Kieron Pollard’s star-studded highly favoured white ball unit, some are saying, can make history and retain their T20 World Cup title in India in a few months’ time.
No chance, Curtly Ambrose demurs. Not unless the batsmen start using their brains and divest themselves of ‘the foolish notion that T20 cricket is all about sixes and fours’.
Champions after the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, Clive Lloyd’s West Indies once again came close in 1983, finishing as runners-up in Edition 3. Since then, neither WI nor we—same difference—have come close.
In 2012 and 2016, Daren Sammy’s WI emerged top of the T20 World Cup pile. So, in the next edition, postponed from 2020 and carded for October this year, it is the WI title that will be on the line.
In the wake of consecutive series in New Zealand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and now South Africa, it’s hard to know for sure which WI will turn up. Or, as a result, how to answer the tantalising question of how WI will fare. Can we win again?
On pain of death with a gun to my head, I would go with yes. On paper, this side does seem to have the wherewithal to go all the way to the final. And, on their day, win it.
But if you ask me now, in the cold, sobering light of post-South Africa, my answer would be an emphatic no. Cricket is not played on paper. Nor are international tournaments played on one day.
Cricket matches are played, a wise cricketing brain reminded us long ago, in the heads of the opposing captains. But the John Arlott-edited Cricket: the great captains, where that indisputable truth first saw the light of day, was first published in 1970, ergo, well before the first official men’s T20I game was played in New Zealand in 2004.
It therefore omits all mention of what, to ensure success in the shortest format, has to happen in the heads of the batsmen at the wicket; indeed, such a discussion was clearly outside of the book’s purview.
But Ambi gets to the heart of the matter. The greatest captain in the world wouldn’t be able consistently to take to victory a team of empty-headed batsmen. Maybe in a game or two. Or three. Not, however, more likely than not, in an international tournament.
And from Arlott comes a timely reminder of why the face-off with Aaron Finch’s Australia that began on Friday will tell us all categorically whether these eighth-ranked but much vaunted, hit-or-miss, on-again-off-again, now-we-see-you-now-we-don’t West Indian cavaliers have a good chance of beating out the numerous teams currently above them in the ICC rankings.
“‘Australianism,’” the celebrated English writer observed, “means single-minded determination to win, to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means where the ‘impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it—and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them.
“It means they have never lost a match—particularly a Test match—until the last run is scored or their last wicket is down.”
Translation, you are guaranteed a good run for your money when you are up against an Australian team. Whatever the format!
As yesterday’s game has already suggested. It did not go the way Arlott’s observation suggested. But it turned on little details. Five yards to the right or left of Hetmyer and Matthew Wade’s 33 off 14 could have been 66 off 25! And match over by over number 10!
Frankly, I think the Aussies have already seized the initiative in the psychological warfare that precedes every international tournament of the sort that is the October World Cup. Their selectors have been very clever in putting together a better-than-decent squad that is without a handful of their big-name players, including Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, the injured Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis and David Warner.
That means they can’t lose. If, as Pollard, Phil Simmons and Roger Harper doubtless hope, the home side romps past the tourists in the next four matches, the narrative will almost certainly be that this was not quite an Aussie A team but was not far from it.
If, however, Finch’s ‘second-stringers’ contrive—perish the thought!—to get the better of Pollard’s men, what a blow that would be to the West Indians’ egos. Not to mention the huge dent it would put in their confidence about repeating their wonderful 2016 win
So when Pollard, if fit, strides out to the middle of the Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia to take the toss on Saturday evening and several more times within the next week, he will be acutely conscious that the ante is up.
The stakes are higher than they were against South Africa. So the off-the-field voices in his head won’t be those of Andrew Mason and Roland Butcher criticising his policy of inserting the opposition.
He knows only too well that over time the luck of the toss evens itself out anyway. Ultimately, it is, if not quite an irrelevancy, certainly not a major factor.
The voice he should be hearing, I think, is Sammy’s after the 2016 win in Kolkata, castigating then WICB president Dave Cameron for his lack of serious support and commitment.
After Friday, he will be mindful of how important it is for the region to recreate that 2016 party mood. And, in these Covid-19 times, he will be more mindful too of the voices of Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell et al as they danced joyously and sang lustily with the champagne flying everywhere.
At the back of his head will be the thought that should his men, like their 50-over World Cup predecessors, fall short in October, that failure too can mean the start of a T20 World Cup drought that could endure for full four decades.
It is my sincere hope too that throughout the next seven matches—and beyond!—Sir Curtly’s voice will also be in the captain’s head.
And his batsmen’s!
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