ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
West Indies v South Africa, World Cup 2011, Delhi
Sammy urges 'belief' from his team
Sharda Ugra in Delhi
February 23, 2011
All that is heard on the day of a big match are soundbites meant to fling challenges at the opposition and all that is seen is the strutting-around of the obviously confident. When the West Indians went into their nets at the Ferozshah Kotla practice area, they went down another route.
They gathered around in a circle, listening to their coach Otis Gibson speak. Some had arms around a team-mate's shoulder and even the imperious Chris Gayle looking deferential. After a while the circle drew closer and the heads were bowed, the voices quieter. It was as if the men in maroon had gathered together in prayer. The West Indies may be confident, given a chance one or two of them would love to provoke their opposition but what they tried to gathered together today in that circle of comrades, was something more elemental: belief.
It is the one word that crops up in all their conversations leading up to their first World Cup match where, like the Bangladeshis who now precede them in the ICC's ODI rankings, they are up against a far stronger adversary.
South Africa are favourites here, not just because they have beaten them 11 times in a row, with two consecutive 5-0 thrashings at home and away. The last time the West Indians defeated South Africa was also the last time the two teams met in India, in the semi-finals of the 2006 Champions Trophy in Jaipur. Four of the top six West Indian batsmen who chased down 258 that night will still find their way into the line-up tomorrow. It was the last ICC event played in India and the West Indies made the final.
It is why the West Indians must have belief; in terms of sheer providence, they are back in the same country where they last made a World Cup semi-final and the last ICC event final. In terms of the cricket, if this is to be a batsman's World Cup, the West Indies are as well stacked in that department as any of the other teams who are thought of as the events leading contenders.
What the West Indies seek, as captain Darren Sammy said at his pre-match media session, was not the flamboyance of their batting stars but the unit's overall consistency. If their batsmen can churn out a chunkful of runs, as opposed to breathtaking cameos, it will give their fairly unregarded bowling attack something to go at. As the light of a Delhi spring faded by 6pm, the team came onto the centre of the Kotla ground and had a brief bowling run-in on the wicket two strips away from the one for tomorrow's match. The medium pacers were managing to hit something just below the keeper's knee roll and only the quicker men, like the deceptively small, wiry Roach, were able to land the ball into the keeper's gloves near shoulder-height.
Spin is going to be every team's calling card at this tournament and it is here that the West Indies find themselves without the range that is available to their opponents tomorrow. With two left-arm spinners in Sulieman Benn and the raw Nikita Miller, Gayle's off-spin that will have to go from part-time to full throttle. To succeed, the West Indian medium pacers would do well to borrow what Sammy calls the information available to them from Dwayne Bravo's IPL experiences, Gibson's bowling nous as well as the ODI record of non-Asian bowlers in India.
Two of their own, Winston Benjamin (36 wickets at 33.5 from 23 ODIs) and Courtney Walsh (35 wickets at 28.5 in 32 ODIs), lead the pack in terms of wickets. The most impressive of the non-Asians happens to be Australian left-armer Nathan Bracken (33 wickets at 20.96 in 18 ODIs) and Allan Donald (28 wickets at 19.47 in 15 ODIs), who is now signed up as bowling coach with New Zealand.
The South Africans have been shown due respect to them being an all-round, thorough, completely professional team with small reminders from two of the West Indies' leading men. Dwayne Bravo said yesterday: "They have a bad history as far as the World Cup is concerned but they are a very good team and you can't take that away from them."
On his weekend ruminations, Gayle said the West Indies will have to: "Be on their A-game against the South Africans and once we get a sniff in, we try to capitalise on it as much as possible." He paused and went on: "Give and take, they are beatable, all teams are beatable, we just have to try and be discreet going about our business." The West Indians have been so discreet that no one is giving them a chance. Sammy's reminded everyone dreaming of an upset that, "Cricket is played on the day. It does not matter whether you are No. 1 or No. 9 [in the world], you still have to go out there and do what you have to do, in order to come out victorious."
There could be no better time or place for the West Indies to put their annus horribilis behind them than at the Ferozshah Kotla, named after an medieval fortress that is now in ruins. The team has been in touch with the men who built the Caribbean cricketing citadel. Sammy said he had got messages from the man he called "Sir Viv" and had spent time chatting to Clive Lloyd. Amidst the talk of a fraying legacy and a shrinking demographic, Sammy offered a different, wider vision. He spoke of the pressures of being the only St Lucian in the team and why handling the captaincy was one of the privileges of the job. Cricket, he reminded everyone, "is the one uniting force for the Caribbean people". He said all the fans wanted was to wake up early on Thursday morning, and seeing "that fight, that passion we had back in the 80s. We have to go out and execute properly - so that the fans who would be waking up early in the morning could be happy with our performances".