West Indies and Afghanistan, two teams that were expected capture the imagination of the masses with their free-flowing cricket, find themselves at the bottom of the table and have nothing left to play for, not even pride given how appallingly bad their standards have been.
While the West Indies did kick-off its campaign in style, flattening Pakistan with a display of consistent short-pitched bowling, did not work thereafter, due either to their inability to read and adapt to different conditions, or because the opposition batsmen could not be intimidated.
Afghanistan on the other hand has found itself lacking when it comes to handling crunch situations, falling marginally short on more than one occasion against the bigger teams. The best the two sides can now do is focus on the few bright lights, with a view to building for the future.
The two sides have been involved in five clashes in ODIs, with Afghanistan edging the Caribbean side thrice and one game failing to yield a result.
In those four completed games, Afghanistan spinners Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi accumulated a staggering 21 wickets, and will likely bother the Windies batsmen again.
Nicholas Pooran and Sheldon Cottrell have been the sole bright sparks for the Windies in an otherwise lacklustre World Cup. It is no surprise that West Indies head coach Floyd Reifer earmarked Cottrell, among others (Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer), as a future leader, while lauding young Pooran’s exploits in his fledgling ODI career.
Pooran has shown none of the nerves usually associated with World Cup debuts, or any of the pressure that comes with being part of a losing side – he has played to his ability, and finds himself in elite batting company with an average of 61.6.
The diminutive number four has married flair with maturity and a consistency that belies his age, to register 190 runs at an average of close to 50, making him one of the best in this tournament in the pivotal number four slot.
If Pooran with 309 runs has emerged as his side’s top scorer, Hetmyer has managed only to show glimpses of his big-hitting abilities, without finding the consistency needed at the highest level. This game gives him a chance to sign off on a high, since the talented Jamaican is comfortable playing spin.
One of the areas that the West Indies have bungled has been Shai Hope’s position in the batting order. In an attempt to add more depth to the squad, Hope has been dislodged from opening the innings and now comes at one drop. Hope has a fabulous average of 106.6 when opening; his numbers dropping to 37.22 when he comes in at the fall of the first wicket.
Off-field distractions, bad blood within the dressing room, bad decisions on the field, and the knowledge that they have failed to live up to their potential might make it difficult for Afghanistan to take the field for this final, pointless game with any sort of intent.
Afghan hopes, prior to the tournament, rested largely on the shoulders of superstar Rashid Khan, but his uninspired performances have at least in part been responsible for the side’s eight defeats in eight outings. Rashid, though, has been effective against the West Indies in previous outings and will view this as an opportunity to ensure that his side has at least one win against its name.
It will be an interesting, if purposeless, battle between two struggling sides at Headingly in Leeds, with numerous sub-plots involving power-hitters and wily spinners. With nothing to lose, both sides can play with minds free of pressure.