When Jason Mohammed and Rovman Powell were batting on Friday, West Indies had a real chance. Mixing caution and aggression, they had added 54 runs and got the better of Indian spinners. The target was just over 100 runs away. They had the momentum and Virat Kohli’s visits to MS Dhoni for inputs were steadily increasing. Then Powell played a shot that sums up West Indian cricket. It was cavalier, puerile and bereft of any logic. In less than 20 minutes, the match was over. The collapse was, if anything, symptomatic of how rapidly this team seems to be sinking.
Earlier in the day, Solomon Mire had emerged as Zimbabwe’s new cricketing superstar with a match-winning ton against Sri Lanka in Galle. While it was a knock that set the cricket world alight, the real impact was being felt some 15,000 km and several time zones apart at North Sound. Mire’s innings had given a debilitated West Indies some hope. Though 16 ranking points-what separates them from Sri Lanka who presently sit at No.8-might be a lot to bridge, a loss to lower-ranked Zimbabwe meant West Indies now had an outside chance to push for direct qualification to the 2019 World Cup. Two wins against India and probably two more in England, with results going their way with regards to Sri Lanka, might leave the door slightly ajar to sneak in before the September 30 deadline.But that still meant defeating a formidable, unrelenting Indian team.
But in many ways, they didn’t look like they were prepared to, or even keen enough to. West Indies might have two Hopes-Shai and Kyle—but there was little of it in the stadium. It was another occasion where their fans en masse chose to abandon them. Despite their sustained slide, never before have their fans collectively shunned the team like they have now.
Emotional and animated as they are, little moments still generate excitement, perhaps more than anywhere else. Kyle Hope’s acrobatic catch to dismiss Kohli was greeted with plenty of snapping fingers and shouts of “Whoooaaa”. But for most parts, the handful who turned up at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium- the man himself making his presence felt-kept shouting out not too complimentary phrases. The reasons for their freefalling have been well-documented. But fans seem bored of listening to the same diatribe and many have actually given up.
That West Indies will be playing the qualifiers against the likes of Afghanistan and Ireland seems inevitable for everyone, including the players. That they would come through the tournament isn’t a foregone conclusion though. Unlike them, the graph of several other teams is climbing. Mire’s century, if anything, should be a warning for the two-time champions that having to sit out of the World Cup isn’t as improbable as it might seem.
With the board expected to relax rules regarding qualification criteria-every player is expected to play a certain number of domestic matches-there is hope that the more prominent names will be back in the mix. Andre Russell would have served his ban too by then. But what should worry them is will they have anyone left to support them or their cause by then? The CPL still pulls in full houses but the demographics of those filling up the stands include many who have never cared or will ever care for West Indies cricket.
It’s just an extension of carnival season for them. The romance of cricket in the West Indies has been a thing of the past for a while. But despite the love-hate relationship between fans and teams in recent times, never before have they reached such a state of apathy. Moments like Powell’s dismissal don’t help either. They have two more matches in the series, the fourth on Sunday, but those are being looked at more with dread than hope.
Though it hasn’t really caught on yet-and probably won’t in a hurry-the West Indies team was rebranded as the Windies a month ago. It was scoffed at by a majority around the Caribbean and the world at large. But perhaps it might not be the worst move that Cricket West Indies-what the WICB has rebranded itself into-have conjured up, feel some. Like one seasoned and now enraged fan in the Party Stand puts it, “If West Indies becomes Windies, at least the likes of Richards and Roberts can spend the rest of their lives not feeling embarrassed that this is the team that they once represented and ruled the world with.”
Live on Ten Sports: West Indies vs India, 6:30 pm