Fight or flight: New-look West Indies begin the long journey back towards the top

They're inexperienced, they've had some drama, but Pooran believes the team understands itself better now

Alex Malcolm
Akeal Hosein could be a tricky left-arm spinner for Australia  •  AFP/Getty Images

Akeal Hosein could be a tricky left-arm spinner for Australia  •  AFP/Getty Images

Shimron Hetmyer made headlines for missing his flight to Australia. But spare a thought for those who made it.

While part of West Indies' T20 World Cup squad arrived in Australia on Saturday, those that played in the CPL final made the exhausting 35-hour journey from Guyana to the Gold Coast, via New York, Dubai and Brisbane to arrive at the team hotel late on Monday night ahead of their first match of the tour on Wednesday.
All 14 members of the squad, with Shamarh Brooks still to arrive, fronted up to their first training session in Australia as a group on Tuesday afternoon. West Indies could be forgiven if they sleepwalk their way through the two T20Is against Australia.
"It's definitely tough," West Indies Nicholas Pooran said in pre-match press conference. "We've been playing a lot of cricket for the year.
"It's difficult. It's a challenge. But we are professionals. At the same time our main focus is obviously the World Cup qualifiers first. We have an opportunity to play against Australia, [but] we need to be smart as well. Our number one priority is obviously getting ready for our qualifiers. In saying that we will use these games here ... obviously we want to win but we need to be smart as well. We need our players fresh and ready for when that qualifiers start."
Such travel can often leave an individual dazed and confused when they wake up in a strange hotel room, needing a moment to clarify where they are and how they got there.
West Indies find themselves in a strange hotel room right now. The two-time T20 World Cup champions, once giants of the format, now find themselves ranked seventh in the world and facing a qualifying fight against Scotland, Zimbabwe and Ireland just to make it the Super 12 section of the tournament later this month.
These are unfamiliar surrounds for a team whose current squad features just five players who were part of the previous T20 World Cup. The legendary figures of Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo have left the international stage while Andre Russell and now Hetmyer are personae non gratae. That is 2217 games of T20 experience missing, albeit from a side responsible for the current qualification predicament they face. That number does not include Sunil Narine's 435 games of experience that mysteriously remain missing from international cricket. Fabian Allen and Hayden Walsh have also been overlooked.
Picked in their place is a man who has played just four domestic T20s, and none since 2016. Yannic Cariah, a 30-year-old legspinner from Trinidad, made his ODI in August but heads to the World Cup having not even been contracted to play in the CPL.
There is some tournament-winning experience in Johnson Charles and Evin Lewis. Pooran and Jason Holder bring vast global experience while Brandon King, Kyle Mayers, Rovman Powell and Alzarri Joseph arrive carrying outstanding form from the CPL.
But the squad is not the fearsome force it was not so long ago. From the outside looking in, it is hard to fathom where West Indies find themselves. But Pooran believes the team is acutely aware of their surroundings and what needs to be done.
"It's a new generation for us," Pooran said. "Some of them this is their first World Cup as well. We spoke about obviously being here for the first time. We are not coming here as the defending champions anymore. We obviously had a bad World Cup last year. We're starting from the bottom. We have to obviously take the harder road first, which is the qualifiers and our number one priority at the moment.
"But [it is about] roles and responsibility and accountability. We sat down and spoke to players about which parts of the game you are responsible for. Starting with it in practice, we want to have the right mindset. I think once we can perform our roles to the best of our ability, then everything else is going to take care of itself. And we're not talking about winning or losing but we're just talking about having a chance in a cricket game and that's all that matters."
Making West Indies' challenge even harder is the combined inexperience in Australian conditions. West Indies have not played an international match in Australia since the Sydney Test in January 2016, with Holder the only squad member to have played in that game. Their last ODI in Australia was during the 2015 World Cup and they have only ever played three T20Is in Australia, the last of which was in 2013. Charles is the only squad member to have played in that game. Aaron Finch and Josh Hazlewood, the latter who made his T20I debut, are the only remaining Australian players from that match at the Gabba, which the West Indies won comfortably.
There is some BBL experience in the ranks, with Holder and Pooran having played at Metricon Stadium before for Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars respectively in one of the greatest-ever BBL matches in 2020.
"I absolutely love my experience in the Big Bash with Melbourne," Pooran said." I think that's one of my best T20 innings so I'll always remember that."
But experience is not what this West Indies team wants to lean on against Australia on Wednesday and in the upcoming World Cup.
"We understand that we don't have as much experience in the room," Pooran said. "But we have been playing cricket together for the entire year so we do understand each other a little better now.
"But the culture is just all about love. Being a family. Actually looking out for each other and being in this together. This entire year we have been through our ups and downs. We've been all over the world. We've been losing cricket games. We have been winning games and we have been performing as a group.
"We have stuck together and we're here today and obviously we're here to fight again."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo