Turning to spin ought to be Calypso Cricket's revamp approach
West Indies failed to qualify for the 2023 World Cup|
(Cricket West Indies)
West Indies were often seen as a dominating force in the early years of cricket when the sport was going through numerous changes. However, the team suffered a steep decline in the latter stages and their failure to even qualify for the 2023 ODI world cup was the lowest point in the team’s history.
When West Indies played their first ODI in 1973 against England, it was the start of their domination in world cricket. They had a fearsome pace bowling unit composed of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft which caused the opposition batters all kinds of trouble. The strength of the Carribean side was not only limited to the pace department but they also had some world-class batters like Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards. This strong squad composition helped the team form a winning formula and led by Clive Lloyd, they won the first two World Cups while finishing as runners-up in the 1983 edition.
However, after 1983, West Indies have not been able to reach the same heights, making it to the knockouts only twice in ten editions. The downward spiral never came to an end and the Caribbean side hit rock bottom when they failed to even qualify for the 2023 ODI World Cup. To further highlight the downfall, a comparison of the decade-wise performance of the West Indies shows that their win percentage was above 70 until 1990 before it took a hit and has dipped below 50 since. The lowest point came in the last decade when the number came down to 35.
A look at the team’s performance in the World Cup cycles further shows their regression. Till 1996, they were one of the elite teams in world cricket and had a win percentage above 50 in each of the cycles, ranking amongst the top four teams. But, the scenario changed completely for West Indies after that and they were always amongst the bottom three teams amongst the top ten in terms of win percentages.
Batting has been the main cause of concern for the Caribbean side as they were always in the top four teams for the first four World Cup cycles but average runs scored by each batter plunged post 1996. As a result, West Indies were pushed down to the last three places amongst the top ten teams in terms of average runs scored by each batter. Apart from these, West Indies lack a set of fearsome pace bowlers as only Alzarri Joseph has been effective in recent times. Other pace bowlers have been in and out of the team and so the team composition looks unsettled. Also, the players are always in constant conflict with the board over financial issues and so some of them like Sunil Narine or Andre Russell prefer to play T20 leagues over international cricket. However, much has been discussed about the causes of the downfall of the team and so they need to move ahead with a revamped approach in the coming years.
The current outfit seems to have just one effective batter in ODIs in the form of Shai Hope. The pace department is spearheaded by Alzzari Joseph and is only supported by all-rounders like Jason Holder, Romario Shepherd, and Odean Smith. However, West Indies have plenty of spinners in the current setup and they keep rotating them. The Windies have spinners like Akeal Hossain, Roston Chase, Gudakesh Motie, Yarnic Cariah, Kevin Sinclair, and Jomel Warrican. Thus, with a lot of spinners coming through domestic circles and league cricket, the team can use it as their strength in the coming years.
The factor that helps the cause is the nature of the pitches seen in the Caribbean recently. In the ODIs played in West Indies in the last two years, spinners have fared better than pacers for all teams in terms of bowling average and strike rate except for New Zealand. The host country have played 14 matches in the last two years with their pacers taking 45 wickets while spinners have accounted for 46 scalps. Further, the pacers have had a bowling average of 33.49 as compared to the spinners’ average of 28.15. The strike rate also narrates the same story and so the stats point out that West Indies can back their spinners to dominate on home surfaces and can build a spin core considering the number of options they have.
Backing the pace bowlers also becomes important for the team as they currently rely on all-rounders to roll over their arms in the pace department. Shannon Gabriel was the highest wicket-taker in the Super50 Cup, West Indies’ domestic List A competition, where he took 15 wickets from seven innings with a bowling average of 14.20 and a strike rate of 18.40. Nicholas Gordon was the other impressive force in the tournament. However, not backing fast bowlers enough has become one of the reasons behind not being able to form a lethal bowling unit for the Caribbean outfit.
Shannon Gabriel made his debut in ODIs in 2016 when he was 28 years old. However, the pacer has featured only in 25 ODIs, taking 33 wickets since which highlights how pace bowlers have been constantly in and out of the team. Oshane Thomas is another example of such a phenomenon as he has played only 20 ODIs since his debut five years back. The pacer played his last One Day fixture in 2020 and was named in the squad for recent series against India but warmed the bench throughout the series. Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph are the only bowlers to have played more than 50 ODIs in the current crop of specialist pacers.
Overall, West Indies needs to approach things with a new perspective to rise from the ashes. The team can focus on making the spin department their strength to regain the lost glory in the 50-over format.