Strained relations between the players and board continue to thwart success in Caribbean cricket
West Indies cricket has been paying worried attention to events on the other side of the world. A combination of Bangladesh's sudden surge in their own favoured conditions that has transformed them into giant killers, Pakistan's 3-1 lead in their five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka and their own inactivity in the 50-overs format since the World Cup in February, raises the real possibility of their failure to qualify for the 2017 Champions Trophy in England.
West Indies' Chris Gayle reacts after his century against Zimbabwe at the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Canberra on February 24. Pic/Getty Images
The impact of such a scenario is predictable and devastating. The more tenuous it has become and as demeaning as it is for a team that that once utterly dominated the international game, West Indies value their status among the top eight international teams more than ever. To be absent in England two years hence would further damage the already diminishing interest of players and public, once passionately proud of their great teams of the 1960s and 1980 but now under the spell of T20.
WI has participated in all seven previous tournaments. They prevailed over England in a remarkable fightback in the final at The Oval in 2004. They were runners-up to South Africa in Dhaka in the first, in 1998 and to Australia in Mumbai in 2006. For all that, they remain teetering on the brink, rated No 8 in ODIs, as they are in Tests.
Repercussions from the events in India last October, when players, once more disgruntled by the board, prematurely quit their scheduled tour, and subsequent defeats in South Africa and the World Cup, kept them there. Strained relations between the players and the board and haphazard planning are prominent among the causes for the WI' dizzying descent from their once unprecedented heights. The latter is more specific to the regional 50-overs competition.
No ODIs for WI
While they had three Tests against England and two against Australia between April and June, there have been no ODIs since the World Cup, no chance to clamber back onto firmer ground. The T20 Caribbean Premier League immediately following the Tests precluded any regional 50-overs tournament prior to their next international engagement, a three-way series in Zimbabwe in late August, also involving Pakistan, that will determine the eighth, and last, remaining place in the Champions Trophy.
Both teams had 88 points prior to Pakistan's on-going ODIs in Sri Lanka. Should Pakistan complete a 4-1 triumph, as seems likely, they will move to 92 points, a four-point cushion going into the Zimbabwe showdown. That itinerary has not been finalised but is likely to be two matches each between the three teams leading to a final.
In other words, Zimbabwe holds the key for two teams that have both featured in every previous Champions Trophy. WI's massive victory over Pakistan the last time they met, in the World Cup in February, would be a significant psychological advantage but it hinges on the availability of four of the eleven from that match.
Chris Gayle continues to carry a chronic back injury that can hold up through 20 overs, probably not 50. A persistently painful knee makes Andre Russell doubtful; Dwayne Smith and Lendl Simmons indicated after the World Cup that T20 is their exclusive preference. Their absence would amount to the loss of immense international experience.
The dilemma WI and Pakistan now face was sprung on them by a succession of significant ODI victories by suddenly invigorated Bangladesh — 3-0 over Pakistan, and, for the first time in bi-lateral series, 2-1 over India and South Africa.
The reality is that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has never paid much attention to its annual 50-overs tournament. The 50-overs format appears to be an afterthought. Where it stands in the scheme of things was evident at the last World Cup.
Tony Cozier continues to be the voice of West Indies cricket