Before heading to the World T20, those in the opposition assigned to bowl in the first six overs would have looked at the West Indian top-order with a certain sense of trepidation. They would also have prayed that either one of Chris Gayle or Dwayne Smith didn’t bat in a manner that would enhance their reputation as being the most dangerous opening pair in the shortest format. For the Sri Lankans, the collective litany was answered.
Gayle scored just three off 13 balls while Smith made 17 off 14, 10 of those runs scored off the first two balls of the innings. The target of 161 was a stiff one, considering the strength of the Sri Lankan bowling attack, but the rollicking start must have settled the West Indian dug-out.
However, the Gayle-Smith combine failed to score a run off 16 of the 25 deliveries they faced in their partnership. If anything, Marlon Samuels, the hero of West Indies’ 2012 World T20 triumph, did worse. He couldn’t score a run off 17 of the deliveries, eventually remaining unbeaten 18 off 29 as the Mirpur hailstorm blew away the defending champions’ hopes of a second consecutive finals appearance. It’s no secret that West Indies are a side packed with big-hitters but the idea of rotating the strike has seemed lost on them. Probably Suresh Raina was right after all.
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When it all goes well, like versus Bangladesh when Smith made 72 off 43 and Gayle made 48 off 48, the strategy of sticking to their natural game did work. However, against bowling sides of higher quality who managed to pile on the pressure by cutting off their boundaries and bowling wicket-to-wicket, the West Indies struggled to play their brand of cricket. Never did they seem to possess a Plan B to counter their opponents’ ability to tie them down.
Against Australia and Pakistan, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy had to dig their team out of a hole with a display of unbelievably clean hitting. But throughout their 2014 World T20 campaign, there has been a feeling that the men from the Caribbean have been cutting it too fine and leaving too much for too late.
The West Indies fell short by 27 runs (Duckworth-Lewis method) to get knocked out by Sri Lanka in the semifinals. And even skipper Sammy acknowledged that the one-dimensional approach that has been largely successful for his side had its shortfalls as well.
“We know we are a boundary-hitting team, and we know we have got to improve in rotating the strike,” Sammy said.
In the last few years, including in the IPL, Gayle has shown a tendency to get his eye in before stepping on the pedal. And to his credit, the big Jamaican has had incredible success with those tactics. During the semifinals versus Australia in the previous edition of the tournament, Gayle came to the party with a 41-ball 75. Fifty-six of those runs came in boundaries. Gayle’s first 25 came off 17 balls, and the next took just 12, including one over in which he smashed David Hussey for 19 runs. Gayle batted till the end and could hence make up after the slow start.
But when it is not Gayle’s day, like versus Sri Lanka on Thursday, the approach of holding back before opening his massive shoulders and launching into the big hits can be counter-productive. It also has ended up putting a lot of pressure on the others, starting from Smith at the other end to the likes of Bravo and Sammy who have to make up for it.
In their two losses in Bangladesh, the biggest issue for the West Indies was both their openers getting stuck. During their loss to India, the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar were able to successfully stifle Smith by restricting him to 11 off 29. Twenty-four of those deliveries were dot balls.
“If you look at all the games we have played, there are more than 27 dots. Probably 50-something dots. It’s not ideal for Twenty20 but we’ve developed a formula in which that works for us,” Sammy added.
In the end, the defending champions had to pay a heavy price for their over-reliance on the strategy of trying to clear the ropes and their obstinacy to not look for an alternative.