After the favoured teams won the first three quarter-final matches in the , it would have taken a lot of purpose and determination for West Indies to defy the odds against New Zealand at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday (tonight Caribbean time).
South Africa rolled over Sri Lanka by nine wickets; India beat Bangladesh by 109 runs and Australia took out Pakistan by six wickets.
And based on current form, New Zealand were tipped to book their semi-final place as well.
In the build-up to the match, there was a lot of talk from players, coaches and experts. But execution in the middle was what mattered.
With the inevitable win over United Arab Emirates (UAE) in their final preliminary game last Sunday to earn a place in the quarter-finals, West Indies also had an opportunity to lift the intensity of their play. It was lacking to some extent.
When UAE were tottering on 46 for six in the 14th over, a swift demolition of the innings was anticipated. Yet they were allowed to rally to 175 all out in 47.4 overs with the West Indies just seemingly waiting for the other wickets to fall.
This is not to suggest that Amjad Javed (56) and Nasir Aziz, who topscored with 60, did not play well in their seventh wicket partnership of 107.
Captain Jason Holder bowled splendidly with the new ball to take four for 27 off ten overs and Jerome Taylor sustained his consistency with three for 36 off 8.4 overs, while Andre Russell picked up two for 20 off eight overs.
As Kemar Roach struggled in ending with none for 54 off eight overs, the question of his fitness surfaced again but he is a sharp enough bowler to come good at the right time.
There were encouraging knocks of 55 from opener Johnson Charles, in his first match of the tournament, and Jonathan Carter, who recorded his maiden One Day International half-century in scoring 50 not out as West Indies triumphed by six wickets in 30.3 overs.
In the face of inconsistent batting, at least both Charles and Carter gave rise to the hope that it would peak against New Zealand.
Chris Gayle was tipped to return to the side after missing the match against UAE due to a nagging back problem with the out-of-form Dwayne Smith making way.
But hold it. The New Zealand attack, led by seamers Tim Southee and left-armer Trent Boult would have been expected to present a big challenge for the West Indies batsmen. It meant that the approach would be vital. Should the likes of Gayle and Charles play their natural attacking game to unsettle the new ball pair or should it be a matter of digging in with one of them batting deep into the innings?
Of the other New Zealand bowlers, Corey Anderson and veteran left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori were earmarked to sustain pressure.
We all know New Zealand were on a real high, having won all six of their Pool A matches in contrast to West Indies who lost three in Pool B.
In addition, Brendon McCullum is not only brutal at the top of the batting but his captaincy is one to be admired for the way he handles the team.
There was, however, a telling point made by former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming in relation to the knockout stages.
“The worrying fact is that when you get to quarter-finals, any one player in the opposition can have a great day. It doesn’t matter whom you play against – in the knockouts each team is going to have someone who can do that. That’s the only worrying aspect from an outsider’s perspective,” Fleming said.
On their day, West Indies can be savage. At this juncture, they needed to tell themselves that despite the inconsistent performances, cricket remains a game, which is contested on the field, and once the players pull their weight, a place in the semi-finals could be attained.
Even with his detractors, Holder has shown that at the age of 23, he is prepared to take tough decisions and stand by them as was the case when he removed former captain Darren Sammy from the attack after just one over against UAE.
And both Holder and Sammy must be admired for the way they handled the issue in interviews with the Press.
The battle with New Zealand would surely be Holder’s sternest test to date.
Today’s announcement by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that former Trinidad & Tobago and West Indies batsman Phil Simmons has been appointed as the new West Indies Head coach on a three-year contract was not surprising against the background that it had been bandied around for some time.
The timing of the release, however, has been questioned by some observers, bearing in mind that it came hours before West Indies were preparing for their match against the Black Caps.
But probably as far as the WICB was concerned, it made no difference. The immediate task for the West Indies team was to keep their focus on winning while paying full attention to the advice of the coaching staff, namely Stuart Williams and Curtly Ambrose.
According to the WICB, Simmons was one of seven persons interviewed and following his eight years of unparalleled success with ICC Associate team Ireland, which he led to two 50-overs and four Twenty20 World Cups, as well as the Associates treble two years ago, he was the outstanding candidate.
“We are thrilled with the appointment of Phil and we believe he is the right individual for our team and our region at this time, so we want to welcome him back home,” said WICB Chief Executive Officer Michael Muirhead.
Simmons’ appointment comes seven months after Ottis Gibson, the former Barbados and West Indies fast bowler, was fired on the eve of the home series against Bangladesh.
Lest we forget, there was some “diplomacy” from the WICB in relation to Gibson’s dismissal last August. He had been first appointed as head coach in February 2010 and was expected to be in charge of the team until February 2016, based on a second contract he signed in 2013.
Gibson was sacked by way of a telephone call and eventually the WICB said in a release “the West Indies Cricket Board and Mr Ottis Gibson mutually agreed to terminate their association with immediate effect. The WICB wishes to express its gratitude to Mr. Gibson for his unwavering commitment and professionalism during his tenure as the coach of the West Indies team.”
“Team manager, Sir Richie Richardson, will take charge of the team on an interim basis for the series against Bangladesh which will be played in Grenada, St Kitts, St Vincent and St Lucia. The team management unit remains unchanged otherwise,” the release added.
So will Simmons be able to call shots regarding his support staff as he prepares for the three-Test series against England in the Caribbean, starting next month?
“I am excited to be beginning this new chapter in my coaching career and to have the opportunity to create a winning culture,” he said.
“West Indies have a huge following across the World and I have great admiration for the passion fans show for our team. We are determined to give the supporters the brand of cricket and the level of success that we are all looking to achieve,” he added.
Those are nice words but Simmons should be reminded that the fans have also been frustrated with the progress of the West Indies team for the last two decades and the task of rekindling their interest will very much depend on how he is able to motivate and get the best out of the players.
Clive Lloyd, the chairman of selectors, is on a mission but it will not be an easy task, Phil.
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].