Consistency – An elusive commodity in West Indies cricket

In the aftermath of the highly competitive Ballr Cup Tri-nation tournament in which West Indies fought tooth and nail to the bitter end with talent-laden top tier nations and ultimately capitulating in the final to the reigning ODI world champions, it is evident that though mired close to the bottom of the ICC standings, the regional team somewhat enigmatic is possessed of considerable potential but lacks the consistency and the rigid discipline that is necessary for the development of a winning attitude to propel them up the rankings.

As if to assert themselves as a team that belongs in the higher echelon West Indies defeated Australia once in the series and South Africa twice to secure a place in the final where on paper from number one to number eleven they would not have been the very best that could have taken the field. Yet they put themselves in a strong position as the Aussies batted first with the dismissal of all-rounder Mitchell Marsh and the score on 173 for 6 by the end of the 37th over and only bowlers Mitchell Starc, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Josh Hazlewood, and Adam Zampa to come.

But as in previous encounters at a critical time in the match the team seemed to have lost focus. Their death bowling lacked penetration, even containment and the team’s out-cricket deteriorated with frequent fielding lapses and crucial run out chances missed, none more significant than that of wicketkeeper Matthew Wade missed from point blank range by his counterpart Denesh Ramdin early in his pivotal innings. Wade thereafter capitalized on his good fortune with what in my view was a game-changing knock of 57 not out from 52 balls as he shepherded Australia’s tail, adding 97 runs in the final 13 overs to take them to 270 for 9 on a pitch that demanded application.

In the run chase for the coveted trophy before a packed Kensington Oval, the Windies got a modest start of 49 before losing opener Andre Fletcher to a fit of impetuous aggression for 9, caught at slip off Josh Hazlewood. Series centurions Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels then succumbed to soft dismissals each for 6 defeated by right arm seamer Marsh highlighting the frustrating plight of a seemingly chronic inconsistency in the batting line-up. West Indies slumped from 62 for 1 to 72 for 4 in the 21st over and thereafter were hard pressed to recover enough to mount a challenge to the hardnosed world champions though cameos by Ramdin 40 and Jason Holder 34 would have given the fans false hope as the homesters managed 212 from 45.4 overs.

Apart from a lack of focus and fortitude, fitness evidently was a factor in the performance of the hosts at critical junctures in the match. Pacer Shannon Gabriel whose impressive spell in the previous game against South Africa ended prematurely after only 5 overs because of a groin injury, again in the final after dismissing Australia’s captain Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell in quick succession could not complete his quota, handicapped by the recurring injury when he was sorely needed to make further inroads. Gabriel finished with 7 overs 0 maidens 58 runs 2 wickets.

Meanwhile in the West Indies innings Kieron Pollard who performed admirably in the tournament gathering two half centuries, needed assistance from the team’s Physio therapist as he sustained a painful hamstring injury that affected his mobility while batting which eventually led to his demise for 20 as they struggled to recover from their early collapse.

Although the West Indies by all measures gave a good account of themselves against their much vaunted opponents in the tournament, Jason Holder and his men would be ruing the missed opportunities that would have given them an even chance of winning the final. After the game however, the lanky West Indies captain put his team’s performance in perspective in the post- match interview, saying: “At the beginning of this tournament a lot of people did not expect us to reach the final. People expected South Africa and Australia to just roll over us.”

And the skipper understandably upbeat after his team’s showing in the tournament advocated for scheduling of more ODI cricket for his team. “The way the ICC structure their cricket now, you have to qualify to enter ICC events,” said Holder, “and it is important that we get as much cricket as possible, particularly One-Day cricket to keep ourselves moving up the rankings.”

It is also imperative after the team’s satisfactory showing in this well-conceived Tri-nation tournament that the West Indies Cricket Board attends to two critical areas regarding the development of the game in the region. The Board must with some measure of urgency formulate a comprehensive plan to upgrade pitches – including practice pitches at all international venues in the Caribbean. With the possible exception of Kensington Oval in Barbados, pitches in the West Indies are notoriously slow and low and serve only to retard the development of prospective bowlers and batsmen.

Commenting on the talent and the conditions that he saw across the region during the Tri-nation series, Australian coach Justin Langer said “I’m in awe of how many young fast bowlers you’ve got in the West Indies,” said he, “We’ve seen it in Guyana, we’ve seen it in St Kitts, we’ve seen it Barbados, and yet you play on wickets that bounce about this high.” “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. It is indeed mindboggling to say the least.

Also going forward newly appointed West Indies chairman of selectors Courtney Browne along with director of cricket Richard Pybus in the interest of putting the best available team on the field at all times must seek compromise and détente in shifting focus in the selection process from eligibility to availability.

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