August 31, 2014

Question marks over West Indies' ODI batting

The sequence of recent stuttering starts in ODIs, with the middle and lower orders picking up the pieces, does not bode well
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Is it a problem that the World Cup is less than six months away and West Indies still have no head coach?

It depends on who is answering the question.

Michael Muirhead, chief executive of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), as a typically cagey administrator, is relaxed about it. "That would be considered a nice cut-off time to have a coach but we don't plan to rush and get a new one just to say we have a coach for the World Cup," he told the Barbados Nation, stressing that the sole objective would be to get the best man.

Daren Ganga, the former Test batsman, now television analyst, has the totally opposite view. "This, to me, is a prime time for us to be focused on what we're trying to achieve next February," he said on a weekly cricket television show. "The longer we wait to approve someone that has the responsibility to take us into the World Cup, it's only going to be detrimental to our team."

The issue shot to prominence once the long-serving Ottis Gibson parted company with the WICB "by mutual agreement", astonishingly on the eve of the current home series against Bangladesh. Team manager Sir Richie Richardson was hurriedly elevated to interim coach; given Muirhead's comments he could still be there come February 16 for West Indies' opening match against Ireland in Nelson, New Zealand.

Whoever is in charge between now and then - five ODIs in India and five in South Africa in November and January lead into the World Cup - the recent failures of the critical top-order batting and, as always, inconsistency are major concerns.

In the last 27 games, the 115 between Chris Gayle and Johnson Charles against Sri Lanka in last year's triangular Celkon Mobile Cup, the even 100 between Dwayne Smith and Kieran Powell in the one-off match against Ireland at Sabina Park in February 2013, and 95 between Powell and Charles against New Zealand in Hamilton last January are the only opening partnerships better than 50.

There was an all-out 98 against Pakistan and starts of 91 for 6 against India, 80 for 5 against England and, most recently and shockingly, 34 for 5 against Bangladesh. In four other matches, four or more wickets were down before 100.

The lingering back injury that eliminated Gayle's intimidating power and experience for ten consecutive ODIs, and Marlon Samuels' sudden decline were clearly factors.

As it is, Powell and Charles are no longer serious contenders. Dwayne Smith's signing for Sydney Sixers in Australia's 2014-15 Big Bash all but disqualifies him from World Cup selection. Devon Smith, Lendl Simmons, Chadwick Walton and Kirk Edwards have all been used as openers over the past year or so; none has been permanent.

Gayle's mere presence at No. 1 remains essential. At his best, Samuels was a quality batsman at No. 4. Gayle's fitness will be nervously monitored over the coming months. Samuels, dropped during the series against New Zealand in July, remains on the outside; in desperation, he may yet be recalled.

The upshot has been a succession of stuttering starts in the latest ODIs at home, repeatedly leaving the middle and lower orders to pick up the pieces. Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin, who lost his Test place for two years specifically because of a batting slump, and whose ODI average hovered around 20 for some time, has been to the fore.

Simmons, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy turned the early wreckage of 45 for 4 in the first match against England in late February into a match-winning 269 for 6. There was no coming back from 81 for 4 in the second or 80 for 5 in the third; complete embarrassment, if not the match, was saved in that last game by Ramdin's robust 128 off 109 balls with five sixes and 11 fours, a precursor of what has followed.

In the first match against Bangladesh on August 20, the innings was in ruins at 34 for 5 in the 14th over before Ramdin, once more, with 74, and Kieron Pollard, 89, put the pieces back together with a match-winning partnership of 145.

Ramdin was at it once again in the third match, in St Kitts. Entering at 12 for 2, with Gayle and Simmons out by the fifth over, he compiled an innings of 169 from 121 balls that was described by interim coach Richardson, without exaggeration, as "exceptional, one of the best ODI knocks we've seen". It featured 11 sixes and eight fours. Even on undersized Warner Park, these were Gayle-like stats. No West Indian had hoisted as many sixes in an ODI against a Full Member. It was the highest ODI score by a West Indian at home.

Ramdin lacks the physical strength of hitters like the giants Gayle and Pollard. Richardson noted that he doesn't swipe, plays "proper cricket shots", and "is able to rotate the strike". In the form he has been in, he added, Ramdin scores as quickly as anyone else.

In the circumstances, the captain, Dwayne Bravo, would do worse than to assume the responsibility of batting higher than Nos. 6 and 7, where he has mostly placed himself since taking over the ODI captaincy

His value in St Kitts was enhanced by his influence in steering Darren Bravo through early difficulties (including an outlandish stumping chance at 10). Their partnership was finally worth 258 when the younger Bravo was out for 124 (127 balls, eight sixes, seven fours); it was an overall ODI third-wicket record.

On the basis that necessity is the mother of invention, Richardson decided to move Ramdin up to No. 4, given his form and the struggles of others. India and South Africa present appreciably more intricate problems than Bangladesh. Spin and swing will test the batsmen in India, the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa.

Several permutations are available, if none particularly strong. Simmons' adaptability makes him a possibility as either Gayle's partner or at No. 4, allowing Ramdin to slip back into his more accustomed spot of No. 6. Powell would be another option as opener but he has seemingly slipped off the selectors' radar since withdrawing from the recent Caribbean Premier League (CPL).

In the circumstances, the captain, Dwayne Bravo, would do worse than to assume the responsibility of batting higher than Nos. 6 and 7, where he has mostly placed himself since taking over the ODI captaincy. He was at No. 6 for his 106 against New Zealand in Hamilton last February.

The bowling seems settled, especially if Sunil Narine chooses to make himself available. It is the batting that presents more questions than answers for Clive Lloyd and his new selection panel. The portents are not encouraging for the way ahead.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on September 5, 2014, 12:04 GMT

    west indies need batsman to score runs next tour to india going to be big struggle for them likes australia trashed to 4-0 in tests and odi team no match to india

  • dummy4fb on September 2, 2014, 2:35 GMT

    ATTENTION W.I SELECTORS:

    Open with Chanderpaul.

  • dummy4fb on September 1, 2014, 22:03 GMT

    Chanderpaul should Be in this team , dame Dwayne smith he is off to Australia to make the big bucks can't blame him , but chander can help West Indies in 50 overs and he can open and bat through the innings eg his now 183 against Bangladesh and he accelerate in the end that's what we need . If we can play Gayle and Samuels who are failing sure we can play Chanderpaul !!!!

  • dummy4fb on September 1, 2014, 20:08 GMT

    If Dwayne Smith doesnt play-the foll should be the batting order 1.)Gayle 2.)Keiran Powell/Kirk Edwards 3.)Darren Bravo 4.)Lendl Simmons 5.)Denesh Ramdin 6.)Pollard 7.)DJ Bravo 8.)Jason Holder 9.)Narine 10.)Rampaul 11.)Jerome Taylor/Kemar Roach-depending upon track....

  • JoshFromJamRock on September 1, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    The ODI team will ok. I don't see any issues as it relates to the personnel chosen. The main reason WI's batting struggles is because the top order plays a format slower than they should. Just look at it. They start their ODI matches like Test matches scoring at 2-3 RPO for the first 10 overs. The same is seen in T20s as they play the first 8-10 overs like an ODI scoring at 5-6 RPO. Even in Test cricket they tend to play on the slower side going at 1.5-2.5 RPO.

    Rotating the strike is still a major problem and this over-confidence in their "power-hitting" is not helping their case. I'm amazed at how ignorant some these players are to not want to change their approach to benefit the team. If everyone aimed to have a dot ball percentage of under 50, great improvements would be seen in the energy and alertness of the batsmen in the middle and the lower order won't need to provide that "extraordinary acceleration" every single game to make an above-par total.

  • wirus on September 1, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    jeetv27 I have long been of the opinion that Gayle should either back lower in the order in tests and ODI or stick to T20. At present WI needs his experience somewhere in the order, especially as Chanderpaul is surely playing his last couple of series. Whether no. 4 or 6 doesn't really matter, as long as he is protected from early swing and comes in when the state of the innings is fairly established, i.e. solid or in tatters. These days he seems unsure as to whether to attack or defend. As he has no technique to be able to defend for long and isn't able to run between the wickets, he should play his natural game and be aggressive without being reckless. If he gets out after getting 40 - 60 runs and the odd higher score and maybe even a century now and again, that would be job done. WI have to utilize what talent he has in the right way. He can still turn a match on its head but he needs a clear head and a clear plan of action. We need another Brathwaite to open with Brathwaite.

  • JeetVachharajani on September 1, 2014, 10:54 GMT

    I am of a very simple view when it comes to the batting line-up.And my view is on the basis of thorough analysis of every cricket match.Gayle struggles against swing and is tentative at the start.So it's very important to fit him in the 4th position in the batting line-up.And I bet it will work wonders.Openers have to be Dwayne Smith and Kieran Powell and you have got to tell Kieran Powell to play aggressively as that is what he's good at.Whenever he has played defensively,he has failed.And take the tour of Australia as an example to backup my theory.He batted aggressively and he excelled at it.So basically Gayle at 4 no matter what.

  • UsmanMuhammad on September 1, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    where is the young sensation, nicolas pooran? Bring him in for WC now

  • espncricinfomobile on September 1, 2014, 3:05 GMT

    I think we should have shiv in our Wc squad he's a class player n even if he fails don't think it would b different with others the talent of players we have to pick from

  • m0se on August 31, 2014, 21:17 GMT

    Smith and Gayle should open. Smith is a better batsmen and bowler than Sammy. Sammy is a good T20 finisher but in ODI he is just a too one-dimensional.

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