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T2021 W/C: Simmons’ bonding concern, body blows and bruised egos, as WI prepare for T20 title defence

“Dive, boy, dive!”

Many of the details which were reported here on Wired868 at the time escape me now. But who can forget Dwayne Bravo’s ringing exhortation to his younger brother to give 100%?

Or forget the exasperated four-letter word that subsequently came through the stump mike when Darren Bravo declined to dive.

Photo: Then Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo (left) is deep in thought alongside wicket keeper Denesh Ramdin during the 2017 CPL final against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba on 9 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

For Bravo the Elder, that simply was not good enough. There are no free lunches. If you want to win, you have to give 100%. Every time.

He does.

Ditto Kieron Pollard.

Evin Lewis has played magnificently. His 97 has come off just 32 balls and the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots need one more run to secure a famous victory. Lewis needs just three to notch the record for the fastest century in the CPL.

Pollard, captaining Barbados Tridents, takes the ball himself.

And deliberately oversteps as he delivers a short ball that Lewis has no chance of reaching.

The Tridents lose; Lewis loses out. Perhaps a pyrrhic victory for Pollard.

Photo: Then Barbados Tridents captain Kieron Pollard shares a stern look during CPL action against Trinbago Knight Riders at the Queen’s Park Oval on 12 August 2017.
(Copyright Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Evin Lewis and the two Bravo brothers are among seven Trinbagonians in the 19-man squad selected to represent the region at the 2021 T20 World Cup starting in a week’s time in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Pollard, his vice-captain and good friend Nicholas Pooran, Akeal Hosein and Lendl Simmons are the other four.

Among the 19 are four Jamaicans, including Chris Gayle, leader of the spontaneous Gangnam celebrations in 2016, and Fabian Allen, who celebrates every new scalp with his own original milli-step dance.

The bulk of this squad has been playing cricket almost continuously since early this year, three home series followed by the CPL followed, for some, by the IPL. More time arguably spent together in bio-safe bubbles than in their own bedrooms.

So when I heard coach Phil Simmons say on the weekend that the squad ‘needs time to bond’, I did a double take.

The stellar West Indies performers are all north of 30. And, superb athletes though they are—as they have reminded us time and again—all have had injuries within the last few months.

Photo: West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell was plagued by injuries during the 2019 ODI Cricket World Cup.

Pollard, 34, missed out on the T20 series against Australia, where stand-in captain Pooran raised his captaincy value with a 4-1 win.

Gayle, 42, left the IPL early, desirous, he explained, of re-charging his batteries.

During the 26 August to 15 September CPL, the now almost-38-year-old, DJ Bravo, Mr Fit, missed three successive games with a dodgy hamstring. And he did not bowl in the games immediately following his return to action.

Andre ‘DreRuss’ Russell’s body has only been on this earth for 33 years; it may very well not be a 33-year-old body. The weight of evidence, including the latest from the IPL, suggests, emphatically, the addition of another five years. At least.

According to Simmons, the combative all-rounder, who sat out both Monday’s KKR Eliminator against RCB and Wednesday’s all-important Qualifier against Delhi Capitals, is batting and bowling in the nets. Big deal! Is that supposed to reassure us? Since when does the pressure in a net session even approximate to match situation pressure?

Photo: West Indies coach Phil Simmons.
(via CWI Media)

World Cup match situation; everything on the line!

And WI, defending the title, need Russell, potentially so destructive, fully fit.

So that is a concern. But the business of this team needing ‘time to bond’ is off-putting.

Has Simmons been away from the Caribbean too long?

Might he be carefully preparing a post-failure defence…

…or trying diplomatically to call our attention to something that we have not noticed. Or not highlighted.

On Tuesday evening, CNC3 noted that for the first time skipper Pollard had lost his cool in an interview.

Nuance, I know, is not the forte of today’s e-literate reporters. The emotion of a man who swats at a pesky fly in irritation is equated to that of an angry neighbour who swings a Roberto Carlosesque kick at the pothound that has just beheaded his chicken.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard gestures during his team’s first ODI match against Sri Lanka in Colombo on 22 February 2020.
(Copyright AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

But did CNC3 read Simmons’ mind? Are battered bodies less of a threat than wounded egos? Witness Gayle’s latest broadside against Curtly Ambrose.

A closer look…

Pollard had a decent enough CPL 2021 with the bat: 9 innings played, 175 balls faced, 271 runs scored, with two scores over 50 and five over 25. But was there not more than a hint that his once fearsome ability to pull chestnuts out of the fire with his flashing blade has, if not entirely evaporated, certainly waned?

The once lethal lower-middle-order batsman whose record of performance elevated him to the leadership of the region’s white ball teams with nary an attack on his credentials save sporadic protests coming from snipers in the Barbadian media now seems scarcely able to remember how to win.

And, more importantly from the WI perspective, did we not see a chink in his captaincy armour? Did we not think we saw more than once that his often unimpeachable assessment of the cricketing situation was flawed?

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders captain Kieron Pollard (right) looks a dejected figure as St Lucia Kings batsmen Roston Chase (second from left) and Mark Deyal combine to defy his bowlers during the 2021 Hero CPL sem-ifinal at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis on 14 September 2021.
(Copyright Randy Brooks – CPL T20/Getty Images)

Double defeats by the Guyana Amazon Warriors, the second one coming after his bowlers had earned him a major reprieve and a second lease on life? A man for whom winning, by his own admission, is everything?

The semi-final loss to the albeit high-flying St Lucia Kings came after he had himself successfully plucked more than a handful of feathers from their wings.

Score ten off the first five balls when the required run-rate is 11 per over and then get out trying for a boundary off the last ball?

Which leader worth his salt does that? Had Carlos Brathwaite not already been de-leadered when he offered New Zealand the gift of his wicket in the 2019 World Cup?

But if we expected things to look up in the IPL where our captain was a high-profile member of the defending champions’ squad, disappointment was our lot.

Photo: Mumbai Indians batsman Kieron Pollard drives powerfully during IPL action against the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on 8 October 2021.
(Copyright Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for IPL)

On the personal level, success was more than elusive: six innings yielded an aggregate of 77 from a total of 67 balls faced with a top score of 21.

Even Mumbai’s record 235 in the final group game—Polly’s contribution was 13 off 12 balls—proved insufficient to compensate for the repeated earlier failures. And so the five–time champs had to settle for fifth spot.

And no play-offs place.

Fifth place does not get you into the World Cup knockout round either. If current ICC rankings are any guide, Australia and England are in the pole positions in Group One. WI will have to upset one of them to advance out of the Super 12 and sneak into—oh, the indignity of the connotations!—the semi-finals.

Can we realistically hope to manage that?

It will depend, Simmons reckons, on how well WI bond between now and next week.

Photo: West Indies players celebrate their 4-1 CG Insurance T20I win over Australia on 16 July 2021.
(via CWI Media)

And perhaps on how often—right, Phil?—members of the 19-strong squad bring up the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots’ CPL triumph.

And Bravo’s CSK’s IPL title-winning performance.

Frequent reminders just might not be the best cement for bonding.

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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