Narine key in Holder's plans for middle-overs control
Spinner Sunil Narine's return to international cricket after a 14-month hiatus could help solve West Indies' lack of penetration in the middle overs, captain Jason Holder said. Holder described Narine as the "best bowler in the world" as his team prepares for the first ODI against Sri Lanka, on Sunday.
Narine's international absence was partly due to trouble with his action. He has been reported twice for a suspect action in the past 13 months - first at last year's Champions League [he was subsequently banned from bowling in the tournament final], and again during this year's IPL.
The bowler had remodeled his action after the first report, even withdrawing from the World Cup squad to focus on remedying the flex in his elbow. Despite that he was found to have returned to his old action when delivering offbreaks, at a biomechanical test in Chennai, in April. The offbreak was subsequently cleared within weeks. Each of these reports and tests had been carried out under the auspices of the BCCI, and not the ICC.
Holder said he was "very, very happy" at Narine's return, as it would elevate his attack's menace during the middle overs. West Indies had regularly taken wickets with the new ball during the 2015 World Cup, but had then allowed batsmen to flourish after the 20th over, which in turn allowed oppositions to mount huge scores. South Africa had struck 408 against them in Sydney, before Martin Guptill's 237 not out formed the guts of New Zealand's 393 in the quarter-final.
"Once we get early wickets it makes things a little bit easier in the middle, but in the past we've let the game - in a sense - drift from us," Holder said. "We have Sunil Narine now, which makes me more comfortable. He's a wicket-taking option whenever he comes into bowl. Hopefully he can take some wickets in the middle and maybe his pressure could create other wickets around for the guys he's bowling in partnership with.
"It's hurt us in the past where we've had two set batsmen. But we have the best bowler in the world in Sunil Narine. Hopefully we can get those wickets at the end and have Narine at the forefront, leading the attack."
The ICC's new playing conditions for ODIs may also help West Indies stem the flow of runs during the final overs. As West Indies have not played since the World Cup, this will be the first series in which Holder can place five men outside the 30-yard circle during the last 10 overs of an innings.
"Having the five fielders outside the circle in the last 10 gives us a bit more leeway," Holder said. "In the past we've really struggled with having four fielders out there. Most captains have struggled with having four fielders out in the last ten. A set batsman is always difficult to contain. We had a warm-up game, but unfortunately the rain came before the match progressed to those last 10 overs. I don't think it will be a big change. It's something similar to the T20 format."
Holder's side had won that practice match against SLC Board President's XI by 43 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis method, after Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell had put on a sensational 193-run, eighth-wicket stand. Rain interrupted the match 21 overs into the hosts' chase however, hampering the preparations of West Indies' bowlers.
"The guys got a chance to spend some time in the middle in the practice match," Holder said. "Afterwards we came back and had a good blowout in terms of bowling. I would say the guys are well prepared. We also got a good net session under the lights, so the guys got a feel for the backdrop of the Premadasa Stadium. It's very important that we start the series well because it's a short series, and we'd like to build some confidence going into the T20 series as well."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando