Time to sober up
In the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival that reaches its climax next Monday and Tuesday, the drunken sailor will be one of the traditional portrayals that masqueraders will parade through the streets. The movements will be rhythmic rather than uncoordinated, but all the same, it will be a stumbling, unsteady sight.
The spectators at Sabina Park over the past week could have been excused for thinking they were watching a West Indies team under the influence. Taken all together, the two T20s and a one-off one-day international against Ireland were like watching drunken sailors on a cricket field - wobbly and unsteady.
In particular, West Indies' batting brought no comfort ahead of next month's World T20 title defence.
They were already in a T20 slump when they played the Irish in the first match at Sabina Park. Consecutive losses to Pakistan at home and New Zealand away meant that the Irish were not meeting a team especially high on the confidence that winning brings. And the six-wicket victory that William Porterfield's side achieved was as much to do with that collective lack of form as to the efforts of his side.
For Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, who were returning from injury, time in the middle would have been as important as runs quickly made. But Gayle lasted only 19 balls and Samuels 17 before Gayle failed to clear long-on and Samuels' attempt to charge slow left-armer George Dockrell ended in a stumping. Dwayne Smith, named the best batsman in the preceding Nagico Super50 regional tournament that had included Ireland, also got to double figures before he hoisted a leg-side catch in the fifth over.
West Indies were never able to steady themselves despite Lendl Simmons and Andre Russell also getting into double figures. Like Smith, they could not claim lack of match play for their lack of conversion of their starts. And the failure of anyone to take responsibility for the innings resulted in a total of 116 for 8 that was difficult for the Irishmen not to get.
That lack of responsibility was evident again in the second match. Ireland's target was less than 100 on that occasion. Smith and Samuels got to double figures again but did not pass 20, and the run-outs of Dwayne Bravo and the captain Darren Sammy further contributed to the embarrassment of 96 for 9. West Indies' discipline with the ball, and Ireland's unfamiliarity with closing out many games combined to spare Sammy more blushes.
This however, was the same Irish team that had been soundly beaten in the Super50 by both Jamaica and Guyana and by a Trinidad and Tobago B side in a warm-up prior to the T20s. The clear gulf in talent between the sides came more to the fore in Sunday's one-dayer. Still, the carelessness with which Kieran Powell gave up a knock in which he reached his second half-century in as many ODIs, and the way Bravo surrendered his wicket with the modest target well in sight must be a worry to coach Ottis Gibson. The back problems that ruled Gayle out of the last two games, which will also keep him out of the three T20s and three ODIs against England, only compound West Indies' problems at the start of the innings.
This is a team that thrives on momentum. The difference between victory at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in 2012 and another early exit was a Super Over victory against New Zealand that propelled Sammy's side to the semi-finals. So often when the mercurial West Indies play cricket, success and failure are balanced on a knife's edge.
With five defeats in their last six T20s, what the world champions need at the moment is more stability, less drama. A good showing against England is therefore badly needed if they are to have realistic expectations of advancing far in Bangladesh next month.
The Englishmen are themselves reeling from poundings in all formats by Australia. A series against equally vulnerable opponents, even in their own conditions, is thus a good opportunity for English cricket to start clearing its head. With regular ODI captain Alastair Cook sitting out this tour, T20 skipper Stuart Broad has the task of rebuilding confidence through a string of good results.
The same job confronts Sammy. The Ireland matches were his first since he left the New Zealand tour with a hamstring problem. And his Man-of-the-Match bowling effort in the second T20 that rescued the series would have been a timely boost to his confidence as a bowler. However, West Indies also need their captain to quickly find his form in the lower middle order, where he has been a match-winner.
Always under scrutiny as an allrounder, Sammy has come under pressure after his dismal tours of India and New Zealand late in 2013. The selectors have stuck with him for the T20 assignments up to Bangladesh, but it will be difficult to see him surviving in the job if that campaign is as uninspiring as the preceding tours. At a minimum, Sammy needs personally to stand out against England; but he will also need players right through the team to play with the commitment they have so badly lacked recently.
In other words, it's time for West Indies to sober up.
Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express