“World Cup front-runners like England and New Zealand have counterbalanced their explosive hitters, Jos Buttler and Martin Guptill, for example, with conventional, steady-headed players like Joe Root and Kane Williamson. They know that batting out the full 50 overs is key to victory.
“The West Indies team management does not. Instead of a balanced mix, they chose a squad replete with big-hitters who give their wickets away and show no respect for world-class bowlers, taking the same outrageous chances as they do in the final overs of a T20 match.”
In the following Letter to the Editor, Simon Roberts suggests that the West Indies’ doomed run chase against New Zealand was an indication of flawed tactics:
It’s simple Standard Two mathematics. Chasing 292 to win last Saturday’s match against New Zealand in Manchester, at six runs per over, a run a ball, the West Indies would have gotten home.
With Carlos Brathwaite and Kemar Roach in the middle, 18.3 overs left and 116 still required, Ian Bishop remarked on TV that the only problem facing them was that they had lost seven wickets.
The great Jamaican fast bowler Michael Holding set him right.
“I can tell you,” he responded, “West Indies have another problem: lack of thought.”
The Black Caps soon removed Roach and then Cottrell. Brathwaite, who had brought the Windies to the brink of success with some astonishing hitting, chose to ride his luck. Needing a single off the last ball of the 49th over to leave himself six balls to get five runs, he opted to go for glory and lost.
Scenes of the massively-built Barbadian falling on his knees with tears rolling down his cheeks made for good TV. But although the ICC tournament ratings were climbing and New Zealand were two points closer to the semi-finals, Brathwaite’s adrenalin rush had done nothing for the West Indies’ cause.
Brathwaite’s mistake might have been the final, fatal one but it was not the only one. Amplifying his earlier comment, Holding had earlier referred to “a certain batsman” who had fallen with 26 overs to go. Chris Gayle, the World Cup’s most experienced player, had survived a couple narrow escapes but had muscled the Kiwi bowlers around almost effortlessly to reach 87 from 84 balls, with eight fours and six sixes.
Then, with just 140 needed from 156 balls and Brathwaite looking solid at the other end, the “Universe Boss” imperiously attempted another six and was caught at long-on.
World Cup front-runners like England and New Zealand have counterbalanced their explosive hitters, Jos Buttler and Martin Guptill, for example, with conventional, steady-headed players like Joe Root and Kane Williamson. They know that batting out the full 50 overs is key to victory.
The West Indies team management does not. Instead of a balanced mix, they chose a squad replete with big-hitters who give their wickets away and show no respect for world-class bowlers, taking the same outrageous chances as they do in the final overs of a T20 match.
On April 24, for instance, interim head coach Floyd Reifer told the Caribbean Media Corporation that Andre Russell’s “explosive batting” would be key to the team’s success.
“He’s shown that he has tremendous striking ability (…) so we’re going to be using him as a batting all-rounder.”
The six specialist batsmen selected include four IPL stars of “tremendous striking ability” in Gayle, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran. These are all aggressive, six-hitting stroke-makers, who cannot seemingly put their heads down in times of pressure and seek to bat through most of the 50 overs at the World Cup.
The all-rounders are no different; Russell, Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite and, dare we concede it, Ashley Nurse are all capable of smashing the ball out of most grounds. Not one has displayed the commitment and composure to steer the team through 300 balls.
Shai Hope and Darren Bravo are of a different mould but the latter entered the campaign miserably out of form. Instead of giving a man who averages 30.85 from 110 ODIs time out in the middle to work out his issues, West Indies let the in-form Hope and Sunil Ambris occupy the crease for match after match in Ireland, turning a pre-tournament Tri-Nations warm-up series into something of a two-man exhibition. Hope alone faced 388 of 1,331 balls bowled to the West Indies, scoring 470 runs.
There is not even a case that Bravo cannot accelerate when necessary; a TV commentator reminded viewers that, in the last Caribbean Premier League when Trinbago Knight Riders retained the title, the Trinidadian struck 20 sixes and 17 fours.
Hope has certainly shown the temperament but he has not been nearly as effective in the World Cup; when scoring 96 against Bangladesh, he soaked up 48 dot balls and got himself out with three overs left.
The lack of balance is not restricted to the batting.
On April 27, coach Reifer told CMC, “We will win the World Cup on bowling.”
But following the loss to Bangladesh, Sir Vivian Richards, another West Indies cricket great, lamented that the bowling was “one-dimensional.”
The approach in the field, as proclaimed at every opportunity by captain Holder, would be to “blast out” opposing batsmen by “sustained aggression.” That was the plan used to great effect by then head coach Richard Pybus during England’s Caribbean tour in early 2019. Management seemed convinced it would see them through the entire World Cup campaign.
The selectors and management ought to have known better. No matter how good a team is, no single approach can successfully take it from game one all the way to the title in a world championship.
An example from another sport: Johann Cruyff’s Dutch “total football” ran into a brick wall against Franz Beckenbauer’s ultra-defensive West Germans in the 1974 World Cup final. In contrast, Italy drew all three of their 1982 group matches and barely scraped into the second round. There, they stunned high-flying Brazil 3-2 in a quarter-final, going on to outplay the Germans in the title match 3-1.
In ODI cricket, five bowlers, at a maximum of ten overs each, are needed to complete 50 overs. But experience shows that a sixth player of some bowling ability is essential in case of injury, player “meltdown” or merely a change of tactics. Thus, the choice of all-rounders is crucial.
Having chosen 11 specialists—six batsmen and five bowlers—the selectors opted for three bowling all-rounders, all seamers. Their thinking was flawed. Holder and Brathwaite cannot produce the express pace to consistently bowl short and get away with it; Andre Russell, who generates such pace, had been struggling with bad knees for months before the World Cup.
Russell played in the Windies’ first five outings. Finally, out for a two-ball duck and struggling to bowl six overs against Bangladesh, he was unable to suit up against New Zealand and was replaced on Monday by Ambris.
Russell or no, the “blast them out” policy was never properly thought out. Teams, forewarned of the bumper barrage, knew West Indies could not sustain it for 50 overs.
At Trent Bridge, Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell and Russell had Australia in the stocks at 38 for four in the eighth over. On came Holder and Brathwaite. Steve Smith, Alex Carey and Nathan Coulter-Nile enabled the Aussies to add 250 runs, paving the way for victory by 15 runs.
Off-spinner Ashley Nurse was “hidden” in two spells, his five wicketless overs going for 31 runs. Left-arm spinner Fabian Allen has not played a game, the reason for his inclusion in the squad still unclear.
Shot out for 212 in their loss to England, West Indies opted for six batsmen against Bangladesh and put up a handy 321 for eight. But after Holder mysteriously opened the bowling with Thomas, affording Tamim Iqbal and Soumya Sarkar four or five overs to settle in, Russell came on, got the breakthrough and then broke down.
Short a bowler and with him and Brathwaite posing no threat to the Tigers, Holder turned to Gayle to fill the untimely gap; his two overs cost 22.
Bangladesh lost only three wickets and got home with more than eight overs to spare.
That led to a complete about-turn; six bowlers and five specialist bats appeared against New Zealand, culminating in a fourth defeat in six outings.
In retirement, the great Pele once commented that England were still scoring goals “with the outside of their heads.” Indeed, success in all sports requires forethought, planning and strategy, none more so than cricket. Holding was right on point about the lack of thought on the part of the West Indies players but the problems go way beyond the on-the-field representatives.
Surely, those responsible for developing the strategy and hand-picking the players that produced these excruciating displays must also take responsibility for the resulting pain and embarrassment now sweeping across the region.