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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

West Indies live to fight another day, but only after a chaotic climax

A spilled catch in the deep, a missed run-out, singles that ended up as twos, West Indies made a royal mess of it, but in the end, somehow squeezed in the two survival points.

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: October 30, 2021 8:27:17 am
West Indies, Sri Lanka, T20 World CupWest Indies players celebrate the dismissal of Bangladesh's Liton Das during the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup match between the West Windies and Bangladesh in Sharjah, UAE, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

In the end, it was so very West Indies; frantic and chaotic. A dozen runs to defend in the last over, a skilled death-overs operator barraging yorkers, yet the defending champions nearly contrived to lose the game that would have practically ended their tournament. A spilled catch in the deep, a missed run-out, singles that ended up as twos, they made a royal mess of it, but in the end, somehow squeezed in the two survival points, partly abetted by a nervous Bangladesh.

These days, across formats and continents, the West Indies are diligently chaotic. The last over just embodied it. Afif Hossain scooped the ball between short-fine leg and square leg. Both converged to prevent the ball from reaching the fence, and for a split second, both thought the other would pick the ball. As they procrastinated, Afif scampered for the second run. Dwayne Bravo, the de facto captain, waved furiously at the errant fielders, but in the end, realised that the extra run was a blessing in disguise as they could keep the well-set Mahmadullah off strike. They almost had them run-out next ball, but for wicketkeeper Nicholas Pooran’s wayward throw.

Afif attempted a wild leg-side heave, missed it, and the ball dolloped to Pooran, who was in a dilemma of his own, to take his gloves off for a more accurate throw. In the end, he went with the gloves and ended up blasting the ball into the turf, like breaking a coconut in a temple. Bravo was livid, and gesticulated him to remove the gloves, which the stand-in captain, Pooran, obeyed.

Next ball, Andre Russell fired in a nuclear-tipped yorker that Mahmadullah somehow shovelled from blasting the stumps. The ball trickled to the vacant mid-off region. The long-off just ambled in, assuming that Russell would sprint towards the ball and pick it. Maybe, hampered by the fear of his hamstring injury recurring, Russell quit the chase as soon as he set off. Poor Jason Holder had to scud from long-on to the 30-yard circle. Bravo had his arms aloft in angst.

Soon, he had those rubbery fists swishing the air in rage. For Andre Fletcher dropped a routine catch offered by Mahmadullah at deep mid-wicket and nearly leaked a four, before he gathered himself and flung in an erratic throw. At this stage, West Indies seemed to be self-destructing. The fifth ball, with Bangladesh needing six runs to win, was drilled to long-on for what looked like nothing more than a single. But Holder fumbled and Bangladesh sped for the second run, Mahmadullah retaining the strike. This was not a one-off instance, a case of last-over nerves. Throughout the game, the West Indies fielding was often kiddish.

But thanks to Russell’s needle-eye precision on the last ball, the Bangladesh captain failed to put the yorker away. Celebrations crackled in the West Indies dugout and among their scattered fans. Perhaps, the celebration of survival. Survival that’s hanging by the thinnest of ropes. They are teetering on the brink – one more defeat and the crown would no longer be theirs.

Crumbs of comfort

There, though, is newfound hope, asserted Pooran in the post-match chat with the broadcasters, before he dwelled on the positives of the game. So did Jason Holder in the post-game presser: “We believe we can. There have been positives.”

There were a few bright sparks, nonetheless. Pooran’s cameo was refreshing, a vindication of the faith the selectors had invested in him; Akeal Hosein is a wily bowler who could quieten batsmen of a higher calibre than those of Bangladesh; Russell is an incredibly underrated death-overs bowler, his last-over yorker carnage was match-defining; Holder is a valuable cross-format asset, downgrading him to the reserves list was myopic; the stability of Roston Chase furnishes a different dimension.

But they just papered the cracks on a wall that is already crumbling. If West Indies are to mount a serious title defence – it has looked meek thus far – the titans in the line-up have to start delivering. The Gayles and Pollards and Bravos of the world. So far, they have resembled the reunion of a band of ageing rockers for one final act, futilely trying to roll back the rock ’n roll days, but looking hideously out of tune and out of depth, an exercise in self-torment.

Of the three, Gayle has looked wretchedly rusty. His batting is so much about rhythm. A symphony of the muscles and eyes. A harmony of hands and feet. In UAE, the rhythm of his batting has completely deserted him. Where once music and harmony dwelled, there are just notes of synchronised anarchy. Feet dithering one way, hands flailing in another direction, head falling over, body-balance off kilter (he completely lost balance and fell on the ground when slog-sweeping Keshav Maharaj in the game against South Africa). So much so he seems like an apparition of the indestructible force he once was, and 29 runs in three innings at a strike rate of 82 is an apt reflection of his travails.

To a lesser extent, so do Bravo and Pollard. The latter has struggled for both timing and power, his stays in the middle have been long and arduous (a strike rate of 88.4). The long and intense stay in the UAE seems to have knackered Bravo too, as he is far less dependable than he was for Chennai Super Kings. He made too many un-Bravo errors, like bowling short, bowling leg-stump from around the stumps with little protection behind square on the leg-side.

Only a fool, though, will write them off. All three have the habit of striking when it’s least expected of them, when they have been written off, and when it comes to survival. “We still expect great things from them,” assistant coach Roddy Estwick had said in the pre-match press conference. Time, though, is running out, lest West Indies want to do it the West Indies way. Frantically and chaotically.

Brief scores: West Indies 142/7 in 20 overs (Nicholas Pooran 40, Roston Chase 39; Shoriful Islam 2/20) bt Bangladesh 139/5 in 20 overs (Liton Das 44, Mahmudullah 31 not out; Akeal Hosein 1/24) by 3 wickets

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