In the first World Cup, back in 1975, when asked who would win, just about everyone thought that West Indies would win, which they promptly did very, very easily. In 1979, it was a similar issue and West Indies waltzed to their 2nd title out of 2.
In 1983, it was supposed to be the same until India shockingly made the final, but were looking like losing badly before they somehow bowled West Indies out for 140 chasing a very low score of 183, as the 3rd World Cup ended in India’s shock victory, cricket replaced hockey as India’s favourite sport, and West Indies would never play a World Cup final again.
Cycle forward 36 years and we are once again asked the question as to whether West Indies can finally win their 3rd World Cup.
West Indies, for the record, weren’t suddenly terrible the instant they lost the 1983 World Cup. They were still overall the best team in the world in 1987 and 1992, it’s just that they didn’t play in either final. They were fairly close to making the semi-finals, but somehow missed out.
In 1996 they made it to the quarter-finals and all the way to the semi-finals before missing out, but then in 1999, with a super 6, they missed out, only just. In 2003 they missed out again, but then in 2007, with a super 8, they made it! Only to fail to make it to the semis. In 2011 they made it to the quarter-finals but lost by 10 wickets to Pakistan then finally in 2015 they made it to the quarter-finals only to lose by 143 runs in a high-scoring match against New Zealand.
So it’s not like West Indies have completely fallen off the radar. They are still up there. They just aren’t quite as far up there as they were in the past.
Also, don’t forget that West Indies are the reigning T20 World Cup champions, having beaten England in 2016, an incredible match that saw them needing an improbable 19 runs off the last over with only 4 wickets in hand and unknown number 8 Carlos Braithwaite on strike, who promptly scored 4 6s in a row off Ben Stokes to win the game with 2 balls to spare.
The problem is that T20 is not ODI, and West Indies being good at T20 does not mean that they are good at ODIs.
In T20s, the highest run-scorer of all-time is Chris Gayle, while the highest wicket-taker of all time is Dwayne Bravo, both current players for West Indies, who are both expected to play in the ODI World Cup. Add to that mix Keiron Pollard, who has been an incredible T20 player for some time, then Sunil Narine, who is an awesome bowler (albeit with some question marks about the legitimacy of his action) and we are up to 4 amazing match-winning players.
Then you’ve got Jason Holder, who just scored a test double-century and is the first West Indian all-rounder to be the number 1 ranked test all-rounder in the world since the great Garfield Sobers and there’s 5 great players. Now let’s add in Andre Russell, a big-hitting batsman and occasionally good fast bowler (which was his initial reason to be in the team) and there are 6 match-winning players. Now add Alzarri Joseph, who just took 6/12 in the IPL, and wow we’ve got 7 players!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to hear that West Indies has some hopes. They have a side who could, on their day, beat anyone, even the two favourites India and England, even Australia, even South Africa, even any team.
But they are also a team who has been consistently losing to Afghanistan and who have struggled to beat Bangladesh lately. And the problem is that they could well beat India and England, then undo that good work by losing to Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
To make the semi-finals, West Indies will probably need to win 6 out of their 9 matches, meaning that they can only lose 3 matches. Depending on how other matches go, they might qualify with 5 wins, but they might need to win 7. For the sake of argument, let’s say they need to win 6.
Let’s assume that they will beat Sri Lanka, and probably Pakistan too. New Zealand will be tough but they could certainly do it, over in England on a neutral venue. Afghanistan have had the edge over West Indies lately but West Indies are a chance to beat them. Realistically, West Indies should beat Bangladesh too.
So if all of that goes to plan, then West Indies needs to beat just 1 of the 4 favourites, just 1 out of England, India, Australia and South Africa, to qualify for the semi-finals and from there anything could happen.
It’s certainly possible for West Indies to qualify for the semi-finals, and, obviously, any team that qualifies for the semi-finals in this system are a genuine chance of winning the tournament. This is not one of those artificial Super 6 or Super 8 systems where teams get points carried forward and boycotts and all manner of other silly things can carry through teams that don’t deserve it.
Like what happened in previous tournaments with the likes of Kenya making the semi-finals. Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Ireland also benefiting from a poor structure that gave enormous benefit to one lucky result. That isn’t going to happen this year and that’s why nobody is thinking that Afghanistan, Bangladesh or even Sri Lanka can make the semi-finals, yet West Indies can.
Being seventh favourite for a tournament with just four semi-final places makes it tough for West Indies, who would much prefer for there to be quarter finals or at least a Super 6 kind of situation, but knockouts are where they thrive, where that one big-hitting player being in there for long enough, whether it is Andre Russell or Chris Gayle or someone else, can win them the game. It’s a format where a big spell from an Alzarri Joseph can win them the match even defending a low target.
The problem will not be whether West Indies can win a knockout match and get lucky: the problem will be whether they can avoid losses.
West Indies could, feasibly, beat both India and England and lose to both Afghanistan and Bangladesh and fail to qualify. They could beat Australia and South Africa yet lose to New Zealand and Pakistan. They might even lose to Sri Lanka.
It seems to me unlikely that they will finish winless, but making it all the way to the semi-finals also seems unlikely.
They might just get there but more likely they will just miss out, finishing perhaps 5th or 6th.
If they do get there, though, then you just never know.
Either way, it certainly is great to see West Indian players doing so well in the IPL and it would be a great fairytale if they could win their 3rd World Cup. It’s unlikely to happen but what a fairytale that would be.
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