In Group 1 of the Super 12’s, Australia, England and South Africa await. When the 2021 edition of the ICC World Cup eventually bowls off in the UAE and Oman in mid-October, those three will lead the attempt to knock the crown off the head of Kieron Pollard’s defending champions.
But they aren’t alone, that formidable threesome; at least two more equally dangerous threats lurk, more dangerous because they aren’t really in plain sight.
Both were on display in the recently concluded CPL. The first is umpiring incompetence; the second is self-destruction, aka friendly fire.
Far be it from me to suggest that the umpires are or will be out to get West Indies. But the CPL experience was instructive; I wish I had the stats on how many times, in the absence of the technology, decisions were challenged not by sending them upstairs but by facial expressions and other body language that said unequivocally WTF!
Take, for instance, the end of Match #29 when Jamaica Tallawahs’ Chris Green was adjudged to have been dismissed caught by Guyana Amazon Warriors wicket-keeper Anthony Bramble off Odean Smith’s first ball over #20. The former GAW captain remained rooted to the spot for what seemed like an eternity before he finally accepted that the game was over; there was no higher authority with whom he might lodge an appeal against the clear injustice.
Those who have watched the CPL consistently for the last few years know that butter would have a hard time melting in Green’s mouth. But even if you had never seen disbelief before, on that occasion, you could not mistake it for anything else.
“You (expletive deleted) serious?” his expression unambiguously said, his eyes firmly fixed on the standing umpire, either Barbados’ Leslie Reifer or Guyana’s Nigel Duguid. “You giving me out?”
The ‘live’ commentary reported that Green had been ‘stunningly given out’:
‘[…] There was definitely no noise but the umpire has given it caught behind. Green is speechless with his jaw dropping in disbelief…’
The subsequent ESPNcricinfo match report ended thus: (Green) ‘was controversially given out (…) after swinging and missing at a length ball with replays showing no noise and a clear gap between bat and ball’.
That was simply the latest of many such shockingly bad decisions in the course of the three weeks that the tournament lasted.
And just this week, umpiring was in the spotlight again as the ICC publicly disagreed with a decision made by the umpires in a NatWest T20 Blast match.
Here is what happened: in trying to complete a catch near the boundary, two players collided. The one who actually took the catch never touched the boundary rope himself; however, his team-mate, who fell to the ground just before the catch was completed, simultaneously came into contact with him and the boundary rope as he fell.
After a protracted on-the-field consultation, the verdict of the officials was six runs.
Wrong, said the ICC, the batsman should have been ruled out.
No malice, no corruption, no ill-will, no temporary insanity. Clear mistake! And this from umpires who stand in dozens more matches per year than Duguid and Reifer.
But Test umpires too are guilty. In the Third Test of the 2019 Ashes, the umpire adjudged Ben Stokes, struck plumb in front in the penultimate over of the match by Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon, not out. The video replays provided not a shred of support for the decision.
But Australia had used up all their reviews.
Corruption? Malice? Ill-will? Emphatically not!
Temporary insanity? An error? Beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Fortunately, although that umpire remains on the international panel, he won’t be standing in any WI games.
And so to threat number three.
In my view, Trinbago Knights Riders might not have been able to successfully defend their title in the final against Dwayne Bravo’s determined St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. But they should certainly have got there.
They would almost certainly have, had their skipper, also the West Indies captain, not given his hand away. Completely unnecessarily.
Despite having been set a daunting target of 205, thanks to their top order, TKR had wrested the psychological advantage back from the Kings.
With five overs left and Denesh Ramdin and Pollard at bat, TKR needed a mere 55 for victory.
Only 11 per over with six wickets in hand.
With four overs and one ball left, they needed a mere 45. Pollard had clouted a loud six off David Wiese’s fifth ball to make the total taken off that over 10.
Ball number six was short, whizzing past Pollard’s ears. He essayed a pull. Unsurprisingly, the ball shot skyward. Acting captain and wicket-keeper Andre Fletcher settled under it.
He had dropped skiers before, two in one night. Not this time.
159 for 5 at the end of the 16th became 184 all out off 19.3 overs.
Defending champions dethroned.
Pollard had let his side down in the tournament before.
In Match 11, Akeal Hosein—not included, hard to believe, in the WI’s 15 for the UAE—had defended eight runs in the final over against Nicholas Pooran’s GAW to give TKR a second lease on life.
Sunil Narine made it easy, conceding only six in his Super Over.
For TKR, seven needed off six balls. Suckeye!
So skipper Pollard strode to the crease and struck Romario Shepherd’s first ball for six, well, sought to strike Shepherd’s first ball for six. Sadly for him, Shoaib Malik, in a straight line between him and the targeted boundary, swallowed the shot.
Four off the next five balls. That’s all the second-wicket pair managed.
TKR ship sunk.
Similarly, nobody who saw it is likely to have forgotten Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive ‘remember-the-name’ sixes off Ben Stokes in Kolkata in 2016.
But some may have erased from their memories the traumatic World Cup 2019 moment. Then, needing six runs off seven balls to earn a truly incredible victory against New Zealand, the almost 28-year-old university graduate perished, caught on the boundary by Trent Boult trying for six off the first of those seven balls.
“Ah got to make a brilliant escape,” says Sparrow’s Slave.
Almost 200 years after the abolition of chattel slavery, our Caribbean World Cup cricketers constantly need to be reminded of Brother Bob’s admonition that none but ourselves can free our minds…
…whether or not a cricketing crown currently sits comfortably on our heads.