T20WC24: Rutherford on WI batting, his IPL stint and Afghanistan challenge

Despite the West Indies qualifying for the Super Eight stage of the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup by beating New Zealand by 13 runs on Wednesday evening, many are still unconvinced by the team’s batting.

West Indies slumped to 30 for 5 before Sherfane Rutherford belted an unbeaten 68 off 39 deliveries to lift his team to what proved to be a winning 149 for 9.

West Indies batsman Sherfane Rutherford smashes a delivery into the night during T20 World Cup action against New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Despite an eleventh-hour onslaught by the Kiwis’ Mitchell Santner, Alzarri Joseph (4/19) and Gudakesh Motie (3/25) paved the way to victory.

In their opening match against Papua New Guinea in Guyana, the two-time T20 World Cup champions also struggled to chase 137 for victory. So there is reason, some say, for concern about the regional team’s batting. That some does not include Rutherford.

“Definitely not—we have been playing good cricket,” he said, during the post-match press conference. “There are good days and bad days. One thing I learned is that if a team is going to win any tournament, there’s going to be different players stepping up each time.

“I think for the past three games, it’s been three different players. So I’m not concerned because that is what champion teams do. I was at the IPL and I observed a lot of things and that was the key that stuck with me.”

West Indies batsman Sherfane Rutherford salutes the crowd during his innings of 68 unbeaten against New Zealand in T20 World Cup action at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

The Guyana left-hander took 37 runs off the last two overs, plundering six sixes and two fours in his match-winning knock.

“I would put it as my best knock,” he declared. “It is a World Cup. This was my dream. I always wanted to play in the World Cup. I always want to perform in the World Cup.

“This one is going to stay close to my heart. Hopefully, I can continue to take out good innings like this for my team and myself.”

Rutherford’s performance in the tournament before Wednesday was less than stellar, leading to calls for him to be replaced by fellow Guyanese middle-order batsman Shimron Hetmyer.

West Indies captain Rovman Powell (left) and Brandon King lead the players off the field during their T20 World Cup encounter with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

After rattling up 47 not out against Australia in a warm-up match at the Queen’s Park Oval on 30 May, the Kolkata Knight Riders batsman scored only two against Papua New Guinea and 22 against Uganda.

He did not play a game for Kolkata during their title-winning run but he insisted his time in the IPL was well-spent.

“I was in the IPL for two months so I was preparing,” he noted, “even though I was not playing. I did a lot of work and did my planning. Keeping it simple and backing my skill. I think that was the key.”

West Indies supporters cheer on their team during their T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Explaining, he added, “I pattern my game out of the situation. Even in my preparation before the World Cup, I try to put myself in positions where I have to bat properly and then I have to excel in the end. It is good that my plan and my work is coming to show.”

Citing the 67 not out off 40 balls against Australia at Perth last February, his previous best score this year, he remarked that it was a valuable milestone on his learning curve.

“I think that the innings in Australia is one that I kept close to me,” said Rutherford. “It was a good innings and I try to pick a few things out of it. One of the things was to give myself time.

West Indies batsman Sherfane Rutherford (left) has a word with Gudakesh Motie during their T20 World Cup contest with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“It’s always a process and sometimes, when you look too far ahead, you forget about the process, Ball after ball, run singles, give myself time so that, in the back end, I can always make up.”

Sharpening the focus on to Wednesday’s knock, he provided an interesting insight into his approach.

“I think it was a very difficult wicket to start on,” he explained. “The ball was a bit tacky. It was a big spongy. I tried to do process. I tried not to look too much ahead, I tried to bat time, bat singles.

New Zealand pacer Tim Southee prepares to unleash a delivery during T20 World Cup action against West Indies at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“I always tell myself I perform well when I give myself time. It was just for me to keep reminding myself to give myself time and take it deep.”

His late attack on the New Zealand bowlers, he revealed, was no accident—it was the product of tactical nous, not luck. New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson had gambled by bowling out his strike bowlers Trent Boult (3/16) and Tim Southee (2/21).

Rutherford was well aware of it. And made them pay dearly.

West Indies opener Johnson Charles was bowled by New Zealand pacer Trent Boult for a duck during T20 World Cup action at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“When we lost wickets,” he said, “I just tell myself I was going to take it to the 20th over and try to maximize in the last two overs because they had to make up with two bowlers.”

The erstwhile St Kitts and Nevis Patriots star was pleased to help his team get the win and qualify for the Super Eight.

“Every game is important,” he said. “We always want to win every game… It’s good to get the ‘Q’ in front of our names. It is just part of the job.

West Indies spinner Gudakesh Motie (centre) is congratulated by teammate Akeal Hosein during ICC T20 World Cup action against New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: ICC

“Our aim is to play the last game of the tournament, so we’re looking to keep improving and keep getting better.”

Both West Indies skipper Rovman Powell and New Zealand captain Kane Williams agreed that Rutherford’s innings was the difference between the teams.

“The margins in the match are fine and, in conditions like that, two or three balls where the match-up suits, that can be the difference,” said Williamson.

West Indies players prepare for action against New Zealand in a T20 World Cup affair at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“We saw a fantastic knock from Rutherford and he certainly timed it beautifully and got his match-up. I think at the end of the day that was the difference.”

“We told our guys that someone will have to play a blinder,” Powell said. “We always want to believe individual brilliance is needed. That innings gave us confidence and belief.”

On Monday, West Indies will take on Afghanistan in St Lucia, an encounter most likely to decide the group winners. Rutherford is quietly confident about which team that will be—the one bidding to win an unprecedented third title after wins in 2012 and 2016.

West Indies players have a chat during their T20 World Cup contest with New Zealand at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“We want to take it game by game—it’s just the process,” said Rutherford. “Afghanistan [are] a good team but, at the end of the day, we are a good team as well.

“We don’t want to look down on the opposition, we just want to do the right thing and go through our process.”

There are certainly those for whom the West Indian batting remains a focus. But the manner of Rutherford’s Wednesday emergence as another potential match-winner is likely to have allayed some fears.

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