The premier global cricket extravaganza gets underway tomorrow when England and South Africa contest the opening fixture of the 2019 International Cricket Council’s World Cup.
The ten best teams in the world – England, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, England and Bangladesh – will seek to bring joy and honour to their respective countries in the tournament. West Indies won the first two editions of the World Cup in 1975 and 1979 but have since endured four decades of frustration. Odds are for that frustration to continue with their One-Day International record making for abysmal reading in the past few years.
But their showing against the top-rated England in the Caribbean where they drew the series has given West Indies fans reason for guarded optimism. Talismanic West Indies batsman, Chris Gayle, has made a rallying call for fans to get behind the team and show their support during the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Speaking on Monday night at a social event attended by scores of West Indians living in the United Kingdom, Gayle made a passionate speech and asked members of the audience to join him on the journey towards winning the biggest prize in the sport.
“This is my last World Cup and I want to go out on a high. We want to give it our best shot … we want to win the world Cup for the third time,” the veteran opener told the audience.
“We want to win it for people like you here tonight who support West Indies cricket every day, everywhere and we want to win it for the millions around the world who love us.”
Gayle, who is playing in his fifth World Cup, was the guest speaker at the specially arranged function in Bristol, where the team is currently based for their official warm-up matches.
The event was held at the Bristol West Indies Cricket Club and hosted by Steve Stephenson, a Jamaican who has been a sporting administrator and senior social worker for over three decades.
Along with honouring Stephenson, the West Indies also made a donation towards the Winston Davis Charity, as they offered support to the former West Indies fast bowler, who is wheelchair-bound.
Davis still holds the record for the best figures for West Indies in World Cup history with seven for 51 against Australia in 1983.
“I travel the world and I meet a lot of great people like any of you here tonight and they always say ‘Chris Gayle we love you and we love the West Indies brand of cricket’”, Gayle said.
“We want to play that kind of cricket and entertain the fans. I do it for the fans, they are the ones that keep me going.
“So tonight, I’m reaching out to each and everyone of you to let you know that we value your support and to keep the support going strong. We want to reach that final at Lord’s and we want to win that World Cup.”
West Indies start their campaign on Friday against mercurial Pakistan at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. This is perhaps an ideal opportunity to begin the World Cup on a winning note against a team whose unpredictability and inconsistency are perhaps only matched by their own.
West Indies showed great batting form in their last warm-up match and it is expected that big scores will be the norm in the competition. Bowlers are expected to be under pressure throughout the World Cup on batsman-friendly tracks.
West Indies allrounder Carlos Brathwaite noted that scores over 300 would be crucial with totals in excess of 400 even being the desired target. “Hopefully, we can get 325 consistently. That is probably about par in these conditions. And then, the odd day we can get 400 and give the bowlers a little bit of leeway,” he noted.
Brathwaite said he wanted the West Indies to show up and show off in the tournament. “ If we can win, we can be looked upon in the way that the team of ’75 and ’79 was looked upon, as heroes of sorts. Once we do the things we’re supposed to do often, we should go far enough in the tournament. It’s one of our better chances in the last 40 years or so to win the World Cup, so it’s time for us to show up and show off. On our day, in semi-finals and finals we have some guys who can win it on their own,” he said.
West Indies ODI star batsman Shai Hope also acknowledged the importance of the team aiming for in excess of 300 and stated that West Indies had the firepower to achieve this goal. Hope noted that it was vital that West Indies made totals over 300 in all their matches.
“It is just the style of the game in these recent times, we know that,” said Hope, who averages 51 from 54 ODIs.
“Three-fifty is almost par in these times, so you have to really keep up with the run-rate. It is just about trying to adapt to the style of play these days,” he said.
Captain Jason Holder has urged his men to enjoy their cricket, to play with freedom and compete to bring smiles to Caribbean faces. He said that not really enjoying the cricket had had a negative effect on team performances in the past.
“I think one of the things that has hampered us sometimes in the past is that we’ve not really enjoyed it to the extent that I think we should be. It’s our living, our job,” he pointed out.
“We have put so many smiles on people’s faces back home in the Caribbean and for me, I just want to continue to do that. I think we’re at our best when we play with freedom and a smile,” Holder stressed.
The World Cup’s first encounter starts at 5.30 a.m. Barbados time.