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The long road ahead of the Windies

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West_Indies_ODI_World_Cup_CricketThree months ago, when the rest of the cricketing world rushed to England to take part in the mini-World Cup that was the Champions Trophy, the West Indies sulked back home, inviting rising minnows Afghanistan over for a few ODIs and T20s. They were ranked ninth in ODIs and had missed out on a Champions Trophy berth since it was an eight team tournament.

The off-time, however, did some good for West Indies cricket. It gave the administration and the players, both of whom were entangled in several controversies, time to rethink their priorities. The selectors have deliberated over the exodus of players to T20 leagues across the globe and an amicable settlement has since been reached between the players and the board. Although a majority of the T20 stars haven't committed themselves to national duty in limited-overs cricket, the return of Gayle, Samuels and Jerome Taylor for the England series bodes well for the Windies.

That said, as the crushing defeats at Old Trafford and Bristol in the first and third matches of the England series proved, West Indies need to find a way to blend their T20 stars and existing players. In the period where the likes of Gayle, Samuels, Narine, Brathwaite, Pollard and Russell were unavailable, West Indies had formed a somewhat stable group of players. But most of them were unreliable, inconsistent and hurried into International cricket.

The rigid dichotomy between the freelance T20 players and administration made West Indies cricket weak to the point of extinction. Right now, they are at the precipice, staring into the infinite abyss below and ready to plunge at any moment. But they could also step back on to safe ground. The Test series proved that West Indies aren't totally done and dusted. They have a few emerging stars and some decent experienced cricketers along with a captain who leads them from the front.

 

Jason Holder has weathered quite a few criticisms in recent months. But take a moment to understand the plight of this young captain, thrust into a role that required him to shepherd his flock of directionless players. He has done an admirable job at the helm for the Windies. But his biggest challenge will begin now, with his side dumped into the Associate group of nations for qualification to the 2019 World Cup.

 

West Indies needed to win the series 4-0 or 5-0 to automatically qualify ahead of Sri Lanka, so they lost their place right after losing to England in the series opener. September 30th is set as the cut-off date for qualification to the 2019 event and West Indies, with 78 points, cannot nudge past Sri Lanka, who are eight points ahead in the ICC ODI rankings.

Now the Windies need to compete in a 10-team qualifier to find their way to England for the 2019 World Cup. In this context, the return of some of their big names is a huge boost. But they need to utilise them well to produce results.

The opening combination is pretty much set, with Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle at the top of the batting order. The manner in which these two attack from the word go puts pressure on any opposition and it is this intimidation factor that the Windies should look to exploit.

But this can happen only if the belligerence at the top is followed by some stability in the middle-order. Shai Hope, West Indies’ latest sensation in the longest format of the game, is a proper no.3 who is capable of playing the anchor role. Marlon Samuels follows him, but the temperamental batsman is a waning force and once Darren Bravo is available, the Windies will have fewer headaches.

Jermaine Blackwood, who shone in the Tests with his aggressive approach, should also find a place in the eleven although he may end up being surplus to requirements at the moment. Kyle Hope, Shai’s brother, hasn't quite nailed down his spot so Blackwood should be a better bet.

The lower middle-order has Jason Mohammad and Rovman Powell, both of whom are pretty handy cricketers. The return of Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell, plausible in the near future, should strengthen West Indies’ all-round strength. That said, Powell is a formidable young talent and should get ample opportunities at this stage.

Jason Holder and Ashley Nurse are the other all-rounders in the squad and, till Narine returns, the latter is expected to be a constant feature. The Roston Chase experiment did not work out quite as well in the shorter formats, although some would argue the Test firefighter deserved a longer rope.

Among the fast bowlers, West Indies have Jerome Taylor, Kesrick Williams, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Kemar Roach. While they have stuck to Taylor and Williams with Holder as third seamer, one of their reliable Test quicks should find a way into the shorter formats.

Contrary to popular opinion, West Indies have most bases covered even without a large chunk of their T20 stars. But the return of a few players puts them in a much better position to rise up from the ashes. How quickly they can do that will be instrumental to their regrowth as a cricketing nation.

 

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