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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

World Cup 2019: The fire from Babylon still flickers in West Indies

Pace like fire, whispering death, the flair- the West Indies are well and truly back.

Written by Rahul Sadhu | Published: June 1, 2019 1:55:45 pm
West Indies are finally singing a new tune with a young and inspirational leader in their captain Jason Holder. (Source: AP)

“I can see some light at the end of the tunnel for Windies cricket,” said Sir Vivian Richards after the West Indies steamrolled Pakistan on Friday.

It is not without a reason that Richards can see a glimmer of hope. After years in the wilderness, the Carribean Islands are finally singing a new tune with a young and inspirational leader in their captain Jason Holder. As a 17-year-old boy, Holder was an extra in the famed documentary ‘Fire in Babylon’. But now, he is on the cusp of building a new legacy and possibly becoming the protagonist of a Carribean resurgence.

One year ago, the story could have been so much different when West Indies were fortunate to qualify for the tournament last year, beating Scotland by just five runs in a rain-affected match that was decided by the  Duckworth-Lewis-Stern rule.

But somehow they scraped through and on Friday, after electing to bowl first in typical Nottingham weather, they rolled back the years to remind us why world cricket needs the West Indies and that the fire still lingers on.

West Indies’ captain Jason Holder celebrates the dismissal of Pakistan’s Hasan Ali. (AP)

In a performance evoking memories of the team’s heyday in the 1980s, the Windies quicks led by Oshane Thomas bullied Pakistan and struck fear in the batsmen’s mind with fiery bouncers.

The 22-year-old Thomas bowled with real fire and pace and was the pick of the bowlers as he finished with four wickets, while Holder and Andre Russell shared five wickets between them. Thomas, who hails from the same Melbourne club in inner Kingston as Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh, bowled with a lot of venom. Not only did he use the short delivery to good effect but also mixed it up well with the fullish deliveries to trap batsmen lbw.

Praising the youngster, his skipper said, “In the last game he got five wickets and then he comes and follows it up with four wickets here today. It was great to see him running in and bowling fast. That’s the one thing we ask of him, just to be aggressive in those middle overs, as I said before. He’s working out quite nicely for us.”

However, Holder added, “It’s just a matter for us to be consistent with it, and at times not get carried away with it in terms of overdoing it.”

What was common among all the quicks was the repeated use of the short ball – fast, nasty and pitching more than eight meters from the batsman’s stumps. Statistics reveal that more than 50 percent of the deliveries were short-pitched with an average speed of 133kph, thus making strokeplay extremely difficult.

The variety of the West Indies attack was also another factor which troubled the opposition batsmen. On one hand, was the height and seam control of Thomas and Holder which helped them find movement off the surface. While on the other hand was someone like Sheldon Cottrell whose slingy action garnered more swing than anyone else.

Seam bowling has once again become the potent weapon for the Windies and with Ashley Nurse as the only frontline spin option named in the 15-man squad, it seems like this is the approach that they will go forward with. 71.3 per cent of the ODI wickets West Indies have taken since the last World Cup have been by seamers and that trend is likely to continue in England and Wales this summer.

The Windies are also an intelligent bunch. Not everything about them is an attack, attack, attack. In his post-match presser, Holder said they wouldn’t necessarily continue with the tactic of short-pitched bowling unless the situation demanded it. Showing a mature head, he said that the focus should now also be on how the bowlers follow up on the aggressive deliveries.

“Outside the aggression, we need to be following up on our deliveries and building overs quite nicely,” he explained.

“One of the things we always harp on about in the dressing room is what are we bowling outside of the aggressive balls, whether it be a short ball or if you’re going up there for a yorker or whatever it may be, you’ve got to follow up with some other deliveries. It’s just about stacking overs nicely together and building some pressure.”

Before this game, the West Indies might have been regarded as outsiders but with such an emphatic performance- full of style and substance, Holder will hope his team might replicate their success from the yesteryears.

The class of 2019 has a long, long way to go to match the great names of old, but this was certainly a good start. With pace like fire, whispering death and the element of flair- the West Indies are well and truly back.

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