Cricket has an unhealthy obsession with training. Of course, you need to come to the ground once before the match to look at the pitch, get the feel of it, but teams rightly take the day before the match easy. Fast bowlers usually give training a miss the day before. Main batsmen are left to their devices. If the coach feels someone needs work, that particular player is summoned. So it should not come as a big surprise if a team chooses to take the whole day off and indulges in other team-bonding activities. Not if you are losing, though.
And West Indies have been losing. Every game for them now is like a must-win. Next up are unbeaten New Zealand. West Indies are under the pump, and so it becomes a big issue to cricket that they didn't practise but went clay-target shooting on the eve of the game. They know the conditions from a full-on training session two days from the match. They have niggles to monitor. Yet their captain Jason Holder's press conference was almost like a hearing.
Holder didn't lose his cool. At least he didn't show it. "We had a team event," Holder said when asked if it was right his side had gone clay-target shooting instead of training. "We wanted to get the guys together, just have a team event, a team bonding session. And I think it went really well."
The assumption with West Indies missing the training is that they have already given up on the tournament. Holder found himself defending the side against such comments too. The thing is, there isn't enough verbal defending you can do. "I think the only thing we can do is come and play a solid game of cricket tomorrow against New Zealand," Holder said. "I think there has been enough talk going around for quite some time. And we've just got to play cricket now. I think we've done enough talking as a group. It's just a matter for us to deliver."
Their decision-making - a high-risk strategy of going short and quick with the ball and looking to hit big with the bat - has been under the scanner as has been playing half-fit players. It went too far when Andre Russell kept limping on the field against Bangladesh even though he didn't bowl after the 25th over. But that's how desperate it has been for West Indies: they kept him on in the hope he could deliver some magic against new batsmen if they do get a breakthrough somehow.
In the match against New Zealand, West Indies won't have that dilemma. "We've still got a few niggles within the group," Holder said. "We're trying to manage niggles the best we possibly can. I think one guy who probably may be definitely out tomorrow is Russell. I don't think he's fit enough to go tomorrow. But everybody else should be good to go."
West Indies do have hope, though. They are coming to a venue that has been full of runs, and they have memories of what they did to the New Zealand bowlers in the warm-up game: score 421 runs against virtually the same attack. They draw inspiration from that.
"It just shows what we can produce," Holder said of the warm-up game. "It's a situation where we've just got to pull on those resources, remember the things that we did in that game. And it just shows that when we're at our best what we can produce. I just think the guys just need to be clear, need to be calm and just execute their plans."
West Indies had to take the Qualifier route to the World Cup. They are playing with a team that rarely comes together. They are a side that has had to take risks and hope for some luck to compete in this tournament. They have been unfortunate with injuries and niggles. It is clear it has not worked out for them but they are a win short of being in the same boat as Bangladesh.
So it is not because of not training a day before the game that they find themselves in the position they are. Nor does it mean Holder has not had a stern word or three with the team. "I think it's a situation where you've had to be tough," Holder said. "We've had a few frank discussions within the dressing room to find ways in which we can improve on. I think all teams would get themselves in that situation at some point. But, yeah, we've had some pretty good discussions over the last couple of days. And tomorrow is just a day to deliver."
As for beating New Zealand, "I'd say it's not impossible. We've beaten them before. We can beat them again."