World T20: West Indies' optimism takes a beating, writes Tony Cozier
Curtly Ambrose reflects general public confidence that the West Indies can repeat their 2012 triumph in the 2016 World T20 they officially commence against England in Mumbai on Wednesday week.
West Indies’ bowling consultant, the legendary Curtly Ambrose (right) chats with T20 skipper Darren Sammy during a training session in Christchurch last year. Pic/AFP
Their bowling consultant based his opinion on the presence in the team of the number of specialists from global T20 franchise tournaments, the majority of whom were in the champion team in 2012 that depressed home support by defeating Sri Lanka in the final in Colombo. Most were also there in 2014 in Bangladesh when the result was reversed in the semi-final by the weather, the Duckworth/Lewis system and Sri Lankan opposition intent on avoiding a repeat.
As much as the two are unrelated, the feel-good factor of the Under-19s unexpected success in their recent 50-overs World Cup adds to the optimism that contrasts so markedly with their dismal status in the longer formats.
The belated settlement of the leading players’ initial disquiet over terms of their contracts, confirmed by their eventual signatures on the dotted line, was another of Ambrose’s reasons for hopeful expectation. It is not often of late that the West Indies enter a tournament with every one seemingly on the same page.
Such optimism has been tempered by recent developments.
Since the squad of 15 was announced, Sunil Narine, still not satisfied that he has managed to correct the prohibited action, Kieron Pollard, with a chronic knee problem, and Darren Bravo, who is to focus solely in future on Test cricket, all chose to opt out.
These were followed by the revelation that Andre Russell faces a possible two-year ban for missing three mandatory drug tests in a 12-month period, and the report that an undisclosed injury has forced Lendl Simmons return to Trinidad.
Narine, Darren Bravo, Russell and Simmons were in the teams in both 2012 and 2014; Pollard, there in 2012, was eliminated by injury two years later. Their absence in India would clearly diminish the team’s strength, none more so than Narine’s.
Narine, a huge loss
He was crucial to the West Indies’ advance in 2012 and 2014. He conjured up 17 wickets with his mesmerising, each-way spin in the two tournaments at an average of 14.7 runs each and an economy rate of 5.16. In 34 T20 Internationals his record is wickets 40, average 17.75, economy rate 5.69.
There could be no other Player of the Final in 2012 than Marlon Samuels for his astonishing 78 off 56 balls with six sixes that transformed a stuttering innings; Narine’s 3.4-0-9-3 return ensured Sri Lanka were routed for 101 going after 137 for six.
When the ICC put his career on hold following the two T20s against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka last October, he was atop both the ODI and T20 International rankings. It seems unlikely that he will be the same again, a loss as much to the West Indies as to the world game.
Should Russell fall foul of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) and is ruled of the tournament, his all-round electricity as power-hitter, wicket-taker and fleet-footed boundary rider, allied to his experience of Indian conditions in the IPL, would go with him. Carlos Brathwaite is a like-for-like in every regard except for familiarity with India where is yet to play; he had already filled the spot left by Pollard. There is no other obvious choice.
Simmons’ run-rate of 113.9, based on 26 sixes in 34 T20 Internationals, combined with his IPL credentials, made him key at the top of the order. Dwayne Smith is a seasoned T20 campaigner with similar attributes; he was in the previous two tournaments and, if required, is available to take Simmons’ place.
Unsurprisingly, there was no ready understudy for Narine. Ashley Nurse, a useful off-spinner with the limited experience of four wicketless, T20 Internationals, has been brought in and Sulieman Benn, the skyscraper left-arm spinner, recalled.
Such limitations in spin, so essential in India, place additional responsibilities on the canny bowling of Samuel Badree, the batting of the self-styled ‘boss’ Chris Gayle and Samuels, the proven all-round skills of Dwayne Bravo and the captaincy of Sammy.
Badree’s control of variations of his minimal leg-breaks, googlies and straight ones placed him top of T20 bowlers in the ICC rankings earlier this year. He hasn’t appeared on the field or on the list since, kept out by a shoulder problem and dengue fever in Sri Lanka in October.
Gayle is 36, Samuels and Badree 35, Bravo 32, Sammy 31. Gayle and Bravo remain top performers yet their careers are winding down. Sammy sees the realisation that they are unlikely to participate in another global tournament as motivation to make this one special.
Their first objective is to get past England, Sri Lanka and South Africa, the top teams, in a group also including a qualifier. They have prevailed 2-1 in their previous T20s against England in the Caribbean in 2014 and South Africa in South Africa in January 2015 and shared two with Sri Lanka last October.
All three, significantly changed in personnel and strength since, now offer different challenges. For all the West Indies’ own enforced alterations, elimination in the first round would be a further disaster of which there has been a surfeit.