in the lone Twenty20 and repeatedly made mountains out of molehill targets.
Against New Zealand last Tuesday night, in their lone preparation match for this tournament, they managed to turn 86 for one going after 124 into 117 all-out.
On Friday, they were without their injured captain and vital opener Chris Gayle and still won handsomely enough, by 70 runs after dismissing their limited opponents for 68 in 16.4 overs. But it was not a case of all’s well that ends well.
They will find their coming contests – against England tomorrow and Sri Lanka, India and Australia in the Super Eights – altogether more demanding.
Against the modest Irish bowling, highlighted by Dockerell’s calm control, they transformed a high-spirited crowd fully expecting to be thoroughly entertained by their boys into grumbling disappointment as one wicket after another fell to rank carelessness.
It galled that two of the most culpable were home town heroes, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Narsingh Deonarine.
Two balls after Andre Fletcher had surrendered his innings by hoisting a catch in the deep, Sarwan, a batsman of undeniable class and vast experience, identically repeated the dismissal. It is a carelessness that has enveloped his game of late, at a stage of his career when he should be at his peak and commanding the middle order.
After Denesh Ramdin’s struggles continued, tickling a leg-side `keeper’s catch, Deonarine, whose reentry into the West Indies team late last year in Australia has been typified by level-headed maturity, took a wild swing that only lobbed to the `keeper off the top edge. As with Fletcher and Sarwan, Dockerell was the bowler.
From 77 for two, the West Indies had declined to 93 for six until Darren Sammy, a player with less natural talent but more cricket savvy that most of his teammates, minimised the embarrassment with 30 off 17 balls.
He returned to gather in a spectacular slip catch off the second ball of the innings, held three more and claimed three wickets for eight for good measure. Not many West Indians have had such a profound effect on a limited-overs international yet the slim St. Lucian continues to be the ready selection fall guy.
It is impossible to source the reasons for the West Indies’ sudden batting meltdowns.
After all, they finished off strongly in the Tests in Australia in December with successive totals of 451, 317, 312 and 323. Since then, in the shorter matches, a collapse has never been far away.
The absence of Sarwan for the limited-overs series in Australia and against Zimbabwe and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in Australia obviously had an effect on what became an unsettled order.
Travis Dowlin, Runako Morton, Lendl Simmons (all omitted from this squad) and Fletcher were then shuffled around the top four to follow Gayle.
Back in the Caribbean, Dave Bernard found himself at No.3 in one ODI against Zimbabwe, a position where Dwayne Bravo has been placed in the last three matches, even now that Sarwan is back.
Stability is what is needed with batsmen in positions with which they are most familiar and comfortable. That and an appreciation of match situations that has been markedly lacking.
Given the extent of their win over Ireland, the West Indies are all but sure to advance to the Super Eights. But they need to sort their batting out to progress to the semi-final and further or else they will go the way of the World Cup in 2007. Tomorrow night against England is the only place to start.
The tournament and the global television viewership had their first sight yesterday of Afghanistan.
How the cricketers of that vast, sad country have progressed in just a few years from the sprawling refugee camps adjoining Pakistan to competing, by right, at such a level is sport’s most beguiling story of the time.
They were duly beaten by India, the pick of many observers to be champions, but, in an appropriate cliché, were certainly not disgraced.
They are understandably, and unashamedly, keen to the extent that they admitted they were in awe of their hero, the rival captain, M.S. Dhoni.
They are not distracted by money (well, not yet) and are a refreshing addition to the world game.
Ireland possessed similar uninhibited enthusiasm in the World Cup three years ago and, no doubt, still do. But they seemed flat and, when they batted, out of their depth on Friday night.
Perhaps they were feeling the effects of an unsuccessful campaign over the previous month in Jamaica for the Festival, also involving Jamaica, Canada and the West Indies, and in Trinidad for a couple of warm-up matches.
Whatever the reasons, their results on their Caribbean jaunt have come at a bad time, just when they are pressing their case for Test status.
Dockerell and the opener, 20-year-old Paul Sterling, are the type of young players they see as their future. Their fear is that they could lose them and others like them to England, as they have Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce, two quality batsmen who would have made a huge difference on Friday.
It’s been an encouraging start to an event everyone hopes erases dismal memories of World Cup 2007.
The air at packed Providence on Friday was filled with the sights and sounds of true Caribbean cricket. The steelband beat, the horns blew, the flags flew and the girls danced. There was even a man in a Santa suit – and he wasn’t even Gravy.