West Indies fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory

Skipper Jason Holder is aware that pride is at stake; the presence of senior players such as Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels is a massive boost for the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier.

Jason Holder (second from left) says his team is motivated to do well in the upcoming World Cup Qualifier.   -  AP

And that’s it, inside edge on to the stumps, Cameron Cuffy goes. That’s the end! The Kenyans are elated, they are dancing. All of them are collecting stumps.”

If you are familiar with Michael Holding’s heavy Kingston accent, you would feel the grief he tried to hide in Kenya’s moment of glory on television in 1996. It was a World Cup match and the African nation had dismissed Sir Richie Richardson’s West Indies for 93.

Exactly a year ago, Mark Taylor’s Australia hurt West Indies’ pride in red-ball cricket. His side beat them 2-1 at home; after 15 years. And the 73-run upset by the tournament fresher further widened cracks and cried doomsday for cricket in the Caribbean islands.

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Twenty one years later, the inevitable happened. Jason Holder’s side couldn’t make it to the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 owing to its lower rank (No 9); only the top eight have direct entry. It also lost four must-win ODIs to England and then, missed the direct flight to ICC World Cup 2019.

‘They have the firepower’

As it prepares to prove supremacy at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe come Sunday, former Kenya skipper Steve Tikolo — who top-scored with 29 in that ’96 game — spared a thought for West Indies. “It is very sad to see West Indies take the qualifier route. Being a Test playing nation with a rich history, it is disappointing to see them here. They should be playing straight in the World Cup like any other Test nation,” he told Sportstar.

Tikolo is perhaps a suitable person to talk about renovation. He pulled Kenya out of no man’s land to the semifinals of the ICC World Cup in 2003. He is one of those cricketers who would probably value the concept of ‘qualifiers’ a bit more.

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“They still have the firepower. If a lot of things are put in order, for example, if they get the key players, they will have a crack at the World Cup next year (if they qualify). They have players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine to mention a few,” he added.

Only Gayle from the mentioned lot joined the squad for the qualifiers, but that’s no worry. “They should just go out and play positive cricket. They need to believe in themselves that they are good enough to make it beyond the qualifiers. It is a tough tournament and my advice to them is ‘look to do your best in each and every game,’” Tikolo suggested.

One man lead

Having won two consecutive World Cups — in 1975 and 1979 — West Indies became a brutal force in the seventies. Cricketers in the late 1980s experienced the last of the golden generation with players like Carl Hooper and Courtney Walsh replacing the Richards and the Holdings.

Former India batsman W. V. Raman, who made his international debut against West Indies in 1988, is also behind Holder’s boys. “The constant skirmish between the players and the board officials is unfortunate. Cricketers opting to play in T20 leagues as against playing for West Indies is an issue nobody can be blamed for. Everyone is trying to secure his future. If somebody, the captain or an administrator, can take lead and act as a catalyst, sit the players down, convince them and explain the importance of their role under the West Indies banner, it could be the first stage of revival,” Raman told Sportstar.

Raman understands the personal needs of the cricketers having seen greats suffer post retirement. “A lot of former West Indies cricketers have not had a great financial life after cricket, so you can’t blame the players. But somewhere down the line, somebody needs to act as a bridge and get the stakeholders together,” he added.

The veteran cricketer also reminded how West Indies cricketers still break banks in franchise cricket. “They are sought by franchises in T20 leagues across the world. It is an indication that they are still good enough and capable of performing,” Raman said, adding that the qualifiers are a blessing in disguise. “In the current situation, the tournament will provide the much needed spark. West Indies will realise that it has a situation where it needs to compete with the best. It may motivate them.”

Raman doesn’t want to discount them for the qualifiers tag. “At times, these challenges bring out the best in you. When nobody thought they had a chance, they won a Test match in England last year. One year is a long time to prepare for the World Cup. Cricketers have to prevail over administrators and get what they want, but they need to earn it through performances,” he reasoned.

West Indies knows the tough road ahead. Afghanistan already beat it in a rain-truncated warm-up tie on Tuesday by 29 runs (D/L). The ardent fans would like to believe that Holder is still balancing the equations in his head and the real game is yet to be unleashed. West Indies will play its first game against UAE on March 6, Tuesday.

They should, after all, retrieve the stumps lost.

From the skipper
  • “Over the last few years, we probably haven't played the cricket we would've like to play but having said that, all the guys are motivated and we know what is at stake. I must commend Chris (Gayle) and guys like Marlon (Samuels), who have come here with that motivation to do well for the West Indies and give themselves a chance to play another World Cup.” — Jason Holder, West Indies captain