If you are a West Indies fan should you feel angry that the dream of Jason Holder’s team is extinguished? Should you feel sad about the dream dying once again? Should you feel embarrassed supporting a team that once again broke your trust? Your faith? Your belief?
No, we are not dramatising. We are not overdoing this, Jason and co. You might say no one knows the pain better than you. But do you really?
If you actually did, why then against Australia, did you let them escape when the defending champions were wounded at 79 for 5, but still managed to reach 288 courtesy of Nathan Coulter-Nile, a bowling allrounder, who smashed a career-best 92?
Then, with 79 runs needed from final 12 overs, with five wickets in hand, Andre Russell, T20 cricket’s best finisher, got sucked into the aggressive bowling of Mitchell Starc, swinging the momentum Australia’s way and it stayed like that.
Against Bangladesh, despite having a solid target to defend, your bowling plans were muddled, allowing Shakib Al Hasan to stage a coup.
What about the New Zealand game? The hopes blossomed with Chris Gayle showing all intent to make the day his. But then Shimron Hetmeyer and Holder got out in quick succession. The fans refused to give up only because Gayle was still around. Except he abruptly lost his cool going for a big stroke. It hurt more as Gayle had watched Kane Williamson resuscitate New Zealand from a similarly hopeless situation to put up a winning target. Williamson had shown patience until the very last ball. Gayle gave up midway.
The flower of hope lay smudged in the Manchester twilight. However, stunningly, the hope suddenly got rekindled as Carlos Brathwaite decided he was going to remind cricket he exists. The soft-spoken Barbadian gathered the courage and the power to mount a fightback and brought West Indies to the doorstep of a historic win. With six runs needed from seven balls, Brathwaite then pulled Jimmy Neesham into the hands of the fielder in the deep. Gleaming with sweat, Brathwaite collapsed to his knees. Hopes destroyed. Brathwaite. Yes, we remember the name. Two unforgettable innings. Honest trier. What was the need to go for big one when there was another over remaining?
Incidentally, Brathwaite has also been the go-to death bowler for West Indies this tournament. You wonder why exactly? What did a medium-fast bowler, who has an economy rate of 10-plus, possess for the ball to be given to him in the most crucial phase where momentum is snatched? Was that a failure of strategy or the lack of faith in the other quicks that prompted Holder to give Brathwaite one of the key responsibilities?
Even on Thursday, against India, West Indies failed to grasp the chances that came their way, like the stumping opportunity against MS Dhoni, allowing Virat Kohli’s men to regain their footing quickly and take charge of the match.
On Wednesday, Gayle called an impromptu press conference. He was chatty, jovial and indulgent. He called himself one of the Caribbean greats. No doubt about that. But then he left everyone dumbfounded saying he wanted to play one more Test, but would “definitely” play the home ODI series in August against India. This after saying definitively he would be retiring from the 50-overs format post-World Cup.
Was Gayle being arrogant feeling he was entitled to just choose his moment of going? Minutes later Holder said it was news to him. Michael Holding summed up the scenario nicely saying he was not aware Gayle had appointed himself the chairman of selectors?
Gayle is a team man, no doubt. Has respect for the game. But what about his fitness? Known as Cramps, due to his various niggles over the past several years, Gayle this tournament was spending time in the dressing room when West Indies were fielding. He is the vice-captain. Would Holder not have wanted more insights, more guidance, more motivation from the last of the West Indies’ greats?
Unfortunately, the man who loves being called the Universe Boss, who can evoke cheerful emotions from a full house, as evident in Manchester, has failed to impose himself. As he walked out haltingly one step at a time, after top edging a short ball from Mohammed Shami, Gayle might have been even angry at himself. He had said that he was desperate to get a century in his last World Cup. He desperately wanted West Indies to make the last four, to get hands on the World Cup which West Indies last won in 1979. Two matches to go, Gayle might fulfil his personal ambition, but West Indies will return home empty handed.
What about Russell? Why did the team management decided to play him when he was leaving the field unable to finish even a handful of overs?
When Jimmy Adams, Cricket West Indies’ director of cricket, and Co. review the tournament, one key pattern that would strike them is West Indies batsmen’s failure to stitch together partnerships. There have been just two 100-plus stands so far. Gayle and Hope have been their two best batsmen, but the rest have failed to show application, composure, mind-set to withstand or create pressure.
Along with Hope, Shimron Hetmeyer, Nicholas Pooran and Evin Lewis have been talked about as the future of West Indies batting. Yet only Hope has shown the temperament and the skills to rotate strike and hit the odd boundary, a strategy successful batsmen use in ODIs, to succeed. The other three players are young, but they have played with a T20 mindset, which can be dangerous for their overall growth.
Summing up the campaign, Holder was honest to admit the ODI format remains their “weakest” suit. “We let ourselves down significantly,” Holder told the host broadcaster. “I don’t think we seized the crucial moments in this tournament as we should have. We missed crucial chances in the field which cost us. The bowlers had a reasonable campaign to be fair – everything we asked of them they came and delivered. We didn’t really support (them) as well as we liked in the field. We let ourselves down tremendously in the field. In terms of batting we were just too inconsistent.”
It all brings us to the question of what, if anything, changed for West Indies this World Cup? They were one of the dark horses at the outset solely based on the mighty power of their batsmen. The horse burst through the gates in Nottingham, leaving Pakistan in its wake with memorable spells of fast bowling. But very soon, the ride became rough. The horse started to limp. The rivals began either skirting past or galloped easily over.
Holder’s men entered the tournament as one of the most dangerous teams. They will walk out of the World Cup heads down.
The West Indies’ dream is stillborn. (Cricinfo)