Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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West Indies have (almost) got their band back together. Dwayne Bravo came out of T20I retirement in 2019. Lendl Simmons and Ravi Rampaul have put themselves back in the side through strong performances in the CPL for Trinbago Knight Riders. Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard are all bonafide T20 legends, but there's just one missing piece in West Indies' jigsaw: the anchor.
It was Marlon Samuels who stepped up as West Indies' anchorman in their world title victories in 2012 and in 2016. West Indies have built so much T20 depth that they can pack their side with power-hitters, but in sluggish conditions, there is still a case for someone to play the role of an anchor. That someone could well be Roston Chase.
Chase made his maiden Test hundred in only his second Test, against India, including having Viv Richards getting up on his feet and screaming his name, and ultimately leading West Indies to an improbable draw. More such back-to-the-wall innings in Test cricket saw him become West Indies' "Crisis Man". Along the way, however, he was pigeonholed as a Test specialist, playing a grand total of five T20s between his debut in 2012 to 2018.
In 2020, Chase returned to the CPL as a replacement player for the St Lucia franchise. In CPL 2021, he not only became Kings' main player but also the tournament's main player. According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, which adds context to every performance, Chase was the MVP in the most recent CPL with a player rating of 66.75. It was just too hard for the national selectors to ignore Chase's reinvention as a T20 player as he elbowed his way into West Indies' squad for the T20 World Cup.
It had seemed unlikely two years back, when Chase didn't even get a CPL gig. He wasn't originally supposed to play CPL 2020 either, but the late withdrawal of Australia's Jonathan Wells provided him an opening at the Kings (then Zouks). Coach Andy Flower saw something in his T20 game that many others didn't.
"Very impressed [with Chase] but not that surprised actually because I've been involved in the CPL for two years now and we recruited him last year. I was surprised that he was available when I came in quite late in the piece," Flower said at a virtual media interaction during CPL 2021. "He's always looked like a quality allrounder to me. He's a very clever offspinner, he fields well and he can marshal the innings in the middle of a T20 innings."
Chase has grown so much as a T20 player over the last two years that he's now ready to slip into Samuels' shoes.
"I see myself playing a similar role [to Samuels]," Chase said, speaking from West Indies' base in Dubai. "It's the role that I play for the St Lucia franchise last two years where I just come in, most likely after the powerplay, and just knock it around. Pick up the ones and twos and get the occasional boundary when the ball is in my area to score. So, it's an easy role for me and I like that role and with the power-hitting guys we have in this team, my role should be just to really give them the strike and let them do their thing. If the ball is in my area, I'd put it away."
Chase's steady presence in the middle order could potentially break up a sequence of left-handers, which includes Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, and deny the opposition favourable match-ups. And against teams packed with left-handed batters, Chase's own cagey offspin could come in handy for West Indies. In his most recent T20 appearance, the CPL final, Chase took the new ball and took out St Kitts & Nevis Patriots' Chris Gayle for a duck in the first over of the chase.
Plus, Chase is no one-trick pony with the bat. He did show that he has another gear in CPL 2021, hitting 59 boundaries (35 fours and 24 sixes). Only Evin Lewis had struck more boundaries than Chase in this season.
"I think what we've seen in this CPL compared to the one a year ago, he's growing in confidence with his boundary-hitting," Flower said. "He's somewhere up near the top of the leaderboard on the sixes hit so far in this tournament and I'd imagine that's going to carry on."
The tracks in the UAE might not be a whole lot different from the ones in the Caribbean. They are tiring at the IPL and could keep low, as Chase noted.
"It's just to spend time on each wicket you plan on, as I said, but we've had three training sessions so far," Chase said. "Basically the pitches have been coming on pretty good, but the only issue I see with the pitches are they are keeping a bit low. You probably have to stay low when you're executing your shots and that should work. But the pitches are coming on a lot that reminds of what we get in the CPL, so should be a bit easier to get some runs."
Chase is also unfazed by the prospect of making his T20I debut at the World Cup against England, the pre-tournament favourites and holders of the 50-over world title.
"I have no idea what the nerves will be like because I haven't reached that stage yet," Chase said. "The game hasn't come as yet, but usually in my Test debut or my one-day debut, I'm not really a big nervous person. Most time[s] I really get nervous is when I walk out to bat. Once I walk out to bat, I call for my guard and I do my routine and when the first ball hits the bat, all the nerves are gone. Just play bat on ball from there and look to do my job as best as possible.
"So, I can't say that it's a big overwhelming feeling. I'm not a stranger to the international scene. I've been around the West Indies team for five-six years now. So, it's going to be like any other cricket game, but obviously it's a World Cup, little more special feeling behind it. But, as I say, once the first ball is bowled or whatever the case maybe, it's just a fight out there."