Woeful. Disgraceful. Embarrassing. Sad. Pathetic. Those are just a few of the words that have been used to describe West Indies first round exit at the T20 World Cup. But I’ll throw out another word that has not been used much: Expected.
Many would see the names Scotland, Zimbabwe and Ireland and turn up their noses at the thought of West Indies losing to any one of those so-called “minnows”. I did not.
From the minute the Windies group was announced, I was worried for our chances: 1) because of how poor West Indies have been in T20 cricket over the last year (lost 17 out of 24 T20Is played) and 2) because of how good those same sides, especially Ireland and Zimbabwe, have been in the same period.
This is the same Ireland team that beat Afghanistan in a T20 series, almost pulled off an upset win over India in a T20, and pushed New Zealand all the way in an ODI series, all within the past year. And let’s not forget they beat West Indies in an ODI series in January. Zimbabwean cricket is also on the up, having beat Bangladesh in both an ODI and T20 series and almost pulled off a famous victory against India in an ODI as well.
The simple fact is, the gap between West Indies and the Associates is much smaller than many are ready to admit.
Does this mean that the first-round exit is not embarrassing? Of course it is. West Indies are the only side to have won this title twice, and to exit before the main stage of the tournament is very embarrassing. As usual, the scapegoating has begun.
Many will say that “this” player should not have gone, sack the captain, sack the coach, sack the selectors etc. It’s almost like déjà vu because these same cries were heard last year when we crashed out of the World Cup in similarly limp fashion.
However, these reactionary takes won’t solve the issue. West Indies cricket has deep systemic issues such as poor coaching at grassroots level and poor pitches to name a few. While there has been success in T20 World Cups, these successes have come almost in spite of the current system, not because of it.
Now, with the T20 game progressing beyond the power game that we have fashioned our success on, those issues are becoming even more exposed on the international stage.
Therefore, personnel changes are not the answer. Haven’t we had a myriad of coaches and players over the past decade, yet the cricket is still poor?
It is simply because you cannot add new personnel to a broken and ineffective system and expect miracles.
I will use a biblical example to make this point.
Jesus warned against pouring new wine into old wineskins, since the new wine will end up being wasted as the old wineskins aren’t strong enough to hold it. This is exactly the same for our cricket. We cannot keep adding new coaches and players to an already broken system, because ultimately, we will keep repeating the same cycles of failure.
Remember last year the call for all the “big T20 stars” to be sacked along with captain Pollard. Well here we are.
We went to a T20 World Cup with most of the players the region wanted, and the captain that they wanted, and still ended up having a terrible tournament.
The sooner fans accept that there is no world-renowned coach that can come in and turn things around and no mercurial captain waiting in the wings that will lead the team to its former glory, the better.
Systemic issues aside, one of the glaring issues in Windies cricket is that our cricketers seem to lack the ability to consistently apply the basics of the game. Whether that is part of the poor coaching at the lower levels who knows, but it’s an issue that was quite evident in this fledgling campaign.
While the bowlers stood out for the most part, the batsmen were consistently poor, posting below par totals of 118, 153 and 146 in the tournament. Shot selection from most of the batters was terrible, as was basic game awareness. Kyle Mayers, coming off a brilliant CPL, was poor with bat and ball. While he has been outstanding for the Windies ever since his debut, he failed to understand his crucial role as an opener and form player in this side, giving his wicket away needlessly in all three games.
It also didn’t help that, after having a consistent opening pair in the lead up to the tournament, the Windies decided to abandon it to fit in an out of form Evin Lewis, then a relatively in-form Johnson Charles.
The Evin Lewis selection was a contentious one from the beginning among fans, given his issues with the board, his fitness and scratchy form. However, in my opinion, his selection wasn’t the issue.
In the last T20 World Cup, player of the tournament David Warner delivered for his side after they backed him despite a poor run of form, and I backed Lewis to do the same. My issue was breaking up the established pair of Mayers and Brandon King.
Lewis, as he had done for his IPL franchise, should have batted at #3 (or #4 at a push).
In addition to opening partnership woes, the middle order, barring Brandon King, was awful. Brooks, selected on the back of THAT Hetmyer debacle, was poor. Many forget that prior to three really excellent innings at the end of CPL, he was in poor form domestically and internationally in T20 cricket, and it showed.
Pooran and Powell were also very disappointing, especially when you consider that they are the captain and vice-captain. Since his blistering 74 not out vs Bangladesh in July this year, Pooran has not crossed 25 once in the 12 innings he has since played.
As captain he has also made some questionable decisions to say the least, such as bowling Odean Smith at the death and in the powerplay, and having too many fielders outside of the circle on one occasion, leading to a free hit (not for the first time this year).
Powell, who many are calling to replace Pooran because he led the Tallawahs to victory in the CPL, is also struggling. Although he contributed key runs to push us to a competitive total vs Zimbabwe, other than that he was poor with the bat, with his shot selection at key moments particularly disappointing.
The fact is, Powell is still not consistent enough to have a guaranteed spot in the side, let alone to captain it.
Ultimately, the inquest will begin.
CWI President Ricky Skerritt said as such. I can only hope that the inquest looks at the actual issues this side faces: inability to rotate strike, being poor against slow bowling (I say slow because not one ball spun and somehow West Indies contrived to lose 13 of their 22 wickets against such bowlers), poor decision making and lack of game awareness.
What we Caribbean fans want to see is critical investment in developmental areas across the region to adequately address these issues, and not reactionary actions and opinions that will see us repeat this same cycle in a years’ time at the ODI World Cup, for which we will likely have to qualify for as well.
So here’s a plea; here’s urging fans to prepare for the worst. It’s not going to get better until the underlying system does.