THE West Indies (WI) cricket team, once again under the leadership of coach Phil Simmons and for the first time under captain Kieron Pollard, has got off to a commendable start against Afghanistan.
In Lucknow, a city in northern India, where the series is being played, they marched to victory in the first three One Day Internationals (ODI) with consummate ease, which left one to wonder why their record against that opposition had been relatively poor in the last few years.
The ODI results of the WI since 2014 have been so awful that one questioned whether they would ever recover to win a series again. It was Afghanistan that in March 2018 gave them the near-embarrassment of not qualifying for the 2019 World Cup (WC).
In that tournament, among the associate members of the International Cricket Council, of which the body West Indies is a full member, the Caribbean side not only went under to the Asians in the preliminary round, but were also comprehensively beaten in the final between the top two teams, placing second to the Afghans.
Fortunately, two teams were to qualify, so the end result did not matter except to the pride of the once proud WI team. Some revenge was had in the actual WC in England, where WI got the better of them.
WI were beaten “out of sight” by India a few months ago, at home in the Caribbean, to the point of shame in all formats. Given that India are in the top three of the world standings in all forms of the game and we were seriously outclassed, it can pass as being understandable – WI just couldn’t cope.
Nevertheless, the men of the Caribbean have to start somewhere with the steady toil needed to climb up the ladder. And, if they can’t get past Afghanistan, as they were having problems doing in the recent past, then they may be condemned to the backwaters of associate membership of the ICC!
For the first time since 2014, WI have been successful in an ODI series, and that’s a very long time, especially for a region that mesmerised the world in limited-overs cricket. They were always considered the most dangerous foes in all cricket. Due to their flair and panache, which brought excitement wherever they played, the general opinion in world cricket corners was that Caribbean players were the most exciting and natural cricketers, who blended in and fitted snugly into the shorter version of the game.
Then the descent was rapid and although they won the Champions Trophy, in 2014, under Brian Lara, the results of ODI competitions in between were so abysmal that many fans were lost while others bowed their heads in shame.
The new combination of coach and captain have begun on a bright and positive note. It is obvious to all who have been observing and analysing that the fresh bounce in the step of the team, the optimistic and upbeat approach of the Caribbean side, are throwing a different light on things cricket. It is one small step in a long hard road to respectability and ought to be taken as such, one game at a time.
It might only be Afghanistan, but one has to start somewhere, and where else but at the bottom against a team that has been giving them endless trouble. Their goal must be to win every game, and not be complacent, having won the series. It’s cricket, and a sport, so that any team could win, but WI cannot afford that luxury right now, being at the bottom of the heap with the associates.
I enjoyed the batting of Shai Hope and Roston Chase in the first ODI, the pair accumulating a record partnership of over 200 runs for the WI in ODI cricket. The batting was intelligent and mature, and I haven’t seen that in a WI team for what seems like ages.
In the second game, while fielding, the team demonstrated the fighting spirit needed and the self-confidence to struggle through the anti-cricket conditions of huge swarms of large moths and light fog, to contain and whip their opponents.
A team playing in such unfamiliar circumstances have to bring their character to the fore in order to conquer. It might have been simpler to seek out an excuse for poor cricket in this unlikely and unfamiliar environment. But they didn’t!
For Simmons and Pollard, the new partnership, a praiseworthy start.