West Indian cricket fans were beyond angry when the squad was announced and was missing so many of their favourite players. No Marlon Samuels, no Dwayne Bravo (though his brother Darren Bravo got to play), no Keiron Pollard, no Darren Sammy, not even Alzarri Joseph. While the latter was missing because of injury, the others were well and truly available. Even controversial Sunil Narine was notably absent, perhaps due to his many calls for throwing, and, instead of the many truly brilliant spin bowlers they had available, they went in with token spinners. At least the fast bowling was somewhat close to their full strength. The batting and spin bowling stocks certainly weren’t.
In spite of this, the number seventh ranked side, who cruelly had to qualify via the World Cup Qualifiers, went in as sixth favourites, perhaps a nod at the form of opener Chris Gayle and all-rounder Andre Russell, and the hope that those two alone could overcome the many gaps in their line-up. They did win the most recent World T20, and their match winner from that tournament, Carlos Brathwaite, was included here, in spite of doing nothing from then until now. Why him and not Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Pollard and Sammy?
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Their warm-up win over New Zealand was tremendous, and flowed into a first-up win over Pakistan, and then they were so far ahead of Australia that it looked like they would win that too, until they didn’t, and then, just as soon as their single tournament victory and single warm-up match had created a bubble, it ended. If only Australia had lost one more wicket, and not had Steve Smith to get them back, perhaps their run could have lasted all the way to the semi-finals.
The performance of Carlos Brathwaite was a huge surprise, especially in the game against New Zealand, his winning 6 being instead caught over the boundary notwithstanding, and generally the fight they showed against Sri Lanka was pretty good too. Nicholas Pooran finally came good, as did Shai Hope, two players who most fans didn’t want in the squad, while Chris Gayle did well too, albeit only in patches.
Perhaps the real highlight, though, was that they brought pace back, going back to West Indies’ glory days of all-out pace, and they played 6 frontline pace bowlers in some matches, and to good effect too, hinting that perhaps this is the way forward for West Indian cricket, including in tests. They may not have won too many games, but they sure did show a lot of fight.
Andre Russell, who was in such incredible form in the IPL, failed badly, and then, just as his failing was getting out of control, he was ruled out through injury. If West Indies were to win the World Cup, or even to make the semi-finals, he was the key, and his failure lost all hope for the team.
The inclusion of below average spin bowlers was mystifying, especially when they had so many really good spin bowlers sitting at home, including Sunil Narine. Having them there, batting at number 9 or 10, and not bowling at all, was horrible, either bad captaincy or bad selections, or both.
For all of the skill shown in Brathwaite’s effort against New Zealand, his decision to go for a six to win, when there was still a full over to go, showed a lack of intelligence, as he could have instead hit a single and left himself 5 to get off a full over. Had it worked, they would have won and it would have looked good but with nine wickets down it was too big a risk. Perhaps West Indies would have missed the semi-finals anyway but that win would have made a lot of difference.
There were times of negativity too, especially after their loss to Australia, but they didn’t go quite as negative as the likes of Afghanistan and South Africa did.
Finishing 9th looks bad but they beat a side who was above them in Pakistan and looked ahead of two of the top teams in Australia and New Zealand as well. For a few moments they looked like not only making the semi-finals but winning the whole tournament, and, had they beaten Australia, they may well have had that kind of momentum. It’s not the players’ fault that they had the wrong squad, nor that they were picking useless spinners, nor that Andre Russell was out injured. They made the most of their resources, and, with the concept of going all-pace now in their mindsets, they may have uncovered a blueprint to become truly great.