There is now much for the West Indies cricket team and its legions of fans around the globe to be encouraged by, despite the harsh reality of having already lost the current three-match ODI Series against India. The West Indies lost both of the first two matches of the series. The margins of defeat in both matches were, however, agonizingly close. India won the July 22, first ODI, by just three runs. In the second, played on Sunday, July 24, India’s victory margin was by two wickets with just two balls to spare.
The improvements shown by the West Indies team so far during the current India series and by comparison to its performances during the preceding three-match losing efforts against Bangladesh were as numerous as they are significant. The actual results of the matches for both the Bangladesh and India series are unimportant to the extent that they have no points bearing on the West Indies’ automatic qualification for next year’s ICC 2023 World Cup. Only the top eight ICC ranked teams will gain automatic qualification to the India-hosted 2023 World Cup.
While the results from the Bangladesh and India series will not count towards 2023 World Cup automatic qualification, those from the forthcoming series against the visiting New Zealand, which follows immediately, certainly will. In theatre parlance, therefore, the Bangladesh and India series should be regarded as mere dress rehearsals for the actual all-important three live ODI match shows against the Kiwis next month, on August 17, 19 and 21 at Barbados’ Kensington Oval, the mecca of West Indies cricket.
As with any dress rehearsal what becomes of far more importance than the actual result is the demonstrated individual and collective performances of the participants, in this instance the members of the West Indies ODI team. From one series to the next, and by comparison of both the performances of the team itself as well as some of its key members there are again certainly most encouraging signs of achievement in some areas where improvement was required.
For starters after the experienced disappointment of the lopsided manner in which all three matches against Bangladesh were lost, for the West Indies team in just a few short weeks thereafter to have transformed itself into an outfit that came so very close to defeating the much stronger India, as depleted as they may be, in both of the matches played so far is by itself very heartening. Both of those matches could and should easily have gone in favour of the West Indies had there been some marginally better execution of their assigned responsibilities by certain team members.
Rather than dwell on the what-ifs of the past, however, what the West Indies team as a unit must now do is to look to the immediate future and work towards making the further improvements that will be required to transform their record of 5 defeats in as many matches played into one of victories in their forthcoming encounters. In doing so they must look to build upon all that was good about their performances during the first two India matches.
In each of the three matches played against Bangladesh, the West Indies batting failed to score as many as 200 runs. In the two played to date against India they amassed totals of 305/6-50 overs in the first ODI and 311/6-50 overs in the second.
Even more important than the actual totals posted by the West Indies in both matches was the very admirable and most welcomed actuality of the team having batted for the entirety of their allocated fifty overs. Which they had failed to do in all of the matches played against Bangladesh.
The fact that both totals were achieved for the loss of only six wickets was also very admirable and highly encouraging for it meant that after 50 overs there was still lots of batting. Some of it potentially powerful boundary-hitting exponents who were still unused and readily available.
Just as welcoming were the signs of the return to form by some of the West Indies’ top-order batsmen, In the first ODI Kyle Mayers (75), Brandon King (54) Shamarh Brooks (45), Romario Shepherd (38) and Akeal Hosein (32) were all among the runs. In the second Shai Hope fittingly celebrated his 100th appearance with a most welcomed return-to-form with 115.
Mayers (39) and Brooks (35) were also both back making valuable encore contributions, while skipper Pooran scored 74 as the second half-century in his past three innings, following the 72 he’d scored in the second match against Bangladesh. Romario Shepherd also scored an 11-ball 14 in the second ODI, signalling yet again his potential as an important hard-hitter in the West Indies lower-order. He may not as yet be in quite the same league as “Superman” Andre Russell, but he has shown his capacity to be nearly just as devastating in the final overs of an innings when boundary-striking becomes vitally important.
In the two matches played the West Indies bowling attack also showed signs of its capacity to produce economical, sustained pressure-building overs that can cause batsmen to revert to attempting rash strokes which ultimately lead to their downfall. As a combined unit the bowling attack also appears to be developing into an effective formation comprised of Alzarri Joseph, Jayden Seales and Romario Shepherd as the seamers, supported by Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie as the frontline spinners. The addition of the very experienced Jason Holder in the immediate future, once he has recovered fully from having tested positive for COVID, will only serve to strengthen that core.
The West Indies will again face India in the third and final ODI on July 27 at Trinidad’s Queen Park Oval which was also the venue for the first two matches in the series. The July 27 third ODI will, therefore, effectively serve as the West Indies’ final dress rehearsal before it engages the Kiwis at Barbados’ Kensington Oval next month during the middle of August in the three scheduled World Cup points-bearing matches. As much as there have been marked improvements over the first two matches against India, there are still some obvious areas of continuing concern which will need to be addressed and, hopefully, fully rectified during the forthcoming third game on July 27.
Having successfully posted 300 plus totals in their two matches played to date against India, the West Indies if batting first must aim to score over 350 in the third ODI. This will give their bowling attack something more tangible to defend.
Whether batting first or second, the West Indies’ batsmen must do a much beter job at pacing their innings. There are still too many dot balls, as many as 138 in the second India ODI, being recorded. At least a third of those if not a half, must instead be converted into ones or twos. Rotation of the strike must, therefore, be significantly improved.
Much the same can also be said of the West Indies’ bowling in terms of the number of extras still being conceded in each innings. In the second ODI against India, there were two no-balls and four wides conceded, which in effect amounted to India’s batsmen being gifted with an additional over, six extra balls towards their attempts to reach their established victory target.
During the first ODI, the tally of extra balls that were gifted to the Indians was seven, comprised of one no-ball and six wides. Just as unacceptable as the provided gifts during the second ODI.
These are some of the areas the West Indies will need to improve upon if they are to be successful against their New Zealand visitors. The Kiwis have signalled their exact intentions for the forthcoming series by naming their strongest possible squad.
If the West Indies can indeed achieve the aforementioned improvements, during the third and final ODI against India, who knows they may yet secure a morale-boosting victory just in time for the all-important New Zealand series. We will, therefore, watch with the hope that they can and will do so.
About The Writer: Guyana-born, Toronto-based, Tony McWatt is the Publisher of both the WI Wickets and Wickets/monthly online cricket magazines that are respectively targeted toward Caribbean and Canadian readers. He is also the only son of the former Guyana and West Indies wicket-keeper batsman the late Clifford “Baby Boy” McWatt.