GROS ISLET, St Lucia, CMC – Embattled West Indies face minnows Afghanistan in a crucial series decider here tonight, needing a victory now only to avoid a devastating series defeat but the embarrassment associated with losing to the ICC Associate side.
What was supposed to be an easy assignment for the Windies to placate their absence from the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy in England, has gone horribly wrong, leaving the three-match series level at 1-1 with everything to play for in the final One-Day International at the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground starting at 2:30 pm.
The Caribbean side’s performances have not lived up to expectations, especially against an inexperienced Afghanistan who are a non-playing Test nation and who have spent most of their time scuffling with the likes of fellow minnows Zimbabwe and Ireland.
Perhaps the statement of the series came in the opening ODI last Friday when West Indies shockingly collapsed to a stunning 63-run defeat. Asked to chase a modest 213, they stumbled to 149 all out, undermined by the magic of 18-year-old leg-spinner Rashid Khan who took seven for 18 – the fourth best figures in one-day history.
West Indies hit back strongly through their bowling in the second ODI to win by four wickets last Sunday. They shot the Afghans out for 135 with aggressive, short-pitched bowling but then laboured to reach their target, getting home in the 40th over, as Khan once again caused consternation with three for 26.
Bowling coach Roddy Estwick yesterday urged his side to employ the same approach, pointing out that Afghanistan were susceptible to the short ball.
“Go at them hard again, stick to your game plan, hit your line hard, make sure you get your field placing right,” Estwick said.
“You’ve got to run in and bowl hard and stay aggressive all the way through because as you can see they are not very comfortable with the short ball but you’ve got to earn that right to bowl short as well.”
Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel has been forced out of the contest after picking up a side strain in the second game, and has been replaced by Twenty20 specialist Kesrick Williams who was the leading bowler in the recent T20 series with eight wickets.
However, it is the batting which West Indies will need to focus on heavily as not a single batsman has passed 50 in the series. Shai Hope, at number three, has been their most reliable player, top-scoring in both games with 35 and 48 not out.
Jason Mohammad, so prolific against England and Pakistan earlier this year, has failed to fire with scores of two and seven while Test star Roston Chase, drafted in to the one-day unit, has struggled with scores of zero and nine.
In contrast, Afghanistan have managed two half-centuries – one from opener Javed Ahmadi in the opening game and the other from Gulbadin Naib in the second.
There was more bad news for the Windies yesterday with the latest ODI rankings showing the Caribbean side had dropped two points to 77 as a result of their loss in the first ODI, seeing them slip further behind in the race to qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup in England.
And even with a win today, the Jason Holder-led side will earn just a single ratings point, meaning they would have ended the series worse off than when they started.
WEST INDIES – Jason Holder (captain), Devendra Bishoo, Jonathan Carter, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Kesrick Williams, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse, Kieran Powell, Rovman Powell.
AFGHANISTAN – Asghar Stanikzai, Noor Ali Zadran, Javid Ahmadi, Usman Ghani, Rahmat Shah Zarmati, Nasir Jamal, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbuddin Naib, Rashid Khan Arman, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Shapoor Zadran, Amira Hamza Hotak, Dawlat Zadran, Afsar Zazai, Farid Malik.