By Bryan Davis
former West Indies Test cricketer
I can’t get my mind off the T20 World Cup (WC) later this year in October and where West Indies (WI) now stand in their level of preparation for this dynamic tournament.
We have recently witnessed many fundamental changes in WI cricket, so that while still in its embryonic stage, the authorities have to be aware that fixtures wait for no-one, and the region expects immediate improvement in its cricket fortunes.
The first and most vibrant change took place a year ago when the previous president of Cricket West Indies, the Jamaican Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron, was replaced by newcomer Ricky Skerritt of St Kitts who gradually introduced changes, the most crucial being in the system of selection.
A new head coach in Phil Simmons and his coaching staff were appointed. Roger Harper of Guyana as the lead selector and Miles Bascombe of St Vincent together with Simmons comprise the new selection committee.
They are now known as the Selection System Task Force or SSTF. The relevant captains would be invited to the selection meetings for their advice but would have no other input.
Then a new captain was chosen for the One-Day-Internationals (ODI) and the T20 formats. The man is Kieron Pollard, the second most experienced T20 player in the world (Dwayne Bravo being the top). Jason Holder kept his job as the Test captain.
With the advent of Pollard, WI cricketers seemed to have a more compelling attitude; they appeared positive on the field and the will to win was quite evident.
I’m even tempted to say along with the change to Simmons, because it is not only Pollard’s white-ball crusaders, but also Holder’s charges that played cricket with a more confident approach, as it should be, and not with that drooped shoulders look that we got too accustomed seeing.
However, to return to the T20 format and the WC in October, Pollard’s men went under to Afghanistan by a two-one margin in three T20s that took place in India last November. This was followed by a two-one licking from India in December. Nonetheless, the cricket was not one-sided, and the Caribbean men played well. There were many areas for improvement which the captain astutely pointed out. The motivation was there and the attitude right, but certain areas of skill were lacking in every discipline.
The batting was not consistent while the bowling was, for the most part, amateurish. The huge let-down though, was in the fielding, which was not professional enough and short of expertise. Yet there were some brilliant catches taken and dazzling displays of ground fielding.
To be more professional, the constant intensity needed would require more concentrated practice and I feel sure that between Simmons and Pollard the improvement to achieve the level of performance demanded would be reached.
I ought to mention that while the T20 series was being played out, there were also parallel ODI competitions that the WI won three-nil against Afghanistan and lost two-one to the Indians and should be given credit for their performances.
It was then a return home to take on relative newcomers Ireland whose game, although improved, does not carry the stamp of quality that it is our custom to measure a professional cricket unit.
I’m not condemning the Irish, for their cricket has come a long way in the past 20 years while WI’s has fallen a long way since they’ve come on the scene. As a matter of fact that had a lot to do with the influence of Simmons as well.
Again, Pollard’s men won three out of three ODIs but stumbled in the T20s only winning one game, another was a washout while Ireland got the better of the home team in the first one.
If WI are to return to being the best in the world, which they proved in 2016, then they must do better than that. To be world champs they can’t afford to be losing to Ireland, at any time. Any side, desirous of winning the WC, cannot afford to drop a game especially to a second-rated team.
Now there’s a potentially challenging and exciting series coming up at the end of February, a series of three ODIs and two T20s against Sri Lanka. While WI are tenth in the standings of world T20 cricket the Lankans lie just above at eighth. Hence, it’s a good benchmark to our strength.
Afterward WI play five T20s in the Caribbean with South Africa and three, also at home, with New Zealand as our opponents. One or two more three-match series against India, England or Australia would have been ideal, but we’re deliberately kept in the dark away from these opponents. Onwards to the WC in Australia!