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Can West Indies overcome recent form to defend their title?

Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran's form, and Andre Russell's fitness will be key for them

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda

Big picture

As the defending champions and the only team to hold this title twice, West Indies should be favourites but they come into this tournament in worse shape than either of the previous two they won. Since their 2016 triumph, West Indies hold a win-loss ratio of 0.666, which means they're losing two out of every three games they play. No other team in the Super 12 is doing that bad, with most doing losing once in every two matches, if that.
There's always an argument to be made that pre-tournament form counts for less than we think it does, especially when it comes to West Indies, especially since their recent record is at least partly down to not always having their best players available. But at an event where teams have to win at least three group matches to progress to the semi-final, emerging victorious every third game, as West Indies have been doing, simply won't be enough. West Indies will need to reel off strong performances successively, and there are also questions over whether they have the personnel to do that.
Their squad includes two of the five players who have appeared at every T20 World Cup to date - Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo - and there's a debate over Gayle's inclusion because of his recent form. Curtly Ambrose doesn't think Gayle should be an automatic pick, resulting in Gayle lashing out and Viv Richards coming to Ambrose's defence. Apart from the concerns around Gayle, West Indies will also be worried about Nicholas Pooran's lack of runs, and the gamble they took by including Ravi Rampaul on the CPL form (he last played for them nearly six years ago) and leaving Jason Holder out.
Despite all that, West Indies will be playing for something bigger than themselves. They've confirmed they will continue to gesture in support of anti-racism and will take a knee before each game.

Recent form

Fairly average. West Indies lost 3-2 in a see-saw series to South Africa, beat an understrength Australian side 4-1 and then lost the only match that was not rained out in a four-game series, to Pakistan.


Much responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the opening pair of Evin Lewis and one of Lendl Simmons and Andre Fletcher. Lewis is West Indies' highest T20I run scorer in 2021 and sixth in the world, while Simmons is their next most successful batter. Shimron Hetmyer will have to operate as the glue between those in the line-up whose form has come under the microscope - Gayle and Pooran - and the pressure on Hetmyer may grow. Lower in the order, Roston Chase, who has never played a T20I but topped the CPL run charts will play an important all-round role while Kieron Pollard's finishing could prove decisive.


Left-arm seamer Obed McCoy has been one of the finds of the year for West Indies after establishing himself in the shortest format side over the last few months and becoming their leading bowling this year. He will have the experience of Bravo and Andre Russell to draw on, which gives West Indies a strong pace attack albeit without Holder. It remains to be seen whether they have enough in the spin department. Legspinner Hayden Walsh is their frontline slower bowler with the rest of the duties falling to allrounders Fabian Allen, Chase and perhaps even Gayle.

Player to watch

Chris Gayle is the batter who made T20, and T20 is the format that made Chris Gayle, which is big enough a reason to watch him. But if you need another, at 42, Gayle is the oldest player in this tournament and although he may not like the suggestion, it could well be his last T20 World Cup. Age alone will not decide if Gayle plays in another major competition. Form has to have a say and it's not looking too good on that front. Gayle played just two matches for Punjab Kings in the second half of the IPL before leaving the bubble to refresh himself ahead of the T20 World Cup. Before that, he scored 165 runs in 9 innings in the CPL (average 18.33), with a top score of 42 and has just one half-century in T20I cricket in 26 innings, dating back to March 2016.

Key question

How fit is Russell? He only played in three of Kolkata Knight Riders' ten games in the second half of the IPL as he picked up a hamstring injury. Add that to the chronic knee issue that has hampered him in the past and it seems only reasonable to be concerned that Russell may not be available as much as West Indies need him to be at this tournament. If that's the case, it's going to affect multiple areas of their game. Russell's batting allows West Indies to bat down to No. 9, and in his absence, they've often found themselves a bowling option short. Despite having Pollard and Allen in their ranks, Russell is a two-in-one West Indies cannot do without for a tournament this important and they'll hope he is fully fit and stays that way for the next month.

Likely XI

1 Evin Lewis, 2 Andre Fletcher/Lendl Simmons, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Andre Russell, 8 Fabian Allen, 9 Dwayne Bravo, 10 Obed McCoy, 11 Oshane Thomas/Hayden Walsh Jr

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent