World Cup cricket: It's a race against time for West Indies
Whoever is in charge of the WI between now and the World Cup, recent failures of the top order batting and, as always, inconsistency will be major concerns for him, writes Tony Cozier
Is it a problem that the World Cup is less than six months away and West Indies still have no head coach?
West Indies' Darren Bravo (left) and Denesh Ramdin are two batsmen who have shown some consistency while most others have struggled to find their rhythm. Pic/Getty Images
It depends on who is answering the question. Michael Muirhead, chief executive of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), as a typically cagey administrator, is relaxed about it. "That would be considered a nice cut-off time to have a coach but we don't plan to rush and get a new one just to say we have a coach for the World Cup," he told the Barbados Nation, stressing that the sole objective would be to get the best man.
Daren Ganga, the former Test batsman, now television analyst, has the totally opposite view of a player. "This, to me, is a prime time for us to be focussed on what we're trying to achieve next February," he said on a weekly cricket television show. "The longer we wait to approve someone that has the responsibility to take us into the World Cup, it's only going to be detrimental to our team."
The issue shot to prominence once the long-serving Ottis Gibson parted company with the WICB "by mutual agreement", astonishingly on the eve of the current home series against Bangladesh. Team manager Sir Richie Richardson was hurriedly elevated to interim coach; given Muirhead's comments he could still be there come February 16 for West Indies' opening match against Ireland in Nelson, New Zealand.
Whoever is in charge between now and then — five ODIs in India and five in South Africa in November and January lead into the World Cup — the recent failures of the critical top order batting and, as always, inconsistency are major concerns.
In 26 ODIs since the one-off against Ireland at Sabina Park in February 2013, the 115 between Chris Gayle and Johnson Charles against Sri Lanka in last year's triangular Celkon Mobile Cup, the even 100 between Dwayne Smith and Keiron Powell in that match and 95 between Powell and Charles against New Zealand in Hamilton last January are the only opening partnerships better than 50.
Prone to collapse
There was an all out 98 against Pakistan and starts of 91 for six against India, 80 for five against England and, most recently and shockingly, 34 for five against Bangladesh. In four other matches, four or more wickets were down before 100.
The lingering back injury that eliminated Gayle's intimidating power and experience for 10 consecutive ODIs and Marlon Samuel's sudden decline were clearly factors.
Gayle's mere presence at No 1 remains essential; at his best, Samuels was a quality batman at No 4 Gayle's fitness will be nervously monitored over the coming months. Samuels, dropped during the series against New Zealand in July, remains on the outside; in desperation, he may yet be recalled.
The upshot has been a succession of stuttering starts in the latest ODIs at home, leaving the middle and lower order to repeatedly pick up the pieces. Wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin, who lost his Test place for two years specifically because of a batting slump and whose ODI average hovered around 20 for some time, has been to the fore.
Simmons, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy turned the early wreckage of 45 for four in the first match against England in late February into a match-winning 269 for six. There was no coming back from 81 for four in the second or 80 for five in the third; complete embarrassment, if not the match, was saved in the latter by Ramdin's robust 128 off 109 balls with five sixes and 11 fours, a precursor of what has followed.
Against Bangladesh, Richardson decided to move Ramdin up to No 4, given his form and the struggles of others. Whether he will remain there depends on how he and the other batsmen fare in India and South Africa both of which present appreciably more intricate problems than Bangladesh.
Spin and swing will seriously test them in India, the pace of Steyn and Morkel in South Africa. The bowling seems settled, especially if Sunil Narine chooses to make himself available. It is the batting that presents more questions than answers for Clive Lloyd and his new selection panel. It's not a good place to be with the game's major international tournament just around the corner.
The number of times the West Indies have managed a century opening stand in the last 26 one-dayers