Though losing to world champions Australia by 58 runs in the final of the Ballr Cup Tri-Nation One-Day International series at Kensington Oval last Sunday, there were signs that West Indies are gradually returning to a fairly competitive unit.
To this end, however, opportunities must be given to some players in a timely manner.
Statistical information, once assessed in a meaningful way, serves as a guide in relation to performances. And looking through the stats for the West Indies team, the evidence is compelling.
Going into the series at a lowly ranked No. 8 with Australia as the world’s No. 1 side and South Africa at No. 3, it was generally felt that West Indies would find the going tough to reach the final.
Yet they were able to beat South Africa twice and Australia once and with more commitment and attention to detail, could have gone all the way.
Their 100-run win over South Africa in the do-or-die match last Friday brought back memories of the way West Indies teams showed fighting spirit in the era when they dominated world cricket.
Tottering on 21 for four after five overs with the impressive 21-year-old fast bowler Kagiso Rabada having three of the scalps, there was talk around the ground of the match finishing early.
But a splendid fight-back was led by Darren Bravo and Kieron Pollard, who added 156 in 25 overs for the fifth wicket, which is the joint-highest for any team losing the first four wickets for less than 25 runs.
Bravo hit the top score of 102 off 103 balls including 12 fours and four sixes, while Pollard made 62 off 71 deliveries, counting seven fours and two sixes.
With such inspiration, the fast bowling all-rounders, captain Jason Holder (40) and Carlos Brathwaite (33 not out) also batted intelligently in a total of 285 all out off 49.5 overs.
Then came an excellent new ball spell from Shannon Gabriel, who grabbed three wickets as South Africa were reduced to 35 for four by the 12th over, eventually struggling to 185 all out in 46 overs.
That leads to the point of giving players opportunities when others are failing.
Admittedly, Gabriel was not a favourite of the average fan to make an impact in the series but on debut in the previous match against Australia which West Indies lost by six wickets after posting 282 for eight, he took one for 43 off nine overs and bowled with some heart.
Now Gabriel got his break with the experienced Jerome Taylor dropped after four matches in which he took only two wickets at 79.50 runs apiece, while conceding 6.91 runs an over –– the most expensive of the West Indies bowlers in the series.
At the same time, however, the selectors stuck with a struggling Andre Fletcher as an opener when an opportunity could have been given to either Kraigg Brathwaite or Evin Lewis to partner Johnson Charles.
The result was that Fletcher continued to fail miserably, ending the series with 89 runs in seven matches at an average of 12.71.
After 25 ODIs and with an aggregate of 354 including only two half-centuries (ave: 14.16), Fletcher must know that his international career in this format is virtually over.
Veteran left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn should be wondering about what lies ahead for him as well after taking just three wickets at 95 runs each, though his economy rate of 4.59 was bettered only by off-spinner Sunil Narine (4.08).
Narine was also the top West Indies wicket-taker with 12 scalps (ave: 23.75). Having overcome problems with his bowling action, he looked the part and gained respect.
It was emphasised by Australia captain Steve Smith, who was quoted as saying that “I thought we were able to do well because we negated Narine. We batted well against him and he being the trump card for the West Indies, it worked well.”
From a batting perspective, apart from getting the right opening combination, West Indies still need more consistency from the experienced players. That was evident in the final when they were bowled out for 212 in 45.4 overs after Australia scored 270 for nine.
Bravo’s century against South Africa was timely but an overall aggregate of 222 (ave: 31.71) showed that he got starts and did not carry on.
Veteran Marlon Samuels ended with the highest aggregate of 258 including one century and one half-century at an average of 36.85, while Pollard scored 205 with two half-centuries and topped the averages (41.00).
Charles made 199 runs (ave: 28.42) and Denesh Ramdin 197 (ave: 28.14).
Returning to the match against Australia when West Indies scored 282 for eight, one must commend the batting of Samuels and Ramdin. They came together at 31 for three in the ninth over and added 192 in 34.3 overs before Ramdin fell for 91 off 92 balls with six fours and three sixes.
Samuels went on to score 125 off 134 deliveries, counting 14 fours and two sixes until he was dismissed off the last ball of the innings.
Prior to the match, there was plenty discussion over Ramdin’s position at No. 5 ahead of Pollard. Yet, in looking at the overall ODI record of both players, it can be argued that there is little difference.
In 98 matches, Pollard has batted 92 times, six not outs, 2247 runs including three centuries and nine fifties (ave: 26.12), while in 136 matches, Ramdin has 107 innings, 22 not outs, 2121 runs with two hundreds and eight fifties (ave: 24.95).
Perhaps West Indies can take inspiration from comments by Justin Langer, the former Australian batsman and his team’s stand-in coach for the series, who said, “West Indies cricket is so exciting”.
“They won the T20 World Cup, they’re so dangerous. They’re like a boxer who’s got the big right hook and could knock you out at any time. They’ve got so much talent.
“I really respect and admire the guys who are playing. Jason Holder and Darren Bravo, Carlos Brathwaite to name a few – Narine, Pollard is always dangerous. Charles is a very dangerous player. Until we got him out I was nervous for the game, because he’s a serious player. He whacks it –– not a lot of foot movement but he’s a dangerous player. If he could harness his ability and go out and score more hundreds . . . . Darren Bravo got a brilliant hundred the other day.
“There’s a lot of talent and I think they’re playing really well. They made the final, they beat South Africa very well, who are on paper an unbelievable cricket team. West Indies have a lot to look forward to,” Langer said.
It is always good to receive praise from the opposition but one must still wonder why West Indies have struggled in the ODI and Test formats.
From a one-day perspective, Holder reckons the answer is in having more matches on a regular basis.
“If you look back on our calendar year last year, we didn’t have that much One-Day cricket at all. I just think we need more cricket.
“There’s no secret about it, the way the ICC structure their cricket now, you have to qualify to enter ICC events and it’s just important we get as much cricket as possible, particularly One-Day cricket, to keep ourselves moving up the rankings.
“There’s no point us playing a series here and then we don’t play a series for another few months whereas other teams get opportunities to play games and move ahead of us,” Holder said.
Don’t fret skipper. Better days seem to be coming for West Indies.
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 three-and-a-half 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:Keithfholder@gmail.com