Despite losing both the T20I and ODI series to India, the West Indies can take heart from the fact that they pushed their opponents to the brink in both formats. The Caribbean side won the T20I in Thiruvananthpuram and the ODI in Chennai fairly comfortably, and with just a sliver of luck, could also have won the T20I in Hyderabad and the last ODI in Cuttack.
No reasonable fan could have expected more. The West Indies are ranked ninth in ODIs and tenth in T20Is. India is at second and fifth respectively and are notoriously difficult to overcome in their home conditions. Also, considering how poorly the West Indies did in this past summer’s ICC World Cup in England, it would not have been a surprise were they comprehensively cast aside by India.
West Indian fans can, therefore, view their team’s performance in India as a step in the right direction. For them to have given India such a tough fight is indicative of the strides they have made. Winning is always the preferable result but losing shows you where you stand and what you need to do to get better.
During the 2019 World Cup in England, the West Indies too often managed to lose after getting themselves into positions from which they ought to have won. This happened a number of times during the tournament; batsmen would be sailing along fairly comfortably, only to gift their wickets with reckless shots. It was as if they thought they had less time than they actually did.
This tendency elicited feelings of frustration for those with an affection for West Indies cricket, especially because it all seemed so needless. They squandered good positions, not because of a lack of skill but because they seemed to suffer from a lack of what is termed Situational Awareness. There was an inability to correctly calculate where they stood in a game and what was required to see their side home.
The only good thing about that state of affairs was that it could be fixed, or, at the very least, improved. And if recent performances are anything to go by then it appears that they have begun the work of becoming a better team.
One change that might have contributed to some progress was the appointment of Kieron Pollard as White-Ball captain. The Trinidadian has long been one of the game’s foremost T20 guns-for-hire and has gathered a wealth of experience captaining T20 sides all over the world.
Widely regarded as an astute tactician, he is assertive, demonstrative, and views his role as one of nurturing the considerable number of exciting, fledgeling talents currently on the rise in the West indies. Having played well over 600 White-ball games, there is hardly a situation that could arise that would be totally unlike any he’d met before. Famed Swiss statistician Jacob Bernoulli had this rule: “If you do something for long enough, every possible outcome will occur.” Pollard’s brains would’ve by now been wired to recognize, almost instinctively, almost every possible scenario.
It doesn’t hurt that those in the know regard Pollard’s leadership elevation as a wise move. “I've always admired his captaincy,” offered West Indian great Sir Vivian Richards. “I've always felt that when he played the first CPL T20 at home, he was the best captain. I think Barbados Tridents went on to win it [in 2014], and he was the best captain in my opinion, more proactive than the rest of the captains we would have seen. I think he's in a good place.”
Brian Lara also lent his support and spoke of his countryman being named captain as a “step in the right direction.”
Still, a captain is only as good as his team. No matter how cunning, there is not much he can do with a team that’s not up to the challenge. The best tactician in the world still needs players capable of executing whatever plans he may devise. There is, for example, nothing he can do during a game to protect batsmen intent on committing suicide or to improve the technique of those unable to counter the opposition bowling or the prevailing batting conditions. What can he do to impose discipline on bowlers adamant on serving up wides or half-trackers? It is therefore doubtful, if not impossible, that there can ever be a good captain of a bad team.
Thankfully, many close observers of West indies cricket think that while their team is not yet the best, it is getting better. There are, in and around the team, a pool of young players that could, over time, propel the West Indies close to the top of the ICC rankings.
Batsmen like Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran are exciting talents who have impressed with their shot-making ability and are now showing signs of the kind of growing maturity that should make them consistent, high-calibre performers. Wicketkeeper/batsman Shai Hope has been steadily brilliant in ODIs, averaging over 50 in that format. Also wading in that talent pool are batsmen like Sunil Ambris and Brandon King, while players like Evin Lewis and Lendl Simmons are good players with fairly good records. Along with Pollard, the aforementioned should form the spine of a White-ball batting unit as formidable as any in the game and likely more explosive.
If the West Indies’ bowling is its weaker suit then there is significant talent developing in that area as well. They had a tough time in India, toiling in unhelpful conditions against superstar batsmen. But even that should help them combat some of the tough conditions they’ll encounter in the future.
Sheldon Cottrell, probably the leader of the attack, is not only well-known for his extravagant salute but also for striking in the early overs. Test captain Jason Holder is a steady, highly skilled fast bowler and Keemo Paul and Alzarri Joseph are maturing seamers who have already exhibited many of the best skills of the trade. Hayden Walsh Jr has most of the wrist spinner’s variations. With practice and experience, he should become a valuable and consistent wicket-taker.
To those, we should add fast bowler Oshane Thomas. Currently out of favour, there is no doubting his capacity to cause mayhem with his electric pace and swing at the beginning of the innings. Consideration should also be given to allrounder Rahkeem Cornwall. His lack of mobility will be a liability in the field but his bowling and batting could prove useful.
We should also not forget that Sunil Narine will become fit and therefore available for selection at some point. The same goes for the incendiary Andre Russell, who is well capable of winning a game on his own. Dwayne Bravo has also come out of retirement and could well find a place on the team.
The West Indies now possess players with youthful zest, along with enough grizzled experience to form a combustible but reliable entity. With Pollard guiding and watching over them, this group could be fashioned into a formidable and feared unit, one capable of dispatching all comers.