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Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket

The consistently inconsistent world champions

Exasperating yet thrilling, West Indies enter the World Twenty20 as the title holders but not as the favourites

Tony Cozier

March 16, 2014

Comments: 31 | Text size: A | A

Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, the two centurions, West Indies v New Zealand, 2nd ODI, Kingston, July 7, 2012
The West Indies line-up is filled with six-hitters © WICB

Inevitably, the shorter the game, the more frenzied the tempo, the more exciting the action, the more unpredictable the outcome. In less than a decade, such elements have transformed T20 into the most popular of cricket's three formats. It has spawned world championships every two years since the first in 2007 and lucrative domestic tournaments just about everywhere.

It has proved ideal for the West Indies of the 21st century, for there is no more erratic, thrilling or exasperating side. Over the coming fortnight, in the fifth tournament, in Bangladesh, they defend the world title they won in Sri Lanka just over a year and a half ago.

In their finishing build-up, they clinched a brief series against England in Barbados that ended on Thursday, winning the first two matches before falling just five runs short in the last after tinkering with the XI.

At No. 6 in the ICC rankings to England's No. 8, the result was not surprising; nor are Caribbean conditions at Kensington Oval likely to resemble those at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, where they are based for the Super 10 matches against India, Australia, Pakistan and opponents from the qualifying round.

Yet both captain Darren Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson spoke afterwards of the significance of the England series. For Sammy, the team was carrying "good momentum" to Bangladesh after a "complete team effort" against England. Gibson was even more upbeat than his captain. "We know it's going to be a tough job to retain the trophy but the team is in a good place at the moment," he said as he headed off for Dhaka with his charges 24 hours after the final England match. "We know what it takes to win the tournament. We just need to look after the basics of the game that must be applied but we're more than capable of retaining it."

It would have been misplaced confidence a month earlier after a humbling six-wicket loss to Ireland at Kingston's Sabina Park was their fifth in successive T20Is. Even if Sammy, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels were all missing from the two in New Zealand in January through injury, the sequence was worrying.

The concern has eased. Twelve of the victorious squad of the class of 2012 return as does Gibson, who is adamant that such experience is crucial. As county cricket once did for several top Test players, the IPL and other such domestic tournaments have enabled the latest generation to hone skills necessary for the artificiality of such an abbreviated format.

Gayle, the left-handed strongman, is widely recognised as the game's most intimidating hitter. Sunil Narine, the finger-flicking spinner of confusing variations, is ranked the No. 1 T20 bowler by the ICC; his 3.4-0-9-3 spell was a decisive factor victory in the final in 2012, backing up Marlon Samuels' remarkable 78 from 56 balls, with six disappearing sixes. Gayle has overcome the hamstring and back problems that kept him inactive for three months after pulling out of the Indian tour in late November. Samuels is fit again after wrist surgery, Sammy's hamstring strain has recovered.

Now 34, Gayle has been constant throughout the previous World Twenty20s since belting 117 off 57 balls, with ten sixes, against South Africa in the match that launched the whole thing in Johannesburg in 2007. He is nearing the end of his career but he remains key at the top of the order. It is such striking power, not Gayle's alone, that makes West Indies so potentially dangerous. Even without the formidable Kieron Pollard, an irreplaceable absentee whose knee problems persist, six-hitting is an overall speciality. Gayle, Samuels, Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith have hoisted 161 in 187 innings between them.

Sammy identified the game plan as maximising the Powerplay (the first six overs) and finishing strong. Pretty obvious but not easily accomplished.

In the series against England, they plundered 58 and 56 from the first six. In the first match, Samuels and Andre Russell took 55 from the last five. In the second, Sammy, as clean a hitter as anyone, slammed 30 off nine balls to secure the win. When Gayle rested for the last match, West Indies were 28 for 3 in the fifth over and 67 for 5 after the 11th; Lendl Simmons, in-form wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin and Sammy took 93 off the last nine to carry the result down to the last ball.

While the total can't be reliant on Gayle alone, Narine also needs support with the ball.

As Bangladesh is the location for the World Twenty20, the surprise is that he and the deceptive leggie Samuel Badree, a new-ball specialist and a crucial cog in the 2012 success, are the only specialist spinners. Samuels counts as a third while trundling his offbreaks.

The selectors have opted instead for two left-arm Jamaicans of contrasting methods. Sheldon Cottrell, is a barrel-chested one-time soldier who deals in speed; Krishmar Santokie is a round-arm medium-pacer whose direct, full-length control and change of pace have pigeon-holed him as a T20 bowler (he was in the West Indies Under-15 team in England in 2000, is now 29 but has never had a first-class match). Three quarters of Santokie's 89 wickets in T20 matches (a mere five internationals) are either bowled or lbw and his economy rate is under six an over. He has been signed up by the Mumbai Indians for the 2014 IPL and could well be the surprise packet of the tournament.

With the Bangladesh tournament in mind, it is instructive to follow their path to their eventual triumph in 2012. It was typically bumpy. On the way, they fell in the first round to Australia by 17 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis method, were overwhelmed by Sri Lanka by nine wickets at the Super Eight stage, and would have been eliminated two days later had substitute Dwayne Smith's radar been an inch off target with his throw from the deep that ran out Doug Bracewell with scores tied. It threw them the lifeline of the eliminator over; they seized it gratefully.

They suddenly became unstoppable. In the semi-final, they crushed their previous conquerors, Australia, by 74 runs; two days later Chris Gayle was leading them in celebration of their first global championship since the 2004 Champions Trophy with the elaborate "Gangnam Style" dance, incongruously introducing a Korean pop hit into cricket folklore.

Samuels' brilliance hauled them out of the hole of 32 for 2 after ten overs. Their intensity in the field and Narine's magic made a barely serviceable total of 137 for 6 appear monstrous as a dumbstruck crowd of 30,000 at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium watched their team go under by 36 runs.

In the interim, the West Indies have contested 13 T20s; their inconsistency has remained consistent. They won four in succession after Colombo, then lost five straight leading into the series against England. It explains why the reigning champions can either go out in the first round in Bangladesh or brush aside everyone in their way to retaining the trophy. Any other way, they just wouldn't be the West Indies the cricket world has come to know and love.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

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Posted by rayinto on (March 21, 2014, 12:31 GMT)

Santokie & Badre are our thrump cards!

Posted by Jimmyvida on (March 20, 2014, 18:08 GMT)

Very, very good bunch even without Pollard. But their batting has to come through every time to make things happen for them. However, I believe NZ has the best team to win this. Forget about the warm up games. For WI bowling Badree, Santokee, Narine are the key on wickets here.

Posted by Ghost-117-16 on (March 19, 2014, 19:27 GMT)

Good to see someone else getting the "consistently inconsistent" tag for once... -signed: "Pak Fan"

Posted by spinkingKK on (March 18, 2014, 7:02 GMT)

Pollard will be missed badly. But, the raise of Sammy has kind of compensated for it. I think West Indies are still the favorite to win this tourney. They are too strong. Main challenges come from the Aussies, Kiwis and the Indians. The tough task is to beat Australia or India to the semifinal spot. After that, I think they should be right to win the tourney again.

Posted by   on (March 18, 2014, 1:11 GMT)

@izzidole : The Windies won the first two World Cups - so their last win was in the WC was 1979, and since then they won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2004. Not saying the team isn't in a bad state but give them a sliver of credit, at least.

Posted by indianzen on (March 18, 2014, 0:29 GMT)

I favor Asian teams or Aussies could win the cup... Asian team just because they can play in slow pitches and Australia as they have played enough Asian pitches and IPL...

Posted by NCassie on (March 17, 2014, 22:39 GMT)

West Indies best Eleven (11) & Batting order should be; Gayle, Smith, Samuels, Simmons, Bravo, Ramdin, Sammy, Russell, Badree, Sunil and Santokie.

Posted by android_user on (March 17, 2014, 22:31 GMT)

Andre Russell is perfectly capable of doing what Pollard does.he just has placed to go on terms of all round ability and is a brilliant fielder. give him time and Fletcher is better than Charles

Posted by NCassie on (March 17, 2014, 22:23 GMT)

The West Windies have a tough group and would really have to keep the score board ticking and don't just rely on fours and sixes...Ramdin and Sammy will be key to bat in the last 5 overs once they get in with enough balls to finish the innings with a bang...Go Windies!!!

Posted by   on (March 17, 2014, 20:07 GMT)

Badree and Narine = Must play ever match Santokie and Rampaul = Best bowling pair....Cottrell needs more experience Gayle,Smith,Samuels,Simmons,Ramdin,Bravo,Sammy U got to send Ramdin out before Bravo if there is an early collapse of wickets

Posted by   on (March 17, 2014, 19:04 GMT)

C,mon Tony Cozier, it's exciting cricket to watch but this format represents the game at the lowest level. We were champions of slogging crcicket! Where is your sense of history?

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (March 17, 2014, 17:39 GMT)

Nice article Tony Cozier. Also I think you are one of cricket's best cricket commentators on radio and TV.

Posted by remsum7 on (March 17, 2014, 14:10 GMT)

Cannot wait to see Santokie in action!!! I really think the Selectors should include Chris Barnwell into their line up. I think Westindies have a good chance of Keeping there title this year.

Suggest squad: Chris Gayle, Dwyane Smith, Lendle Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Dwyane Bravo, Chris Barnwell/Andre Russell, Denesh Ramdin,Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine, Krishmar Santokie and Ravi Rampaul/Jason Holder/Sheldon Cottrell.

Posted by Siva_Bala75 on (March 17, 2014, 3:11 GMT)

Go with 4 bats + 2 bowlers + 5 all rounders. Two bowlers: Badree and Suni Narine. All rounders: Sammy, Bravo, Russel, Samuels and Simmons. Pure bats: Gayle, Johnson Charles, Ramdin, Fletcher. No point in taking pure fast bowlers- the conditions just don't justify. This team can score well and quick. good chance of retaining the title too.

Posted by izzidole on (March 17, 2014, 1:32 GMT)

Since the Windies lost to minnows Kenya in the ODI World Cup in India in 1996 they have gradually been on the decline ever since and have been unable to extricate themselves from this dilemma. Though they are the current holders of the T20 World Cup having beaten Sri Lanka in 2011 they are currently placed 6th in the world T20 cricket rankings. That's the only major tournament they have won since their ODI World Cup victory in the inaugural World Cup in 1975. Currently their record in test cricket as well as in ODI's is even less impressive having being placed 8th in both formats among the 10 test cricket playing countries in the world. I just cannot understand the reason why the standard of West Indies cricket has been left to decline for so long since their glory days in the 60's, 70's and 80's? Though they currently have some outstanding cricketers like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels all their natural talent seems to have dried up altogether.

Posted by   on (March 16, 2014, 23:55 GMT)

Yeah I think win candor it . The only concern is Pakistan

Posted by MinusZero on (March 16, 2014, 23:26 GMT)

I would love NZ to win. Its about time isnt it

Posted by wirus on (March 16, 2014, 16:59 GMT)

And for once Tony Cozier is not right. Like someone else said in an earlier post the world does NOT love this inconsistent WI team. In tests and ODIs they have become a laughing stock and an object of pity. In T20 there was some respect due when they won the title but now have slipped to 6th in the rankings after poor performances. They are becoming in T20 what they are in the other formats and respect is fast dwindling. This form of cricket turns on one brilliant performance by someone, therefore it is important to make sure that all 15 members of your squad have that x factor and ability to do that something special to turn a match. That cannot be said for at least 4 or 5 of the 15 in WI squad but who would have replaced them? Are there x factor players out there that have been overlooked? At any rate the squad is already in Bang and all we can hope is for some consistency and for that player or 2 to stand up and play out of their skins in 7 or 8 matches.

Posted by   on (March 16, 2014, 16:22 GMT)

I agree that Andre Russel is a no hoper on this team. His bowling is abysmal, and his fielding cannot be described as always sharp, either. Seen him completely bamboozled in the IPL by slow bowling, the likes of which will be in his face all competition long.Also, Fletcher gets another free trip to Bangladesh, as he continues to benefit from endorsement from Gayle many years ago. Jerome Taylor would have been a better addition to the team, and Johnson Charles (if he is fit)...

Posted by tutorial on (March 16, 2014, 16:01 GMT)

The inconsistently inconsistent world champions is correct....Smith,Russell should not be in the team, Smith 12 man, Sammy should bat at the # 4 spot because we can't depend on his bowling, also no more captaincy for him, give it to Ramdin even better get Sarwan in contract and let him captain the team after all he has the experience,Sammy is not a quick thinker and this format call for quick thinking Sarwan and Ramdin has that....and please people i know all about Sammy,so every stat or whatever you can come up with i have an answer for it so lets not get into it.

Posted by   on (March 16, 2014, 14:47 GMT)

West Indies will surely win this latest edition of junk food cricket! #NotForMeBeeky

Posted by Frayninho21 on (March 16, 2014, 9:13 GMT)

West Indies have the misfortune to be in the harder of the two groups. I think they will have their work cut out to finish above Pakistan and Australia and qualify for the semis.

Posted by android_user on (March 16, 2014, 8:50 GMT)

West Indian cricket took a body blow when helmets were introduced and use of the bouncer restricted. Lara's captaincy was so mystical as to approach Buddhist monasticism. The Windies scaled the Everest of cricket, after which there was nowhere else to go. It was a golden age, and it is unlikely that any team will come close to emulating them. Like the Beatles and music.

Posted by riverlime on (March 16, 2014, 8:10 GMT)

Santokie will surprise a lot of batsmen. And Jade Valley is right....sammy should use Smith as a change-up bowler, between Rampaul and Narine. The opposition batsmen will try to hit him, fearing Narine to come, so fielders will be needed in the deep.

Posted by wirus on (March 16, 2014, 8:08 GMT)

T20 being what it is means that WI have a chance like all other teams but it's going to take a combination of extraordinary performance on their part and a bad day for the opposing team for them to win this. No team can go into a tournament like this with weaknesses and WI have a few weak links for sure. One is Russell. He is one of the worst bowlers in world T20 and his batting is literally hit or miss. Rampaul has lost his edge and Cotterel is not ready for this, for all his saluting. There is a worry tendency for the experienced bowlers to not be able to recover from being attacked by batsmen, as was the case with Bravo in the last match vs Eng. Finally, Sammy (a most likeable man) seems unable or unwilling to be innovative in his field placing and bowling options to put batsmen off and make them temporarily lose concentration. He also seems unable to refrain from motivating the opposition by making making inflammatory statements. We wish them well. The heart says maybe; the head...

Posted by android_user on (March 16, 2014, 7:53 GMT)

it's pakistan who will take the trophy!!

Posted by HawksEyeFocused on (March 16, 2014, 6:51 GMT)

The only team that can pose danger and would be hard to defeat is Pakistan. A team that has got the best bowlers and hard hitters. The only thing they need to word hard is their fielding. If they take catches and save runs, I don't think anyone can stop them from taking the trophy!!!

Posted by Insightful2013 on (March 16, 2014, 6:17 GMT)

I really don't think the world loves the inconsistency, Mr. Cozier. I think the word might be frustrated. After such a long period of ascendancy, the world had expectations, which are repeatedly dashed. It's like football where a good strategic game, despite a nil-nil scoreline, could be considered highly entertaining.But we frequently cannot even get that from the Windies, anymore. What's most interesting, is, why such hugely respected ex players, have such little say in the Windies admin and set up.The world knows and deeply respects, previous Windies greats. Why aren't they involved or are they simply innocuous?

Posted by dunger.bob on (March 16, 2014, 5:50 GMT)

Consistency is always good because it's hard to make plans without it. If your bowlers consistently bowl one side of the wicket you can set a field, if they don't, you can't. If you can consistently score 50-60 in the first 6 overs for not too many wickets you can see off a particular bowler that troubles you. On the other hand, if you're always 20-40 after 6, or you always seem to be 5-6 wkts down, you have to scramble the rest of the way. So, it's good to be consistent.

The only thing is, I think it's going to take some brilliance to get to the semi's as well. Especially in the group the WI are in. India, Pak, Aus. .. You've got to be kidding. That's the group from hell. And only 2 can qualify. I think to get through that you need to be consistent AND brilliant both at the same time. .. anyway, good luck Windies. Just not too much if it comes down to you or my mob lol.

Posted by   on (March 16, 2014, 3:48 GMT)

I think we have a decent squad, but I would have opted for Darren Bravo instead of Andre Fletcher. The only way that selection makes sense is if they wanted Darren to concentrate more on tests and odis in the short term, since we may have to play such matches in preparation for world cup 2015. Anyway, all the best to West Indies team. My eleven would be : Gayle, Smith, Samuels, Bravo, Russell, Ramdin, Sammy(c), Narine, Santokie, Rampaul, Badree. Sammy should not be afraid to use Smith as a bowler if necessary.

Posted by JoshFromJamRock on (March 16, 2014, 3:21 GMT)

Lets just hope they're consistent. The reason why Australia is strongly touted to win is that they're discipline. Each and everyone in the team takes their place seriously and have a never-say-die attitude to every match they play. Discipline and Talent is a powerful combination. You would definitely bet on at least four of their big hitting men (Warner, Finch, Watson, Hodge, Maxwell, White, Faulkner and Bailey) performing in a game.

West Indies one the other hand have players who are either talented or disciplined. Never both. Those who are disciplined as constantly nagged about being out of place because their stats aren't top class but at least they constantly try knowing their place is always on the line. Those who are talented know it and only perform just enough to stay in the XI and are given the long because of one or two performances that showed that talent.

The fall of the West Indies was never due to lack of replacements but rather a fall in standards of discipline.

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