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Feature

Obed McCoy ready to break his World Cup curse

The left-arm seamer missed out at U-19 level in 2016, and then at senior level in 2021, but now he's stronger than ever and raring to go

Deivarayan Muthu
04-Aug-2022
The build-up to the second T20I in St Kitts was bizarre. The match, which was originally scheduled to start at 10.30am local time, eventually started at 1.30pm local time - around the time it was supposed to end - as the team kits and luggage arrived late from Trinidad.
Once the action got underway, though, Obed McCoy turned up and ambushed Rohit Sharma, aka the master of the pull shot. The left-arm quick ran in hard from over the wicket, hit the pitch harder and got a back-of-a-length delivery to rear up and seam away outside off. Rohit was perhaps caught between pulling it and jabbing at it, but McCoy had so much going for him that he squared up the batter and snagged the outside edge near the shoulder of the bat. The ball ultimately landed in the hands of short third.
Rohit, gone for a golden duck. In his next over, McCoy, generating speeds close to 150kph, surprised Suryakumar Yadav, too, and had him caught behind. India were 17 for 2 and suffocating.

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McCoy had started his T20I career as a slower-ball specialist at the death after having done that job in the CPL. He was West Indies' sixth bowler on T20I debut and bowled overs 13, 15 and the 20 against England in Basseterre, the same venue, where he picked up 6 for 17 to knock India out. At the CPL, McCoy had perfected the big, dipping back-of-the-hand slower variation. In a way, it's the left-arm version of Dwayne Bravo's calling card.
"I've been bowling that slower ball from about 14-plus years," McCoy had told SportsMax TV in the lead-up to CPL 2021. "I've realised the game was changing and I was telling myself that pace don't matter anymore, unless you mix it up and keep the batsmen thinking. And I've been working on that for a number of years and in CPL 2017, I was actually scared to bowl it because I hadn't perfected it as yet. It was pretty difficult to bowl - the control was pretty hard at first. I used to drop half-pitch, on my toes, over the batsman's head, off the pitch, but I just stuck with it. Once I master the slower ball, I would have to keep the same arm speed and same action and try not to change anything about it."
I've realised the game was changing and I was telling myself that pace don't matter anymore
Obed McCoy
It was that back-of-the-hand slower ball that hoodwinked Australia when they had toured the Caribbean in 2021. Bravo was often at mid-on or mid-off, mentoring McCoy during that series. West Indies' grand plan was to pair McCoy up with Bravo in the T20 World Cup that year in the UAE. Remember, how McCoy was originally picked in the main squad ahead of Jason Holder? But, a shin injury put him on the sidelines and limited his World Cup stint to just the opening game.
This was history repeating itself. McCoy had been in contention for the 2016 Under-19 World Cup, which West Indies won, but a split webbing on his bowling hand days before the tournament ruled him out.
The 2021 injury also denied him the chance to play in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) 2021-22. So all that was left was the IPL. McCoy linked up with Rajasthan Royals, who managed him carefully and opted against rushing him back into action.
"At RR we had a well-structured program, which helped Obed ," AT Rajamani Prabhu, the strength and conditioning coach of the franchise who has also worked with R Ashwin as his personal trainer, tells ESPNcricinfo. "For specific strength training we had Steffan Jones, for bowling skill training there was [Lasith] Malinga sir and my role was to develop the general strength and endurance and recovery of the player. I think per day Obed used to do one session each with us. As a team, we decided that we had to reduce his load to the leg and overall workload since he is coming back from the leg injury.
"Obed is generally a strong guy, normally all West Indians are. But our main goal, at the start of the season, was to make him available for all nets and training sessions and slowly build strength by reducing impact. We took a lot of care and I think in about four weeks he was on the field and ready for matches, bowling important overs for us. The more the bowlers bowl in matches, the better they get. Obed just got better and better.
"Credit to Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara] sir and the management because we didn't have soft-tissue injuries and those who came in with injuries like this improved after training."
Having turned heads in the IPL, the Vitality T20 Blast for Sussex and more recently for West Indies, this is now the real McCoy. And, after bagging the best bowling figures by a West Indies player in T20Is, he attributed his recent success to his focus on fitness.
"[Fitness has helped] a lot because it has helped me be consistent," McCoy says. "I've been experienced in Indian conditions and England. Different batsmen play different shots and conditions have taught me that I've to be smarter and also have a clear head.
"I'm proud because I've been putting in the hard work after having the injury for many months. That kind of made me depressed in a way. I wasn't playing cricket and the hard work I've been putting in… that actually helped a lot. I just can't really explain the feeling [of holding this record for West Indies]. All I can say is hard work pays off."
McCoy has done all of this while his mother is ailing. He even dedicated the record haul to his mother after beating India's IPL superstars to square the series at the time. Rajamani, however, isn't surprised by how McCoy has overcome setbacks - both on and off the field.
"I used to sit in the back row of the [team] bus along with Obed and [Shimron] Hetmyer," Rajamani says. "I don't think many knew about him dealing with this problem [his mother's illness] at the start. He is always calm and focused on his training, recovery and bowling. He was very open-minded and I think he was enjoying every moment with the team."

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Had Sheldon Cottrell been fit, McCoy might not even have got the opportunity to bowl with the new ball in the ongoing T20I series against India. Having blown away India's top order with pace and the middle order with the lack of pace, McCoy is now the front and centre of West Indies' revamped attack. He is fitter, stronger and finally ready for a World Cup.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo