Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
Within the space of one match against Pakistan, West Indies have made everyone forget about how they had to scrap and qualify for the World Cup. Inside two matches, after having Australia at 79 for 5, they had a generation of cricket fans swooning, reminded of their 16-year-old selves. On the eve of their third World Cup game, at Southampton against a struggling South Africa, West Indies are to the romantic acquiring the status of a squad of superheroes, cricket's Avengers back and ready to seize the game from the superbats - sorry, superbots - who rule the cricket world.
It gets richer: when South Africa hosted its World Cup in 2003, their campaign was upended in the very first match by West Indies, who won by three runs. Between the 2015 World Cup and now, South Africa have only faced West Indies three times in ODIs, during a tri-series also involving Australia, winning once and losing twice (with AB de Villiers in the side, in case you wondered). So their encounters with the new West Indies have been minimal. The road leading up to the Hampshire Bowl is called the Marshall Drive, after the county's two great Barbados-born Marshalls: opening batsman Roy, and a slightly more famous fast bowler who took 1065 wickets for the county across all competitions (and just, by the way, 533 for West Indies.)
The two teams did face each other in a rain-affected World Cup warm-up match in Bristol, South Africa rattling along to 95 for no loss in 12.4 overs. But that was before everything - before the AB bombshell, before injuries to Ngidi and Steyn, before Amla ran into a fog. The West Indians have gone in the other direction, leaving South Africa coach Ottis Gibson reminding the world on Saturday that West Indies "are dangerous in World Cups."
The truth is that between the last World Cup and this one, West Indies didn't win too much. They won just 19 out of 67 ODIs, didn't win an ODI series - coming closest with a 2-2 draw at home against England in February - and lost the World Cup Qualifier final to Afghanistan. Only Sri Lanka have lost more.
And yet, West Indies stride the World Cup with aura reburnished. This has come from two reasons - the first, that West Indies have been seen and heard of as winning in other formats - the 2016 World T20 in India, a home Test series against England, and making three other tournament finals in the time (even if those have spelt defeats to Australia, Afghanistan and, most recently, to Bangladesh.) In World Cups, it must be said that even though West Indies last won the title in 1979 and made the semi-finals in 1996, they're ahead of Pakistan and Sri Lanka and South Africa in match victories, 42 out of 73.
Gibson reminded the world, "West Indies teams have always been dangerous and this one is no different. They have a lot of players in there that can win matches, they have always had match-winners." It is the manner in which they are setting up the winning that has the world sit up, "They are going to go on an all-out and they have decided with the team they have set up." It is simple. When they bowl, it's five fast bowlers and bam. When they bat, a trio of the game's most explosive hitters is shuffled around three striking young batsmen and a captain who can do anything. How do you not get beguiled and hypnotised by the idea of this kind of West Indies?
West Indies assistant coach Roddy Estwick has seen all sides: a first-class cricketer from 1982 to 1990, half-brother to Sylvester Clarke, and now working with a team trying to respectfully set aside an enormous heritage and create their own. "We can't keep looking back. We have to respect the past, you know. Our great bowlers of the past obviously they are very important in our history. But what we've got now, this group of bowlers now, they have got to find their own identity. They have got to find their own way."
It will be both daunting and inspirational for the West Indians to travel around this country during the World Cup, where the very ground has been touched by the greatness of their predecessors. The Marshall Drive will remind them of it, as will the sight of Bishop or Holding turning up for commentary, or Garner, Robers and Croft dropping by to watch.
On the Monday, Estwick knows will not be about sentiment or aura or presence or history, it will be about the boring stuff. "What we must do is play the one-percenters a bit better… It's [defeat to Australia] nothing to do with the bowlers. We are all in it together. We are not going to single out the bowlers and say the bowlers did a poor job, or the batsmen did a poor job, it is a team. If you are looking for excuses in the cricket game, you can find it wherever you look."
He refused to grumble about the umpiring in Nottingham. "It is history. We can't do anything about it. You can't keep looking back. If you keep looking back, you have major problems. We have now got to look forward… Not on the past because past is history. It can't come back." The past in West Indies cricket is hard to shake off. In this World Cup, its current team has discovered that in the aftermath of compelling performance, its looming cloud could become an updraft.
Estwick took the match and the World Cup out of Southampton and Great Britain and put it across the oceans. "Every West Indian is in this," he said, "This is big for the Caribbean people."
The team's management has been asking the team, "to go out and put a smile on the people's faces in the Caribbean," Estwick said, "Economically we are struggling a little bit so we want people to wake up in the morning at 5 o'clock and 6 o'clock with a smile on their face, seeing West Indians playing good cricket. And also we want to help the people in London as well, you know, who have had so much pressure cricket-wise in the last 10, 15 years and if we can put a smile on all black people's faces we will be very happy."
South Africa vs West Indies
ICC Cricket World Cup