West Indies find success via Hosein and Motie's complementary strengths

It is rare for teams to pair left-arm spinners together, but West Indies look set to stick with them in pursuit of a third T20 World Cup

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
With those little pals of mine
Ramadhin and Valentine
Their great Test teams were built around fast bowlers, but West Indies have a proud history of spin-bowling partnerships: Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were immortalised by Lord Beginner's calypso; Lance Gibbs would bowl offspin at one end while Garry Sobers bowled his left-arm variations from the other; and more recently, West Indies' T20 World Cup successes were built around a pair of spinners too.
Samuel Badree was the constant - bowling his flat, fast wristspin in the powerplay. In 2012, Sunil Narine would take over from him through the middle overs; four years later, with Narine still sorting out his bowling action, the towering left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn took over and bowled containing spells through the middle, finishing the tournament with an economy rate below seven.
And when West Indies had faced England last December, they landed on another such pair: selecting Guyana's Gudakesh Motie to play alongside Trinidad and Tobago's Akeal Hosein. Both are left-arm fingerspinners, but are very different bowlers with complementary strengths. They have played 11 matches together since, taking 35 wickets at 15.57 between them, 16 of which came in their group stages of this World Cup.
The formula is simple: Hosein takes the new ball and often bowls three of the first five overs. He flights some balls but also relies heavily on his arm ball, which drifts sharply into the right-handers. "He's a very, very integral part [of the side], especially for controlling the powerplay for us," Rovman Powell, West Indies' captain, said.
When the field spreads, Powell brings Motie on and empowers him to flight the ball, varying his pace and looking to spin the ball hard. "Right as we come out of the powerplay is Gudakesh Motie time," Powell said. "It's like Akeal Hosein passing the baton onto Gudakesh Motie, and it's been very good so far."
West Indies geared their selection to conditions, knowing that their pitches can play slow and low, and may turn more as the World Cup wears on. "We've been playing our entire career on these pitches: we're not surprised when it's slow, it's low and it's low-scoring," Nicholas Pooran said. "The reason why most of our averages are 20-25 is because we bat on pitches like this."
"[It's been] pleasantly pleasing to me to see how [the] same type of bowlers - two left-arm spinners turning the ball in the same direction - have complemented each other so well. That's something that is new to me"
Ian Bishop to ESPNcricinfo
In St Lucia, where West Indies face England on Wednesday night, conditions have been much more favourable for batters: against Afghanistan on Monday, Pooran hit 98 in a team total of 218, the highest score of the T20 World Cup so far. But with England likely to field a batting line-up filled with right-handers, Hosein and Motie should still play a role.
In terms of average and economy rate, they were West Indies' best bowlers in their 3-2 series win against England in December too, and Powell said they would "definitely" match-up well against England's batters in a few days' time: "When we pick the two left-arm spinners, we know that in West Indies conditions, whether the wickets are good or the wickets are bad, they're going to be a handful because they're world-class."
Hosein has reached an intriguing stage where he has played enough T20 cricket around the world - over 150 matches in his career, one-third of which have come in the last 12 months - that his arm ball no longer takes teams by surprise. Batters know the cues: he tends to bowl it from significantly wider on the crease, and with a slightly lower trajectory.
"[It's been] pleasantly pleasing to me to see how [the] same type of bowlers, two left-arm spinners turning the ball in the same direction - although Akeal Hosein has the arm ball - have complemented each other so well," Ian Bishop said on ESPNcricinfo's TimeOut show. "That's something that is new to me.
"They've got Roston Chase there [as well] as the option to turn the ball the other way. Ideally, in a perfect world, they'd like a wristspinner. They don't have that, so they've gone with the two left-arm spinners. I wouldn't mind seeing them change it up though at some point, because teams are planning for Akeal Hosein in that powerplay."
England are well aware of Hosein and Motie's strengths, to the extent that they chose an uncapped slow left-armer in Tom Hartley as their back-up spinner ahead of Rehan Ahmed's legspin following December's tour. "There's no question both teams know a lot about each other," Sam Curran said. "The two spinners are probably one of their strengths."
Phil Salt and Jos Buttler, England's openers, both have good head-to-head records against Hosein, and Salt in particular has made huge strides since he was dismissed by left-arm spin five times in six innings on a tour to Bangladesh last March. Salt has become much more confident playing through the off side, and scored two hundreds against West Indies in December.
Motie is more of an unknown for England, though. He has an extensive first-class record but is relatively new to T20 cricket, only making his debut in the format in 2021, aged 26. He has never played in a franchise league outside of the CPL, where none of this England squad feature regularly, and only played against them during the December tour.
Motie is short, and has a low release point, but puts significant overspin on the ball, meaning some balls are quick and skiddy, while others turn sharply off the pitch. In the group stages, he bowled arguably the ball of the tournament to date, which drifted into Daryl Mitchell from a wide angle at 62mph/99kph, before turning sharply to hit the off bail.
It is rare for teams to pair left-arm spinners together in modern T20 cricket, but West Indies believe they have found a winning formula and look set to stick with it in pursuit of an unprecedented third men's T20 World Cup. If they achieve it, it might even be enough for Hosein and Motie's names to feature in a calypso.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98