The all-stars West Indies side is generally known to assemble in the ICC events, but they were close to full-strength in the bilateral series against South Africa yet ended up on the losing side. It was a harsh reality check for them as they continue to build up towards defending their WT20 title.
West Indies' horrendous spin show can hamper their title defence
Utter spin, and it will wreak havoc in West Indies' camp. Since the New Zealand series, the disparity in their performance against pace and spin has been mind-boggling, as established in this piece. Though West Indies are known for their firepower right from #1 to #9, there was hardly fireworks against the duo of George Linde and Tabraiz Shamsi. They combined took 13 wickets and gave away merely 205 runs off 216 balls, which shows that the Windies batters were striking at less than 100, which is horrendous. In comparison, they did far better against pace, as the combined economy of the Proteas pacers (9.18) reveal.
It was surprising given Windies had four left-handers in their top seven, and with Linde primarily bringing the bowl in, it fell right within their arc. Nicholas Pooran and Hetmyer, known to play spin well, were surprisingly poor and had a SR of 54.5 and 63.2 against the spinners. Not only they failed to take the attack to the spinners, but they were also guilty of playing a high percentage of dots, especially Pollard (77.8%), Pooran (50%), Hetmyer (63.2%). The fourth game of the series that Pollard helped the team win was only possible because of the attack on the pacers as the skipper took Rabada and Ngidi to the cleaners. But, with the T20 World Cup in spin-friendly conditions, West Indies will need to better their batting against spin, or else teams would bulldoze them into submission as South Africa did.
Bravo and McCoy - The shining stars in bowling
The biggest positive that came out of the series for West Indies was their bowling, which is generally their weaker link. The Kieron Pollard-led side never let South Africa touch the 170 run-mark, and it wouldn't have been possible sans top efforts from the duo of Dwayne Bravo and Obed Christopher McCoy. They combined took 19 wickets of the 33 in the series for the Men in Maroon and ensured that the tourists never went off the hook. Bravo, who's well known for his death prowess, was simply magical in the phase as he took nine wickets in the overs 16-20, with an ER of 6.67, an average of 6.7 and a strike rate of 6. His slower-balls got a lot of purchase from the spin-friendly wickets, and his experience proved too hot to handle for the visitors.
Now, Bravo's prowess is well-proven, but it was Obed Christopher McCoy who emerged as the real winner. He was pretty good with the new ball, and then kicked a storm at the death too, which makes him an upgrade to Sheldon Cottrell. His slower-ball repertoire worked really well as it kept the batters guessing, with a good chunk of wickets coming through it. He struck every 12 balls in the powerplay and death each while maintaining an ER of 7.40 in the latter. He was the real stand-out from the series.
A Gayle and Hetmyer position swap?
Having Chris Gayle at #3, with his ability against spinners, the slow-starter syndrome, the disadvantage of two left-handed openers, all works well on paper, but it hasn't translated for West Indies. Across seven innings this year at #3, Gayle's highest score has been 32*, with him accumulating 85 runs at 14.17with a strike rate of 101.19. It is in complete contrast to his numbers as an opener, wherein he averages 32.54 and has a strike rate of 142.84. Now, Evin Lewis has done well for the Windies, but Simmons and Fletcher haven't had a great run. Since the Sri Lanka series, their strike rate has been 120.20 and 118.18, with neither of them scoring even a solitary 50. So, it might not be a bad idea to try out Gayle as an opener again and see how it goes.
Another concern for West Indies has been the poor form of Shimron Hetmyer. He averaged 19 in the series with an SR of 107.54 and was highly disappointing on his return to T20 internationals. But, if Gayle opens, Hetmyer can be slotted at #3. Playing for Guyana Amazon Warriors, the southpaw had nailed the position and scored 267 runs at 33.37, the fourth-highest by any batsman in last year's CPL whilst having a healthy strike rate of 125.94. So, with the change in the positions of the two Windies might well end up doing better.
The promise of 'all-round' talent Fabian Allen
An aggressive lower-order batsman, a tight bowler - Fabian Allen is a dynamic all-rounder who has started to come to his own. In the second T20I, he smashed 34 off 12 with the help of five sixes to showcase his dynamite ability with the bat. More importantly, he backed it up with a 9-ball-14* and a 13*-ball-19 in the subsequent T20Is, to show that he can do it more consistently, too. For anyone, who faced a minimum of 30 deliveries in the series, no one could even come close to Allen's strike rate (197.05). Even in the series-decider against Sri Lanka, he had played a match-winning hand of 21* from 6.
This year, only Kieron Pollard (156) has a better strike rate than Allen (151.92), among the #4 to #8 batsmen, with a minimum of five innings. Given his enormous potential, West Indies can use the southpaw as a floater. With the ball in hand as well, the left-arm orthodox was very precise with his line and lengths, ending up with an ER of 7.6 in the series. His bowling has always been accurate enough, as his career ER of 7.18 indicates, but it's the way he has started to unravel his batting potential that has left everyone in awe.
Nicholas Pooran's failure hurting West Indies
32 matches, 28 innings, 463 runs, two fifties, an average of 19.29 and a strike rate of 118.41 - well, this is how Nicholas Pooran's T20I numbers read. It's as if he puts on some mask and turns into an absolute superstar in the franchise-based T20 cricket leagues across the globe, which goes missing for West Indies. His below-par T20Is numbers have remained inexplicable. It just doesn't make sense. It's not been like he has been in and out of the team too. He has played a minimum of eight T20Is since 2019 every calendar year. He has been an integral part of the team. He's considered the future of T20 cricket in the West Indies. But all for nothing in West Indies' shirt in the shortest format.
In the five-match series, Pooran scored 71 runs off 68 balls at 17.75 with a strike rate of 104.41. Now, one can argue that it's a continuation of his horrible IPL form, where he scored 28 runs in seven games at 4.67 but as stated above, Pooran has never quite done well in T20 internationals. His last fifty in a T20 internationals came as long as 23 games back, that too in 2019. If Pooran continues to underperform like this, West Indies might well have to look for alternatives because there's just not any sort of improvement and he has turned into a sitting duck.
Lack of wicket-taking spinners can haunt
While the West Indies bowling attack did an exemplary job, had the spinners chipped in with wickets, the bowling attack would have turned lethal. But in the form of Fabian Allen, Kevin Sinclair, Akeal Jerome Hosein, and Chris Gayle, they lacked a wicket-taking spinner. In favourable conditions for the spinners, the hosts only bowled 25 overs of spin in comparison to 41 by the Proteas, which was surprising. But it was ought to happen given the containing nature of the spinners employed in the series. The hosts' spinners combined scalped five wickets for 199 runs, with an average of 39.80, striking every 30 deliveries. Their economy, was, however, pretty decent at 7.96.
But it was evident in the series how a trump-card like Tabraiz Shamsi excelled. He was one of the biggest differences between both sides. With the WT20 to be played in the Middle East, where there are high chances of used wickets being dished out, given the ICC event would take place soon after the IPL, attacking spinners are likely to make the world of difference, and for that very reason, West Indies need to change their strategy and get someone who can do better than just stopping the flow of runs.