Team West Indies preview: Bowling, chink in Windies’ armour

The team’s weakness was laid bare for all to see in an impressive but quite revealing 2-2 drawn one-day series with England in February-March this year.

On their day, Chris Gayle and Andre Russell are capable of destroying any bowling attack in the world.   -  Vivek Bendre

Boasting world-class power-hitters such as Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Shimron Hetmyer, garnished with a bit of elegance from Shai Hope, few will be surprised to see the West Indies make a deep run at the 2019 ICC World Cup.

Inconsistency, however, continues to plague the men from the Caribbean and few eyebrows would be raised if Jason Holder’s men — as their eighth place ODI ranking suggests — fail to make the last four in the competition.

Bowling continues to be the team’s Achilles heel and will likely be the main reason if the team struggles in the tournament. For context, as of May 8, no West Indian bowler was ranked in the top 30 by the ICC. Holder was the highest ranked at 31 and spinner Ashley Nurse was next best at 45. The team’s weakness was laid bare for all to see in an impressive but quite revealing 2-2 drawn one-day series with England in February-March this year.

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In the opening match in Barbados, all seemed to be going handsomely for the home team after Gayle blazed a hundred en route to 360/8, its highest score ever against the World No. 1-ranked team.

England, like a confident poker player, saw the total and easily raised to 364/3 to complete its biggest run chase.

In the fourth ODI, England massacred the Windies bowlers for an insurmountable 418/6. The Windies led by Gayle — who else — made a valiant attempt at a historic chase but fell 29 runs short. All the bowlers in that match — minus spinner Devendra Bishoo — have been picked for the World Cup squad.

There had been much conjecture as to the composition of the Windies squad after former Cricket West Indies (CWI) president Dave Cameron lost the March 24 CWI elections to ex-WI manager Ricky Skerritt. The defeat signalled a revamping of the selection policy and paved the way for the return of several senior players to bolster a bowling attack lacking that championship edge.

The squad named stuck with the status quo, however, and a team that needed to sneak in through the back door from a qualifying tournament last year will look to prove they belong on the big stage. Kemar Roach, 30, the most experienced with the ball, leads the pace attack alongside Holder and will be expected to not only contain, but take wickets as well. Sheldon Cottrell, Ashley Nurse, Carlos Brathwaite, Andre Russell, Shannon Gabriel and Oshane Thomas complete the bowling options.

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Power-hitters

"I could never dream of playing so many World Cups, but it has happened. It shows consistency in the career. That keeps you going and earns a lot of praise. Hard work in the last couple of has years paid off. People want to see you more and you are trying to deliver as much as possible," says Chris Gayle.   -  Reuters

Chris Gayle: Named vice-captain for what will be his last hurrah in ODI cricket, West Indies’ fortunes, much like it has been for most of his career, will depend on the 39-year-old. The good news for the West Indies fans is Gayle’s still got it. Announcing his decision to retire from ODIs after the World Cup, the charismatic Jamaican plundered England for 424 runs at an average of 106.00 in the five-match series — one match was abandoned.

The left-hander wields one of the biggest blades in the world and his production at the top of the order can swing the scale in the Windies’ favour on any day. Windies fans will be hoping Gayle exits the stage with the “six-machine” still firing on all cylinders.

Shai Hope: Since announcing his arrival in August 2017 with twin hundreds in a Test against England at Headingley, Leeds, Hope has shown his poise and elegant strokeplay is not limited to the longest format. Surprisingly, his Test form has waned considerably but the 25-year-old Bajan has exploded in One-Dayers. In his last eight ODIs against Bangladesh, England, Ireland and Bangladesh again, the right-hander has scored four centuries and a half-century.

Going into the World Cup, already ranked in the top 10, Hope could possibly become the world No. 1 batsman when the tournament is over.

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Andre Russell: It has been almost a year since Russell last played an ODI for the West Indies. Injury and a doping whereabouts violation ban has robbed the West Indies of arguably the world’s most destructive batsman in limited-overs cricket. His modest 28.51 batting average in this format masks the genuine danger this man can bring to the cricket field. Although more known for his exploits in T20 cricket, opposing captains will be wary of the Jamaican. Third in runs and batting average at the 2019 Indian Premier League, Russell enters the World Cup with supreme confidence and hunger for success. With the ball, Russell is known to crank up the pace but a troublesome knee could hinder his impact as a bowler.

Shimron Hetmyer: At 22, Hetmeyer has already scored four ODI centuries and averages in the 40s. An unbelievable performance in the 2018 Caribbean Premier League — he guided his home franchise Guyana Amazon Warriors to the final — saw him snapped up in the 2019 IPL. The exuberant left-hander knows what it is to lift an ICC Trophy, having captained the West Indies under-19 team to the 2016 World Cup title. He’ll be looking to showcase his array of attacking strokes when he makes his senior World Cup debut.

Still a relatively unknown threat, Hetmeyer could prove lethal as he surprises opposing bowlers with his fearlessness and ability to clear the ropes.