Sunday will be a very nervous day for West Indies in their desperate bid to advance to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Though expected to beat United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their last Pool B match at McLean Park in Napier, the weather forecast is for rain, which immediately leads to uneasiness.
A no-result will eliminate West Indies.
Should there be enough play to produce a winner, West Indies know what they need to do to lift their Net Run Rate (NRR) from a minus 0.511 to a strong enough plus while awaiting the outcome of the last match in the Pool between the other contenders for the last two places in the quarter-finals, Ireland and Pakistan, in Adelaide.
In the circumstances, there are quite a number of ifs and buts. A West Indies win would mean that they finish on six points – the same which Pakistan and Ireland now have.
Even if West Indies win and there is a no-result in Adelaide, West Indies will have to pack their bags and head home.
If Pakistan win, there is every likelihood that Ireland would be eliminated but if the result goes the other way, then it will be a matter of calculators coming into the picture as far as Pakistan’s NRR is concerned when compared with the West Indies.
Pakistan have a NRR of minus 0.194 and Ireland minus 1.014.
For pure intrigue, it would be best that both matches produce a winner. Or more to the point, that West Indies win and then follow the battle in Adelaide.
But should West Indies be in this nervous position? Immediately one can argue that once they lost their opening match against Ireland by four wickets in Nelson, it was always going to be a battle to make the last eight.
It must be pointed out, however, that South Africa’s defeat by 29 runs against Pakistan in Auckland hurt the cause of West Indies in a big way since South Africa were favoured to win.
And while there was criticism in some quarters about the tactics of rookie captain Jason Holder relating to his handling of the bowlers in the four-wicket loss to India at WACA in Perth, the bottom line is that the West Indies batting has been too inconsistent with a lack of purpose and determination.
The match against India was a perfect example of batsmen not buckling down and understanding their roles. With the luck of the toss, West Indies were tottering on 85 for seven by the 25th over before rallying to 182 all out in 44.2 overs.
Holder again batted well to top-score with 57 –– his second consecutive half-century at No.9.
“Reckless and irresponsible” was how former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding described the West Indies batting against India.
“They were not using their brains. They are just playing cricket, and not thinking about their cricket,” Holding said as he placed a lot of the blame on veteran opener Chris Gayle, who had three chances in scoring 21 and was also involved in the run out of Marlon Samuels.
There was every reason for Holding to be critical of Gayle. Having emerged from consistently poor form to lash the only double-century (215) in World Cup history against Zimbabwe, his approach against India was somewhat rushed.
Gayle would have been wary that the bowling attack was far better than Zimbabwe’s. Hence, he needed to occupy the crease for as long as possible while recognising that shot selection would be a key ingredient as well.
One of the glaring shortcomings of Gayle and his opening partner Dwayne Smith has been their inability to take singles and rotate the strike as much as possible. Waiting to bash balls to the boundary has been more their style.
Having so much enjoyed what the likes of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes displayed as an opening pair with the way they turned over the strike during their illustrious careers, it is pitiful to witness the present day stuff.
So is it a question of poor coaching or players who simply do it their way?
Smith should be the first to admit that he has far too often gifted his wicket, hence an indifferent average of 18.61 after 104 One-Day Internationals in which he has scored 1545 runs without a century and a mere eight half-centuries.
In fact, Smith has never even scored a hundred in List A (50-over) matches which would appear odd for a player whose talent as an all-rounder was realised from the time he was a teenager.
His medium-pace bowling and sharp fielding were aspects which always kept him in the picture but his career as a ODI player now seems close to an end.
Having scored only 78 runs an at average of 15.60 in the World Cup, he is likely to lose his place for the match against UAE to Johnson Charles, the attacking Windward Islands batsman who was called up to replace the injured Darren Bravo.
Another let-down has been Denesh Ramdin. Given the opportunity to bat as high as No. 5, he has scored only 74 runs (ave: 18.50).
And as captain of the Test team, one has not detected much energy from Ramdin behind the stumps in terms of geeing up the players.
In his interviews, Holder has been consistent with the hope that West Indies will improve. A big part of that improvement must come from his bowlers as well. Experimentation seems to be more their style rather than maintaining good lines and lengths.
With all of the technology around, one wonders if they seriously analyse batsmen. It looks more sometimes like doing things on instinct.
There is so much to learn from the New Zealand new ball pair of Tim Southee and left-armer Trent Boult. And to see four slips and a gully being employed by the sixth over of a match as New Zealand showed off against Bangladesh in Hamilton today was amazing.
Bangladesh did recover from 27 for two in the 10th over to score 288 for seven off 50 overs, led by a splendid, second consecutive century (128 not out) from Mahmudullah before New Zealand won by three wickets with seven balls to spare in a thrilling finish.
From a West Indies perspective, no one can escape the presence of bowling coach Curtly Ambrose as he tries to get his message across while the players are in a huddle before taking the field. Yet, for the great fast bowler he was and for all of the energy he exerts in asking the bowlers to deliver, it seems as though some of his points are easily forgotten once they reach the middle.
What West Indies really need now is plenty sun on Sunday (Saturday evening Caribbean time).
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: [email protected].