World Cup 2015: West Indies February 20, 2015

Lessons in hurt may help West Indies

Roger Harper remembers West Indies' one-wicket defeat to Pakistan at the 1987 World Cup

Roger Harper: "Youth was blended in with the experience of Richards, Haynes and Dujon. We were confident of getting the job done" © Getty Images

When you log in to Facebook from a new computer or a new country, you might be given a security check. The site asks you to prove you are who you say you are before granting access and one way to do that is by recognising your friends/adversaries/competitors from a set of pictures.

The World Cup put West Indies through its version of that test and they are struggling to prove they are who they say they are.

Kemar Roach just about picked out Scotland in the warm-ups but, in their first group game, a leprechaun disguising himself in a new fluorescent green outfit (minus the shamrock) confounded everyone. By the time Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons got the hang of it, West Indies were locked out.

So maybe it is good that they play a more familiar face on Saturday. They have met only one team more often than Pakistan in 50-over history (and that is Australia). More pertinently, West Indies have won 68 of those 128 matches against Pakistan and an even healthier six out of nine at World-Cups. As comforting as that is, Jason Holder and his men might be better motivated by pain and the urge to not feel it again.

Perhaps they should remember 1987. Roger Harper sure does.

Lahore. Imran Khan captaining in Imran Khan territory. The hosts were favourites. The visitors were a fading power, at least in one-day cricket. Partisan crowds. The World Cup like never before.

The match see-sawed wildly. An Imran special to start. A Viv Richards counterattack for flavour. An Abdul Qadir six for kicks. A dash of controversy from Courtney Walsh and Saleem Jaffer. West Indies had only 216 to defend, but they did it like it was 116. Pakistan needed two runs off the final ball. Nails were torn off, nerves jangled but the noise never ceased.

Two taken. A classic. And a heartbreak. Twenty-eight years later, Harper still retains that feeling of disappointment.

"The team had just come back in the dressing room," he said. "Some things were shared about the importance of the match and what it meant to our chances of progressing in the tournament. It was a World Cup and we had fought our way back into a winning position and then just fell short."

As it turned out, they could have made the semi-finals with one more victory; instead, England and Pakistan progressed from Group B.

"We felt that we had a competitive total, a defendable total. And it would have been had we taken our chances"
Roger Harper

It might be jarring to inspect those wounds, but West Indies' class of 2015 does mirror their seniors. Like Sunil Narine, Malcolm Marshall had pulled out of the tournament. Michael Holding and Joel Garner had run their last. It was a new side; a young side seeking to establish their identity and keep up with their history. The 15 men in Christchurch right now preparing to face Pakistan again might empathise with that.

"We weren't as good as we used to be," Harper said. "But at the same time we had guys who had been around for a couple of years or so. I still thought we had enough talent. Youth was blended in with the experience of Richards, [Desmond] Haynes and [Jeffrey] Dujon. We were confident of getting the job done."

Pakistan were not lacking talent, either, all the way down to No. 7 Saleem Yousuf. It didn't matter that he was facing Walsh with his tail up. It didn't matter that he had walked in with his side 107 runs off their target. It didn't matter that until then he had worn an ODI average of 14.45 with no fifties. It is understandable that West Indies felt "more in control", according to Harper, but Yousuf's 49-ball 56 began creating problems. They were compounded by a deafening home crowd and the noise only escalated when he was dropped.

"We were looking to get close to 250. Though we fell short, we still felt that we had a competitive total; a defendable total," Harper said. "And it would have been had we taken our chances. Yousuf was dropped at, I think it was long-on, off Walsh in the 48th over or something like that and it took Qadir in the end to get them through."

West Indies had squeezed out the ninth wicket in the penultimate over and 14 runs were still needed. Then Qadir defied his position at No. 9 by belting Walsh over the long-off boundary midway through the final over. Blood pumping, breath heaving, field closing in on him, Qadir sliced the final ball of the chase - an attempted yorker - to third man and raised his bat in glory even as he was completing that second run.

A half-century for a helmet-less Phil Simmons on debut gained a bitter aftertaste; the way he had milked Qadir and took on Imran and Wasim Akram to very nearly match Richards' strike rate became consolatory praise. Walsh received more press for choosing not to run out a rapidly backing-up Jaffer at the non-striker's end as he pulled out from bowling the last ball, than for the spell that returned West Indies' hopes. Four crucial wickets that cut through the middle order and nearly turned the game around. Nearly.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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