July 12, 2013

West Indies remain consistently inconsistent

A combination of faulty technique and temperament meant they didn't make it to the final of their own tri-series

There was sunshine unabated for the Celkon Mobile Cup final at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad. That was no small thing given that in the island chain, tropical storm warnings had been in effect up to Wednesday, and that Dominica was still counting the cost of the passing of Tropical Storm Chantal. That was the somewhat ludicrous context in which the tri-nation one-day series between India, Sri Lanka and West Indies was played in the Caribbean.

Disadvantageous as the ICC programme has made scheduling matches in these parts - smack in the hurricane season - this tournament was about seizing opportunities when you had the chance. MS Dhoni and India used the good conditions in a gripping final to win this tournament of very dubious importance, coming so soon after the best teams in the world had just battled in England for the Champions Trophy.

The team that really could have done with putting its hands on the Celkon Mobile trophy was not even in the final. For the West Indies side, this was yet another opportunity lost.

On Wednesday, the same day Virat Kohli and Angelo Mathews were talking to the media about their sides' chances in the final, Dwayne Bravo was candidly owning up to another failure in 50-over cricket for West Indies.

"The performance of the team reflects on the captain," Bravo said. "I myself , whether it is due to injury or slow over rates, have some key things I need to work on as a leader." Credit to him for, as they say, calling a spade a spade. It is a refreshing aspect of his captaincy that Bravo plays it straight as he sees it. But no one will need to remind him that talk without the appropriate action to back it up is as useful as a shredded umbrella in an afternoon downpour. The tri-nation series did not give any indication of improvement in the way West Indies are playing their 50-over cricket. Again the problems were the same old ones, and plain to see.

Shaky batting that just about held up over the first two matches in Jamaica fell flat over the final leg in Trinidad. West Indies did not come close to making a serious contest of chasing the revised Duckworth-Lewis target of 274 in their third match, and lost so badly - by 102 runs - that India gained what proved a decisive bonus point. In the next make-or-break match, against Sri Lanka, the home side fell 39 runs short of their D/L target. Substantial partnerships, especially in the top order, were few.

After starting the series with a century at home at Sabina Park, the runs dried up for Chris Gayle. Marlon Samuels did not cross 15 in four matches, Kieron Pollard notched 0, 4, 0 and 0, and the captain, in the two games he played, did not reach 20. In their loss to Sri Lanka, West Indies' bowlers conceded 31 extras, including 24 wides - simply sinful in limited-overs cricket. And general waywardness and Kumar Sangakkara's classy 90 not out rallied Sri Lanka to their match-winning 219.

Bravo's absence for one match because of injury and for another because of suspension for a slow over-rate, and key spinner Sunil Narine being limited to five expensive overs in the second match against India because of a finger injury that also ruled him out of the following game against Sri Lanka, were factors incidental to this latest disappointment. The two defeats that turned a table-topping position into a bottom-of-the-table slump had all the markings of similar West Indies failures over the last year. It may be bold to say it about a squad of players where all but two - Gayle and Tino Best - are below 30 and filled with so much natural, athletic ability, but maybe this is as good as it will get for this West Indies team.

The tri-nation series did not give any indication of improvement in the way West Indies are playing their 50-over cricket

Ad nauseam, Bravo and his stand-in, Pollard, spoke during the tournament about their side's "inconsistency" which they had to put right. This was the same bugbear that confronted Darren Sammy before he was relieved of the ODI captaincy. The problem with this West Indian inconsistency is that it is constant. What could be the reason?

Well, if batsmen do not have the adequate technique for different conditions then they will be found out at some stage. In the Trinidad leg of the Celkon Cup the teams were confronted with pitches that favoured seam bowling. But against India - the best bowling unit on performance in the series - no West Indian was able to weather the early pressure or settle the innings down later on. Rising deliveries around off stump caused the downfall of Gayle, Samuels and Pollard. Generally in this series, they got out in basically the same fashion.

In contrast, Kohli produced a Man-of-the-Match performance to take his side from 210 for 5 to 311 for 7 over the last ten overs of the innings. He was able to build on the 123-run opening stand by Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. In the Sri Lanka game, Sangakkara, like Kohli, took the time to play himself in before attempting to accelerate. Then in the tournament decider, Dhoni, playing despite a not fully healed hamstring injury, marshalled his side's chase masterfully.

That kind of measured approach was not displayed often enough in the West Indian camp. And sometimes when it was - for instance by Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons in their century stand in the chase against Sri Lanka - neither player was able to see the innings through. Johnson Charles at the top of the order did some good things with 97 and 45 against India, as did Bravo against India and Sri Lanka. But West Indies' batsmen collectively did not play the conditions or the match situations well enough to put their side in the final.

Repeatedly they have been found wanting by the combination of faulty technique and temperament. Against better teams, natural ability and good team spirit will not always win the day. But that is what West Indies have been relying on for some time. The compact T20 format covers those shortcomings somewhat. Solving those problems in ODIs may be a task beyond even the ever optimistic.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

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