By Tony McWatt
Since the start of this year, the West Indies team has so far played three T20I Series in preparation for its participation in the 2022 ICC T20 World Cup to be held in Australia commencing this coming October. The West Indies won the first two of those three series, narrowly defeating England 3-2 before achieving a far more convincing 2-0 win in their three-match series against Bangladesh, the first encounter of which had to be abandoned because of rain.
Those successive series victories had seemed to indicate that the West Indies 2022 World Cup preparations were firmly on track and that the team was in a healthy state of readiness for its participation in the marquee ICC tournament. Losses to India by significantly large margins in the July 6 & 7 Florida-hosted final two T20I’s of the recently held five-match series, which left the West Indies victims of an overall 1-4 result at its conclusion, have now, however, presented a very harsh reality check on the exact status of the West Indies 2022 T20 World Cup readiness. India won the July 6th fourth T20I by 59 runs before asserting its dominance even further in winning the fifth on the following day by exactly 100 runs.
The humiliating nature of those two massive defeats would suggest that far from being World Cup ready the West Indies team is instead now seriously adrift of where it should be in terms of its preparation for the tournament. Rather than moving into high gear operational efficiency both the team’s batting and bowling engines appear to be suffering from chronic sputtering maladies. As evidenced by some of the mind-boggling decisions that were made far too often during the India series, all indications also suggest that those in command control of steering the West Indies team ship towards the targeted destination of credible and competitive performances at the forthcoming World Cup now also seem to be absolutely clueless as to how to do so.
The West Indies T20I performances against India, particularly in the final two Florida-hosted matches, were characterized by embarrassingly inept batting, inconsistent bowling and coaching staff decision-making that was again at times beyond comprehension. Perhaps the most poignant example of the West Indies Phil Simmons-led coaching cadre’s muddled thinking was the decision to send the primarily bowling all-rounder Jason Holder to bat first-down at number three in the opening match of the series.
Not having learnt any of the palpably provided lessons from Holder’s demonstrated failure in falling for a fourth ball duck, the West Indies team management went further in the fifth and final encounter sending him even higher to open the innings. To the surprise of absolutely no one except perhaps Simmons et al, Holder’s predictable failure was even greater. His eventual duck required just three balls instead of the four he had faced during the first T20.
Another of the many incomprehensible decisions made by the West Indies Camp’s “Think Tank,” was that of changing the opening batting combination twice during the Series. The West Indies started the five-match series by using a Kyle Mayers and Shai Hope opening combination in the first T20I. When that experiment failed with Hope falling without scoring off the very first ball he faced, Brandon King was promoted to replace him at the top of the order for the second T20I.
The Mayers-King opening combination was continued in the second, third and fourth matches. They produced reasonably good starts of 46 and 57 in the first two of those three matches before falling short of anticipated success with a stand of only 18 in the third. Instead of allowing Mayers and King the opportunity to fully redeem themselves as opening partners in the fifth and final T20I, their combination was instead completely abandoned, replaced as it was by that of Jason Holder and Shamarh Brooks.
With the availability status of West Indies’ primary T20 opener Evin Lewis continuing to be largely unknown, it now appears to be almost a certainty that Mayers and King will be the chosen opening batsmen combination during the World Cup. All the more reason why, with only the three forthcoming T20I matches against the visiting Kiwis left to be played before the team’s World Cup departure, they should have been given the additional opportunity to crystalize their partnership and understanding of each other in the fifth T20 against India.
The demonstrated overall ineptness of the West Indies batsmen throughout the series was painfully illustrated by their overall averages at its conclusion and particularly by comparison to those of the Indians. There were five Indian batsmen with 30+ averages at the end of the Series, Sanju Samson (45.00), Rishabh Pant (38.33), Rohit Sharma (36.00), Deepak Hooda (34.50) and Suryakumar Yadav (33.75).
By comparison, only one West Indian batsman, Brandon King (33.66), posted a 30+ average. Below King, Kyle Mayers (27.50), Shimron Hetmeyer (23.00) and Devon Thomas (21.00) each had averages in the 20+ range. The West Indies would have been particularly disappointed by the series returns of captain Nicholas Pooran. Still arguably one of T20 cricket’s most talented batsmen, Pooran’s series returns were a highly disappointing 81 runs scored from 5 innings batted at a meagre average of 16.20.
At this late stage, the West Indies also appear to be still uncertain as to what their preferred batting order should be. In addition to the aforementioned fluctuations in the opening batting combinations, there was also a constant chopping and changing of the middle-order throughout the series. Shimron Hetmeyer’s crease appearances were constantly being changed. He was even at times held back in the order to serve as a “finisher”.
As undoubtedly the West Indies’ very best batsmen, Hetmeyer and skipper Pooran should be appearing at numbers three and four respectively in the batting order. The number five spot also continues to be an issue. As the designated incumbent vice captain Rovman Powell’s contributions of late have been decidedly impoverished. Powell’s five crease appearances during the India Series, characterized as they were by only two 20+ scores, produced a mere 75 runs in total at a decidedly bingoesque average of 15.00.
Beyond the number five batting position and into the crucial lower order spots of six, seven and eight the West Indies are still to yet identify a consistently productive power-hitter in the mould of an Andre Russell or Carlos Brathwaite. Neither Romario Shepherd nor Odean Smith who have seemingly been identified to fulfil that role has been consistently productive to any satisfying degree in their attempts to do so thus far.
The West Indies’ bowling during the series was equally as disappointing. After his outstanding record-breaking performance of taking 6/17 in the second T20I, Obed McCoy only managed to capture three additional victims in the remaining matches to end with a series tally of 9 wickets at an average of 19.33. Far more importantly, given his now anticipated World Cup role as the West Indies’ death bowler for their opponents’ final overs, McCoy’s series economy rate of 9.66 was unacceptably high. So too were those of Keemo Paul 12.00 (1/48-4 overs), Odean Smith 9.40 (3/94-10 overs), Jason Holder 9.32 (5/174-18/4) and Alzarri Joseph 8.95 (5/123-16).
The West Indies will be overly pleased, however, by the performance of Akeal Hosein. The young Trinidad-born left-arm spinner had yet another outstanding series in maroon colours. Hosein produced series returns of 4/92-16 overs, bowled at an enviable economy rate of 5.75.
Dominic Drakes, 2/88-11 overs and Haydn Walsh 1/33-4 overs, were the other front-line bowlers used by the West Indies during the five-match Series. Drakes’ economy rate was 8.00 while Walsh’s was slightly more expensive at 8.25
The West Indies T20I squad will be heading to Jamaica to oppose the visiting New Zealanders in a three-match series with matches to be played at Sabina Park on August 10, 12 and 14. As previously indicated the three forthcoming T20I’s against the Kiwis will be the very last that the West Indies will play before its ICC 2022 World Cup campaign commences. If the evidence provided by their batting, bowling and management thinking during the recently concluded India Series is anything to go by, there is now a mountain of work still left to be done to bring their World Cup participation readiness to merely some meaningful state of order.
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.