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Chasing rainbows; wind in WI ODI sails as long trip to India 2023 begins

WI are rounding the corner. But don’t start celebrating just yet. 

We are heading to Toco; the corner we are just rounding is Icacos Point. Like in the bad old days of the Middle Passage, we are in a row boat. Going east. Against the tide.

There is good news, however: all hands are on deck. That much is clear from the recently concluded three-ODI series against Dimuth Karunaratne’s eighth–ranked Sri Lanka, which Kieron Pollard’s focused ninth-ranked ODI-ers dominated almost from the first ball.

Photo: West Indies players celebrate after completing a 3-0 ODI series win over Sri Lanka on 14 March 2021.
(via CWI Media)

The batting, so disappointing in New Zealand in November/December last year, is now on board. Fully.

Despite an off-putting wobble towards the tail end of Friday’s second game, Polly’s team won by 8-, 5- and 5-wkt margins, a fair reflection of how the top order put their shoulders to the wheel or, to retain the metaphor, their shoulder muscles to the oars. 

So effectively did the batsmen neutralise the much-mooted-post-T20Is spin threat that twice in successive games the opening pair of the Shai Hope and Game 2 Player-of-the Match Evin Lewis broke the record for the first-wicket partnership against Sri Lanka. 

And when in Game 3 Lewis’ early dismissal broke the sequence, Player-of-the-Match Darren Bravo (102) seized his chance to play himself back into something like good form. With WI’s third successive century in as any matches, he also pushed his ODI tally past 3,000 and gave his pre-Test match confidence a massive boost.

Photo: West Indies middle order batsman Darren Bravo got a decisive knock of 102 against Sri Lanka in the third ODI in Antigua on 14 March 2021.
(via CWI Media)

Player-of-the-Series Hope has made Sri Lankan bowling a mother lode for himself, his run of scores in this series being 110, 84 and 64. Since the opener came into the series with scores of 115, 51 and 72, Karunaratne can be forgiven for having unspeakable thoughts about the duration of the batsman’s short-lived encounter with Covid-19. 

If the Sri Lankan skipper also sent a prayer heavenwards for nothing to happen to Joshua Da Silva over the next couple of weeks, that should surprise no one. Or if he is grateful to the WI selectors for excluding Hope from the Test squad, whatever his recent scores in that arena. 

Who but lead selector Roger Harper and his cronies would fail to understand his concern?

As for bowling, it speaks volumes about the current state of things that the team’s most successful bowler was Jason Mohammed, who ended with aggregate figures of 24-1-108-6. The stand-in captain in Bangladesh did not earn his ODI place in the squad in the subcontinent but in the Super50 Cup. There he scored some 300 runs, to be among the tournament’s top scorers and give the selectors little choice.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Red Force batsman Jason Mohammed (right) on the go during the 2021 Super50 competition.
(via CWI Media)

Beginning the ODI series as a call-up bowler likely to get four or five of the fifth bowler’s overs only if…, Mohammed claimed 2/12 in his four overs on Wednesday. Left-handers Akeal Hosein and Fabian Allen had 0/44 and 1/38 respectively. 

Unlike his predecessor, Pollard is a captain who understands clearly when to switch from defence to attack. And, when necessary, back again. So when he is in charge, it is a real rarity to see a bowler deliver ten overs on the spin. 

Mohammed (10-0-47-3) was required to do just that on Friday, when Romario Shepherd’s three overs cost 37 runs. So too was Allen (10-0-43-0). Cometh the hour, cometh the man…

But, in cricket, he has to be called up.

In the good old middle-of-the-second-half-of-the-20th-Century days, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards’ Caribbean Cavaliers struck fear into the hearts of all opponents. As Fire in Babylon reveals, after 1975/76, with their embarrassment of riches, no matter whom the skipper called up, he almost always got the right answer.

Photo: Iconic West Indies pacer Michael Holding (left) forces England batsman Derek Underwood to take evasive action during the 1976 series in England.

Pollard has no such luxury. On paper, you wouldn’t rate the bowling resources at his disposal to keep a half-decent batting side under 300 in three consecutive games. They did, despite only claiming a total of 24 wickets. 

Although skipper Karunaratne (52), Dinesh Chandimal (71) and sweeper Ashen Bandara (50 & 55*) all got half-centuries, only the in-form Danushka Gunathilaka (55 & 96), and the swashbuckling Wanindu Hasaranga (47 & 80*) looked at any stage to be dominating the bowling. 

And the question inevitably arises about the ultimate effect on the eventual outcome of Umpire Joel Wilson’s upraised finger in response to Pollard’s ear-splitting Obstructing-the-field appeal in Game 1. It speaks volumes that, beyond the boundary, the media reported, the WI skipper saw it fit to apologise to the wronged Sri Lanka opener.

On the television, Ian Bishop considered it prudent to raise the issue of the imminent—one hopes—return of ‘neutral umpires’. Since by definition, umpires are supposed to be ‘neutral’, it must have been a Freudian slip. 

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard shows off his silverware after completing a 3-0 ODI sweep of Sri Lanka in Antigua on 14 March 2021.
(via CWI Media)

A word about the West Indian fielding. I recall how, when Richards took over the reins from Lloyd in the mid-80s, the intensity of the pre-match fielding sessions diminished markedly. In those days, of course, the skipper was completely in charge. 

Fielding coach Trevor Penny is now. And from the glimpses television gives us of these sessions, one senses that intensity is high again, almost certainly thanks also to the uncompromising commitment to high standards in every department the skipper brings to his task. 

There is still work to be done—not least, bowlers instinctively getting behind the stumps at their end—but the fielding—of both teams—was largely of a very high standard. 

One remembers serious blemishes by Holder, Akeal Hosein and Evin Lewis. Worthy of note, I think, is that the most frequent offender was Pollard. 

To be fair, it has to be said that, as he announced at the end of Friday’s game, his uncle, his inspiration, had passed earlier that day.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard prepares to snap up a catch.
(Copyright DNA India)

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with the Tests but every man jack now feels confident that the ODI ship is on course. Every man jack is excited at the prospect of bringing WI back up near the top in all the rankings. 

Where we all think WI belong.

But for now, Toco, here we come. Full speed ahead. With 30 championship points in the hold.

Next stop is Australia in June/July and then Pakistan in July/August.

Final destination is India in October/November 2023.

Cue Tambu’s 1989 Journey: ‘I was drifting on a lonely sea…’

And then David Rudder’s ‘Rally’…

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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