Spectacular one day, chaotic the next. Like yesteryear Pakistan, West Indies veer between the extremes. The T20 champions of the world, trailblazers, trendsetters, they could crash out in the first round, or blast through to the title and fill the humid Emirates air with a re-rendition of the Champions track.
Twice they have been champions, but twice they have exited in the preliminary stages of the six-edition-old tournament as well. Two-time champions they might be, but they have lost more T20 games than they have won (win percentage 47.03). Only Ireland, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, among Test-playing nations, have a worse win percentage. In World Cups, though, they tend to fare better, their win percentage of 58 the third-best after India and Sri Lanka.
Suffice is to call them the unpredictables of the T20 galaxy, where their stars sparkle the brightest. Few teams could imagine, let alone, boast of the vaunted T20 firepower than that at the disposal of the West Indies. As if the format was designed with Chris Gayles, Kieron Pollards and Dwayne Bravos in mind. In them, they have the top two run-getters in this format; the top three six-hitters, and the most prolific wicket-taker too. The second-highest wicket-taker too is a West Indian – Sunil Narine, who is bizarrely not in the team. Even mega-utilitarian Jason Holder, who most teams would have installed in their playing eleven without second thoughts, can’t find a spot in the squad.
The highest exporters of guns-for-hire in franchise cricket, they are familiar with most cities, bowlers and conditions in the world, and have doubtlessly won franchise T20 titles in every country.
To call them favourites is irresistible, though it should be resisted as there are fragile layers to what appears as the Iron Man’s Guardian of the Galaxy suit. The form of some of their luminaries is indeed concerning. Gayle was scratchy in his few games for Punjab Kings before he left the team citing bio-bubble fatigue; his franchise teammate Nicholas Pooran looked awfully out of depth; Shimron Hetmyer was inconsistent, and in a way embodies the mercurial nature of his team; six-savvy Evin Lewis’s form tapered off as the UAE instalment of the Indian Premier League progressed, struggling to cope with the sluggishness of the pitches. Andre Russell is returning from an injury that kept him out of the final stretch of the league, while Fabian Allen has sustained an injury and flown home.
Questions to answer
Most of them looked either rusty or knackered in the warm-ups against Afghanistan and Pakistan, mustering totals in the early 130s in both games. Unsurprisingly, they lost convincingly, giving head coach Phil Simmons some selection and structural headaches. What suits Gayle the most —opening or one drop? Is Hetmyer under-utilised at No. 3?
Where should Roston Chase bat? Or should they keep it all flexible, which they rarely do?
The constitution of their bowling frame doesn’t look sturdy either. There is a raft of medium pace all-sorts, but they lack a genuine quick. Oshane Thomas is the fastest, but wildly erratic, as his T20 economy rate of 9.06 indicates. Fellow seamer Obed McCoy is a slight upgrade, but prone to waywardness. It’s perhaps the reason they recalled the forgotten Ravi Rampaul, who last played an international match in 2015. He is not an epitome of thrift either — in his last Caribbean Premier League game of the season, he was plundered for 56 runs in four overs, though the 37-year-old was the league’s highest wicket-taker.
More worrying is the lack of depth in the spin bowling department. Apart from Chase’s loopy off-breaks, Hayden Walsh Jr’s googly-leg-break assortment and the untested left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein, there is little else. which makes the omission of Narine baffling. In effect, they would be over-reliant on the change-of-pace expertise of Russell, Bravo, and at times Pollard.
The influence Pollard and Bravo would wield is central to where they end up. If they could recreate their IPL exploits, West Indies would likely reach the semifinals or go deeper. At the core of the team selection, and their philosophy is the sheer belief that whatever the opponents could score, they could outscore. In their ravenous mood, they take conditions and dimensions of the ground out of the equation, breaking windows and shattering morales.
They could out-six most teams in the world like they did to win the title in 2016. Should they settle into six-hitting gear, they would be a fun team to watch. And of course, a formidable team to beat too, when the mood seizes and stars align.