Wait for the Holding line
Chris Gayle wants a farewell Test. He hasn’t played one in five years. Chris Gayle wants to please the audience one last time. He hasn’t this World Cup.
Except a flicker of brilliance here and there, he has looked every bit a man whose best days are far behind him. He could still pull the crowd with his on-field theatrics–the other day, he did push-ups on the ground, wore fancy specs and obliged selfies. He continues to entertain, not with the bat though.
Celebrated a figure as he is in the Caribbean, their media is not so sentimental about him over-staying. Barbados Today, in a typically scathing piece titled “Gayle unretired” blared their displeasure: “It’s clear that he’s past his prime, which was evident throughout the World Cup. So why should he waste the chance of another youngster? The future of West Indies batting is the Hetmyer-Hope-Pooran axis. And we had just beaten England at home. And we are rebuilding. So why would the selectors entertain him?”
They also weaved in the Shivnarine Chanderpaul thread: “He was the best player of a generation, but he got nothing. So why should Gayle? He’s a great batsman, one of the finest from the islands, but he doesn’t deserve what Chanderpaul didn’t. Not in this kind of form.” Facts only vindicate their argument, as he managed only 242 runs at an average of 30 in eight outings.
Even the strike rate was not quite Gayle-esque (88.32). Aggravating his crime, he played a slew of horrendous strokes at the wrong time. Like against New Zealand, when they were cruising.
Watching him struggle itself was a struggle. As Guardian’s Andy Bull languidly writes: “According to the official statistics Chris Gayle is 188cm tall. These days, when he bends down to touch his toes he seems to feel every last one of them. Gayle made a dip in their direction right before he stepped over the boundary rope at the Hampshire Bowl on Friday, the idle stretch of a man only lately out of bed and getting ready for the day ahead. It was his last half-hearted gesture towards a warm-up before beginning his 521st international innings for West Indies and his last against England unless the two teams play again in the knockout rounds of this World Cup.”
He could only sigh as Gayle wasted an eternity to rekindle his touch, with Gayle blowing cold: “Every day seems to be alive with possibility for Gayle, rich with the promise of more fours and sixes. Once he finally gets into it, that is. It seems to take him longer and longer. He sometimes starts them so slowly it is as if he is still getting ready for play when it is already under way.”
Jamaica Gleaner, the newspaper published from his hometown Kingston, resorts to sarcasm: “The Caribbean Premier League is round the corner. It’s better that he gets a farewell match there. That’s the real Universe of the Boss. But he’ll hang around in those leagues for a few more years. So he will get several farewells, from all the leagues he has entertained,” he says.
His own captain Jason Holder was shocked when Gayle retracted his retirement decision—the World Cup was supposed to be his last. “He didn’t really say anything in the dressing room,” he said, his face awash with surprise. But soon he struck a diplomatic line: “It’s good to have Chris around. He’s got a lot to offer still. Hopefully, his body can hold up. Hopefully, he can be on the field a bit longer for West Indies.”
But Michael Holding has the last word: “I didn’t know when Chris became the chairman of selectors!”
Kagiso’s so-so show
Earlier this year, in January to be precise, Ottis Gibson wondered if Kagiso Rabada could bowl 145kph while operating at 60 per cent, how quick would he be if the pacer exploited his full potential. It was an attempt to deflect concerns over Rabada being over-worked in the run-up to the World Cup. Now, as South Africa endure their worst World Cup ever, the questions over Rabada’s fitness are being raised again.
Gibson tried to portray a rosy picture but, according to the national media, red lights had started to flash. “The Proteas have blamed the Indian Premier League for Kagiso Rabada’s cricket ability last week. Maybe they should look within themselves first,” writes Leighton Koopman in Afrikaans-language daily Beeld.
The piece is more sympathising in tone rather than scathing but does not spare Rabada for his failures and Gibson for not being able to protect the team’s best bowler. Rabada has averagedone wicket a match in the eight games South Africa have played so far at an average of 42.62.
These are far from flattering numbers for someone who was supposed to spearhead the team’s bowling attack. But more than being out of form, Rabada’s tiredness is seen as a bigger problem.
“A few months before the World Cup cricket, the fast-paced sensation for the first time since making his debut in 2016 said he felt tired. The 265 overs over the past six months (in only international matches following the World Cup match against Sri Lanka) show how much he bowled. And it doesn’t even include his shifts in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL). That statistic raises the question: Should Proteas coach Ottis Gibson not have given Rabada a proper rest long ago?”
The report quotes legendary West Indies bowler Michael Holding as saying that Proteas should not overburden him. “It can be argued that he is the best bowler in the team and they need him. But should you not wrap your special players in cotton wool, especially before a big tournament like the World Cup?”
Kusal volcano doesn’t erupt
Sri Lanka didn’t enter the World Cup as one of the favourites to make the semifinals. The team lacked star power as the names comprising it fall more in the journeymen category. To make a mark, Sri Lanka needed their youngsters to rise to the occasion. It’s here they fell short. Kusal Mendis was one of the bigger disappointments. In six innings in the middle order, he managed just 140 runs at 23.33. He was one of the reasons the Lankan batting failed to fire when it mattered. Even coach Chandika Hathurusingha was unimpressed. “I was expecting a better World Cup from him. Whenever he got a start not converting them was disappointing,” said Hathurusingha.
“We all get disappointed due to the potential he is showing. People who are watching will be disappointed with him because he is so easy to watch. He is maturing quickly. I chat to him frequently on building an innings and going through phases. You have to also understand that he is taking lot of burden for the team,” he told Daily News, referring to the lack of class. “We don’t have experienced batters like it was the case in the past. The most experienced that we have is Angelo (Mathews). Earlier people like Kumar, Mahela and Dilshan handled the mentally tricky period. Kusal is not matured to handle at the moment.”
What will gall Sri Lanka even more, given their history and tradition, is that they hardly had a spinner who could worry the opposition on a regular basis. The likes of Dananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay can’t be compared with Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath.
“In Vandersay’s case, the problem is he looks good in Sri Lanka and bowls pretty well in provincial matches and even in the nets, but if you put him in a match, under pressure he is bowling short balls and full tosses. Jeevan is an experienced campaigner but he hasn’t lived up to his potential,” chief selector Ashantha de Mel told the paper.
“It is not easy business to spin on these surfaces with small boundaries… but in general I am disappointed with Jeevan and Vandersay. There aren’t very many spinners around also. Who are the spinners we have?”
Rockbottom’s deep and wide
The World Cup has been a big disappointment for South Africa, but the players do not owe an apology to the fans back home, cricket correspondent Daniel Gallan wrote in an Opinion piece on EWN (EYEWITNESS NEWS). According to him, this might not even be the rock bottom.
“… Failure on the field is an embarrassment and so an explanation was expected. This was evidenced again a few weeks later when JP Duminy apologised to the people back home – that fractured cluster of over 54 million who speak over nine different languages and encompass at least five broad racial groups – and wanted them to know just how much the team were thinking of them,” the piece mentioned. It went on: “But here’s the thing. I don’t believe they do owe us an apology. Unless the Proteas deliberately tried to lose or weren’t bothered with trying their best — both of which I do not believe to be the case – then an apology for poor performances was a commendable but wholly unnecessary response.”
The writer claimed that political parties — Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – rather owe an apology to South African people. “You know who owes South Africa an apology? The leaders of the DA for deciding to fine homeless people up to R1,500 for having the temerity to sleep on the street. Or the leaders of the EFF whose Cape Town trash revealed a wild weekend in a foreign-owned flat filled with rivers of expensive champagne and the remnants of used condoms, underlining the hypocrisy in their empty promises of economic equality.”
Coming back to cricket, the writer predicted that things might become even worse for the Proteas. “… given the largely pessimistic view of the domestic set-up, the troubles between Cricket South Africa and the player’s union, and the ever-looming presence of another Kolpak exodus, South African cricket fans were waking up to the realisation that this sorry World Cup campaign might not represent rock bottom.”
Bitter end Russell
Less than a month before the World Cup, Andre Russell lit up the Indian Premier League. The eventual man of the series scored 510 runs — the most for his Kolkata Knight Riders team — and took 11 wickets over the 14 matches he played.
There was hope that the 31-year-old would carry that form with him for the West Indies’ challenge at the World Cup but the Jamaican carried over the knee injury that he had been carrying “for the last couple of years.” He could play only four matches for the Windies, taking five wickets and scoring a measly 36 runs over three innings. Eventually, the injury got the better of him, and he was ruled out of the World Cup.
“We all knew of his knee problems before he came into the tournament, and we felt he brought an X factor, not only in his bowling, but in his batting,” West Indies assistant coach Roddy Estwick told The Jamaican Observer. “He hasn’t really fired with the bat, but he keeps trying, and that’s one thing you can credit him for, that he’s out there giving a 100 per cent for the team. He’s bitterly disappointed right now.”
The question though remains, if the team management knew the player was suffering from the injury, and that he was not performing the way he had been a month back, why was he still picked? The other question is, would the Windies have been better off without Russell? Not that the veteran managed to do anything significant for his team. This World Cup was short lived for Russell, and one he’d like to forget.