West Indies' ball-beaters are too unreliable
Kieron Pollard is accustomed to his big blows winning games, not losing them. But yesterday was an ironic exception.
His miscued swing off the very first ball of a new spell from Ryan McLaren proved to be the very last of the match. The problem was that it resulted in a catch to Dale Steyn that cost West Indies a place in the Champions Trophy semi-finals. Dwayne Bravo's first official assignment as captain had ended in frustration that could have been avoided.
The vagaries of the Duckworth-Lewis of calculation in rain-affected matches meant that by that first ball of the 27th over, West Indies, not South Africa, would have been home and dry in the rain had a wicket not fallen at that stage. Instead, Pollard's wild shot and Steyn's catch produced a rare D/L tie.
West Indies' eight-wicket loss to India with nearly a full ten overs to spare had come back to hurt Dwayne Bravo's side. Net run rate was the architect of their exit.
Naturally, Bravo pointed to the role the rain played in his side's failure to reach the knockout stage. "We were aware of the weather," he said. "It is difficult to judge when rain will come. When we thought rain would come, we stepped it up. We played hard today. The way we played we deserved to finish with a better result, but it is out of our control."
In the team post-mortem of the match and tournament though, more deep-lying reasons for West Indies' short campaign should become evident. For one thing, the team's obvious strength on paper - its batting - once more proves to be its undoing. As devastating a team of ball-beaters as the West Indies batsmen are, they are also unreliable. Once more that lack of consistent production when it mattered cost the team dearly.
In a tournament where sides often need to make 300 to really feel they have a winning chance, Bravo's men managed just 233 for 9 in the one match they needed to set a target, against the in-form Indians. The Indian batsmen got those runs with so many overs to spare that West Indies' two-wicket win against Pakistan was neutralised.
Yet again, the problems began at the very top. While their counterparts from India and South Africa produced opening stands of 101 and 80 respectively to lay solid foundations for their sides, West Indies openers Chris Gayle and Johnson Charles managed 25 against India and 35 against South Africa. In the opening game against Pakistan, the two managed just 11.
Gayle was his usual devastating self in the IPL that had just ended. But his output for West Indies since last year's World Twenty20 triumph has not been prolific. In this series, he always got starts -- 39 against Pakistan, 21 against India and 36 against South Africa. But Gayle never batted beyond the 17th over in any match. And while Charles made a good 60 against India, he did not carry on in the way that Shikhar Dhawan has done to great effect.
Gayle's success or failure was always going to be a key to how West Indies would fare. Marlon Samuels, whose year has been disrupted by injury, could not find the rhythm of last year at the World Twenty20, Ramnaresh Sarwan continued to struggle since returning to international cricket, and the captain, his younger brother Darren and Pollard were all guilty of not finishing the job when they got going.
The one who did his reputation no harm was Darren Sammy. Relieved of the one-day leadership starting with this tournament, and left out of the opening match, he again showed what good temperament he has with a dashing 56 that revived a flagging innings against India. The controversy surrounding wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin and his two-match ban for his claimed non-catch was a distraction the team could have done without. But his absence at least allowed Sammy to show he is not surplus to requirements in this format.
Batsman-friendly pitches have proved a challenge for all bowlers, but the lack of early wickets outside of Kemar Roach's opening burst against Pakistan that took out Imran Farhat, Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq did not help West Indies' cause.
Skipper Bravo was good with the ball and aggressive and pro-active in the field. However, such enterprise will come to nought in the long run until West Indies get serious with their batting. More of the line-up must take responsibility for the innings. They simply must.
Friday's outcome could have been different, for instance, had Samuels not premeditated an uncharacteristic swipe at Steyn off the second ball of the 24th over. With 48 to his name, he was accelerating beautifully, effortlessly. His wicket in hand was more vital than a boundary just then. And how Pollard must wish he could get back the first ball of over 27.
Good judgement went out the window in two key moments. Too often West Indies suffer for such self-inflicted wounds, discretion suffering for flamboyance.
Bravo was left looking at the rain and with fleeting hope at the umpires. His first assignment had come to a rather sloppy end. But if his stint in the captaincy is to really make a difference, Bravo may have to tweak West Indies' style.
For best results, the Gangnam dancers may have to become blue-collar workers. Just a bit.
Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express