West Indies ponder over 'good headache' in batting order
The forced absence of Chris Gayle from the batting crease against Sri Lanka - after he spent too much time off the field nursing a hamstring niggle to bat in his usual position - has given West Indies a batting-order puzzle to solve ahead of Friday's clash against South Africa in Nagpur. Andre Fletcher, who had been expected to bat in the middle order, opened in Gayle's stead in Bangalore and scored an unbeaten 64-ball 84 to steer West Indies to a comfortable win.
With Gayle set to take his usual place at the top of the order - from where he smashed an unbeaten 48-ball 100 in a chase of 183 against England - West Indies will ponder whether to partner him with Fletcher or his usual opening partner Johnson Charles. Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, said it was a "good headache" to have.
"The good thing is that Gayle is fit," Sammy said. "We knew how well Fletcher was batting coming into the tournament. Charles hasn't got a score yet but we know how well he can bat. It's a good headache to have.
"Whether we let Fletcher or Charles open the batting with Chris, you'll know tomorrow. The good thing is Chris is playing really well. I believe Charles will have his turn to score runs at the top of the order as well. We have a fair idea as to who will open the batting tomorrow."
Fletcher's innings in Bangalore, Sammy said, showed the depth of match-winning talent in the West Indies squad.
"I said at the start of the tournament we have 15 match-winners," he said. "Yes, Chris is our biggest player, but there's no pressure on him to perform. We, as a group, know what we have. As Fletcher showed, even he can win matches. We know have 15 match-winners in our dressing room."
Proof of this, Sammy said, was the fact that West Indies have won their first two matches despite the absence of key T20 stars such as Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Lendl Simmons from their squad, and without too much asked of lower-order hitters such as himself, Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite.
"I tell people, when I look at my team, I always have a smile on my face," Sammy said. "Yes, we have missed three key players who are seasoned T20 players for us. But the guys who have replaced them are equally capable.
"We have won two games batting second and you are yet to see a full innings from Russell, myself, Carlos. The world has not yet seen Carlos in T20 and when that time comes, we all are ready and eager to go out and bat and perform for the team."
Sammy dismissed suggestions that South Africa - who have won only one of their first two matches as opposed to West Indies' two out of two - would be more desperate for a win on Friday.
"I know we are desperate to win," he said. "It's a position that we are very happy to be in. We win this game and we qualify for the semis for sure, so it's a must-win game for us tomorrow. To us, it's a very important match. We have six steps to the Cup. We have taken two. Tomorrow it's about taking one more step towards our goal. That step is South Africa."
Referencing his side's 2-1 T20 series win in South Africa last year, Sammy said West Indies had a "fair idea" of how to play them. But a meeting with South Africa will also pit his side against AB de Villiers, who, in the space of less than two months in early 2015, smashed West Indies' bowling for the fastest century, and then the fastest 150, in ODIs. Sammy said his side was wary of South Africa's batting threat as a whole, and not just about de Villiers' potential impact.
"A line-up of Quinton [de Kock], [Hashim] Amla, Faf [du Plessis], AB, [David] Miller. These are all great players," Sammy said. "Yes, we have got into the rough end of the stick from AB on a lot of occasions. He is a world-class player but T20 is played on a day when every innings starts fresh. We have our plans for him and we also have some very dangerous guys in our team.
"At the end of the day, we just have to score one more run than them and we come out victorious. I hope it's an exciting match. Games with West Indies tend to be exciting, so hopefully we can keep entertaining the way we have been since the inception of T20 and at the end of the day, get a place in the semi-finals."
So far, West Indies have played both their matches in the batting-friendly environs of Mumbai and Bangalore. The pitch in Nagpur - though not the same square-turning strip that hosted the low-scoring, India-New Zealand game - is expected to provide a vastly different challenge. Sammy said his bowling attack would be up to the task.
"The pitch that we are going to play on has been covered yesterday and today. Spoke to the groundsman and he gave us a little bit of information about what to expect. Yes, we respect the opposition and plan for them, but we are more focused on what the West Indies T20 team could do.
"I've said it many times, once we do what we do well, we are a force to reckon with. We are very destructive. We've doing just the basic things well. Someone at the top of the order has carried their bat throughout.
"We've also being bowling well. On a pitch in Mumbai where the average score on that day [against England] was probably 200, we restricted the team to 180. In Bangalore, too, we bowled really well. We've been doing the basics right and in T20 it's about entertaining and keeping it simple. We have really gelled well as a team. We are aiming to do well against South Africa."