A depleted squad

Jason Holder, the captain, is also one of West Indies’ brightest talents.-AP

It’s a World Cup campaign that could spell disaster for cricket in the Caribbean. Over the years we have seen one controversy after another afflict the West Indies. The team has also found ways to achieve failure from benign situations.

Yet, despite everything, World Cup campaigns haven’t brought ignominy. Even when the West Indies has failed to progress past the group stage, it has been on account of losses against a better team.

However, in light of the latest malaise that has affected West Indian cricket, the opening match against Ireland must sit uneasily in the cricketers’ minds. Jason Holder’s side is better than the Irish on paper, but not by much.

If one was to take Ireland’s usually doughty manner of play into consideration, the worry for the side from the Caribbean heightens. After all, it doesn’t take much for the West Indies to stumble.

However, it’s an opportunity as well. The opening game of a tournament has the potential to set the tone for the remaining campaign. It could lead this inexperienced and seemingly fractious side to a collective desire for excellence. Inspiration isn’t easily available for a West Indian cricketer but the team had won the World T20 in 2012.

A title challenge, however, is highly unlikely this time. Last year’s pullout from the India tour not only revealed divisions within the side, it also ensured the removal of a couple of quality players from the team.

Marlon Samuels... the experienced Jamaican has to play a pivotal role.-AP

It remains unclear why Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard did not merit a place in the final 15. The duo has formed the bedrock of the West Indian side in recent years; yet, the selectors claim their performance wasn’t up to the mark.

It beggars belief that it took those honourable men so long to arrive at that conclusion. Players who are not part of the World Cup plans are usually ditched earlier. Not to forget, Dwayne Bravo was the captain of the side before Holder replaced him.

The timing, hence, is suspicious. There’s a genuine apprehension that the two suffered on the account of leading the player revolt in India. The selectors, however, maintain that vindictiveness didn’t guide their decision.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that West Indies is poorer in their absence. The side is left with only four players who have played 100 or more ODIs. The bowling resources seem extremely thin too. 137 of the 266 wicket claimed by the West Indies since 2013 have been taken by bowlers who could not make the squad for various reasons.

Among the missing ones, Sunil Narine is the most obvious name. Despite making a successful comeback upon remodelling his action owing to the apparent legality of his previous style, the 26-year-old didn’t feel confident enough to return to international cricket. It was nothing short of a body blow that left the West Indies sprawling in pain.

In Narine’s absence, the Caribbean team has lost arguably its only player who could walk toe to toe with the world’s best.

Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, despite their pedigree, don’t inspire the same confidence. Gayle’s ODI form in the last couple of years can be charitably described as poor while the latter needs to do more to justify his billing as the vice-captain.

Despite the lack of experience within the side, there are few young players. Eight of the 15 members are aged 30 years or above. If Holder’s curious appointment was a mandate for the young, there’s little reason to believe that.

Despite the problems, there’s a layer of mercurial brilliance that covers the squad. When on song, the likes of Andre Russell can turn a match on its head. Can it be done on a consistent basis? Unlikely.

* * * SUNIL NARAINE'S ABSENCE, A BIG BLOW

There's an inherent explosiveness within the West Indies that sets it apart from other sides. Batsmen like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Darren Sammy possess the ability to tear any bowling attack to shreds. If soberer players like Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo keep their head, it could make for a heady mix.

Among the bowlers, Russell, Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor bowl at a high pace. This could suit them in conditions that are likely to bene?t quick bowlers and offer them pace. The general unpredictability of the side means there are days when its natural brilliance shines through.

However, it's that volatility in performance that gives rise to consternation as well. The West Indies can score 300 in one match and then be shot for 70 in the next. The batsmen are not usually known for their patience. If the side's con?dence is fragile, a poke will be enough to make it crumble.

The absence of Sunil Narine only damages the con?dence in this West Indies team. There's hardly a bowler in the side who would pride himself on his ability to contain runs.

It shouldn't be a surprise to note that the last two batsmen (Corey Anderson and AB de Villiers) to hold the record for the fastest century in ODI cricket achieved the feat against the West Indies.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

Marlon Samuels: The vice-captain debuted 15 years ago but never before has he been regarded as the prime batsman in the West Indies' lineup. The experienced Jamaican is expected to hold the innings together, a task he hasn't achieved with a great degree of success in recent years. But Samuels' special ability as an aggressive batsman can't be disputed.

Chris Gayle: The exuberant lefthander's exploits in Twenty20 cricket are well-known; it's about time some of that form translates into the longer format of the game. Gayle can drive the West Indies to big totals if he bats for 20-25 overs; sadly, that has been a rare sight in recent years.

Jason Holder: The captain is also one of West Indies' brightest talents. Aged only 23, Holder has the pace and height to terrorise batsmen in most conditions. Despite his issues with consistency, he remains a predominantly wicket-taking bowler. It's to be hoped that the duty of captaincy will make him more reliable.

Jerome Taylor: With 106 ODI wickets, Taylor is the highest wicket taker in the side after Gayle (158). The 30-yearold pacer has been in and out of the West Indies team recently, but his experience in an otherwise callow bowling unit remains vital. Taylor remains considerably quick, an asset on most tracks in the Antipodes.

* * * THE TEAM

Jason Holder (captain), Marlon Samuels, Sulieman Benn, Darren Bravo, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Gayle, Nikita Miller, Denesh Ramdin (wicketkeeper), Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith and Jerome Taylor.

Priyansh