Three years ago, England’s Mark Nicholas dismissed the title aspirations of the Darren Sammy-led West Indies T20 World Cup team. They, he said, ‘have no brains’.
I’m pretty sure Nicholas expects all us natives of shithole countries to agree with his scathing assessment. Good luck to him with that.
However, after watching the WI’s performance against Bangladesh on Monday, I have to admit I think I know where he is coming from.
We could start with the batsmen who keep getting out à la Dwayne Smith and Ricardo Powell, trying mindlessly and inopportunely to repeat an earlier shot that had paid dividends.
But let’s not; let’s start with team selection.
Do the selectors, one wonders, look at the big picture? The most cursory assessment of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the ten teams suggests that seven of them are vying for one semi-final spot. Three are going to the Big Three, Australia, England and India. It follows, therefore, that, if you are WI, you’re going to try to ensure you win the critical games against Bangladesh and New Zealand, the strongest contenders of the seven.
So what kind of management, acknowledging Andre Russell as a match-winner and knowing the current state of his 31-year-old body, would not keep him in reserve for Bangladesh and not risk him, three-quarter-fit, against England?
Maybe we should ask Mark Nicholas.
And what kind of management, in a game you must win to keep your chances alive, gives its captain as total ammunition four and three-quarter fast bowlers and an occasional spinner in Chris Gayle?
It’s unresponsibility—if not far worse!
Those who think that Sheldon Cottrell’s left-handedness provides genuine variety are invited to make the case before Judge Mark Nicholas.
Tongue-high-in-cheek, Fazeer Mohammed theorises that the selectors felt certain of winning the toss and getting first use of a helpful surface. My response is that people who feel certain they will win any toss will only get you in deep trouble. Shun them.
And so to Monday’s game.
I take issue with those who criticise skipper Jason Holder for taking the new ball. True, I would have preferred to see it in Oshane Thomas’ hands. Or even Chris Gayle’s. But I see anything Holder does that is unexpected as a positive. It’s why I was also glad not to see Darren Bravo in at number three or four; it is what the algebra demanded. After all, as I wrote here, Holder only abandons the beaten track to go back to the highway.
So I approve of the move to do something different at the start. Where he and I part company is over the strategy adopted. The conventional wisdom I hear parroted often on the television says that you always have to bowl the opposition out. I take a more nuanced view.
Safaraz Ahmed’s Pakistan put 348 runs on the board and never went on the offensive against England’s fearsome batting line-up. Joe Root and Jos Buttler both made centuries as balls flew off the edge thru slips and third-man ran around and cut off the boundaries.
Who won that game? How many other teams in this World Cup have made 300 batting first and lost?
You see, when you make 321 in this World Cup, you don’t have to chase the game; the onus is on the batting side. You set the field to minimise run-scoring and instruct your bowlers to choose discipline over intimidation, control over pace. An ever-climbing required run-rate is the bowler’s ally, a twelfth fieldsman.
But such language is clearly not what the current WI leadership speaks. Or understands.
Fire in Babylon, fire in deh wire, pace in deh waist, chin music! That worked superbly well against Pakistan and Australia, why would it not work well against Bangladesh?
The answer is simple: precisely because it has worked well against Pakistan and Australia. A week and more ago. Bangladesh were expecting it; they had prepared for it. And it showed.
One-dimensional, to use Michael Holding’s adjective, WI had nothing to fall back on, no Plan B.
It was one-dimensional thinking, one-dimensional planning and one-dimensional captaincy. Holder’s limits as captain are very real. Whereas good short-format captains have to be very flexible, for him, everything seems written on stone tablets.
Yesterday, for example, nobody bowled a single over and was then replaced. Not even Shannon Gabriel, who got the cutarse of his cricketing life from Liton Dass and Shakib Al Hasan in over #38. And in a total of 42 overs, only Gayle (30 & 32) and Thomas (34 & 36) bowled two-over spells.
Here is how the entire line-up from #30 to #40 looked: Gayle, Holder, Gayle, Cottrell, Thomas, Cottrell, Thomas, Cottrell, Gabriel, Cottrell, Gabriel.
You think you know who bowled #27 and #29, don’t you? And #41 and #43.
Compare Masrafe Mortaza’s use of his bowlers from over #33 to #44: Shakib, Saifuddin, Mustafizur, Saifuddin, Mehidy Hassan, Mosaddek, Mehidy Hassan, Mustafizur, Shakib, Mustafizur, Mortaza, Saifuddin.
Spot the pattern? Of course not! It’s non-existent! He’s responding to the needs of the moment, not reading some prepared text and complying.
With 352 runs on the tins against Australia, from #33 to #46, Virat Kohli bowled Chahal, Kuldeep, Hardik, Yadhav, Bumrah, Bhuvie, Bumrah, Bhuvie, Chahal, Bumrah, Chahal, Hardik, Bumrah, Bhuvie.
Like Mortaza, in the moment.
Let’s leave bowling. For me, in the batting is where Holder’s major mistake came. He should have come in before Russell. Anyone with the penetration could see that what was needed at 242 for 4 with ten overs to go and Hetmyer having not uncharacteristically just given his hand away was a period of temporary consolidation. That is not, has never been, Russell’s role.
Had Holder had the insight to hold his declared match-winner back, many other things would still have had to fall into place for the WI to walk away with the coveted win.
Had Russell walked to the wicket when Holder departed rather than the other way around, the challenge for the Bangladeshis might well have been sterner.
So dominant were they, however, that it’s doubtful whether, even with ramped up scoreboard pressure, the outcome would have been different.
But who can say for certain that the result would have remained unchanged with the target increased to 352 and WI in the hands of a captain who plays limited-overs cricket not by the book but with his brains engaged?
Maybe we should ask Mark Nicholas.