“We look forward to these talents showing the world what they can do, but again, as I said, sometimes we need to have that umbrella over them from the vultures out there that are willing to take down their careers pretty quickly.”
If Kieron Pollard’s comment ahead of the T20 International series against India was intended to motivate his team for the three-match challenge, the evidence so far suggests that it has worked. Then again, there’s more than enough incentive for the Caribbean side even without the additional consideration about corbeaux or other scavengers lurking beyond the boundary.
It is a measure of the changing face of the modern game and the degree to which the balance of power has shifted in the past decade that contemporary players, especially those for whom T20 is the preferred format, are most energised when performing in India.
Yes, we are heading into a two-year period when the World T20 will be the International Cricket Council’s big events (why they are having back-to-back T20 tournaments in 2020 and 2021 four years since the West Indies’ memorable triumph in Kolkata is something only the ICC can properly explain). However the more pressing concern is something happening in 11 days’ time: the player auction for the 2020 Indian Premier League.
For that reason alone the West Indian aspirants to lucrative contracts in the sport’s richest competition are in prime position to impress the owners of the eight franchises. Of course they want to be part of a winning regional side as well, especially as the acrimony of the Dave Cameron era of Cricket West Indies administration is over, or at least for now as it remains to be seen if he will mount a challenge to Ricky Skerritt in 18 months’ time.
With Phil Simmons back as head coach, Pollard bringing his globetrotting T20 franchise experience to the role of white ball captain and seemingly everyone else in the West Indies senior men’s team set-up happy like pappy, there appears to be every expectation that the defending champions will be well poised to mount a quest for a third World T20 title come the 2020 event next October in Australia.
Yesterday, they romped to a potentially tricky target of 171 on a slow pitch in Thiruvananthapuram, winning by eight wickets with nine balls to spare to set up a decider in the final match on Wednesday in Mumbai. On Friday, in Hyderabad, they could not defend a total of 207 for five with Indian captain Virat Kohli at his most imperious (career-best 94 not out off 50 balls) in ensuring his side overhauled the daunting challenge by six wickets with eight balls to spare.
So on the evidence of the first two matches, and even taking into account the contributions of Lendl Simmons, Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran—back in the team after his four-match ban for ball-tampering in the series against Afghanistan—in the victory in the second match, is it reasonable to propose that the team chasing in the decider in a couple days’ time holds a potentially decisive advantage?
It certainly appears that way, especially given concerns about the increasing effects of dew in the latter stages of these night matches and problem for spinners gripping the ball.
Of course there are so many other variables apart from the toss which make the third match particularly intriguing, not least the impact of errors in the field which have tarnished India’s efforts in the two matches so far. That noted, who’s to say that even if those three catches yesterday weren’t dropped that the West Indies, given their positive intent and resurgent confidence, wouldn’t still have overhauled the target, especially with Kohli and his spinners particularly wary of the threat posed by power-hitting left-handers?
One thing we can say, and this is the eternal attraction of West Indies cricket which makes it very much the equivalent of Brazilian football, is that a Caribbean team brimming with confidence in the T20 format is an impressive sight which enhances the global game.
So let’s see if the team can keep riding the wave and keep making a mockery of their lowly ranking of tenth, which is a stark reminder of how much they had veered off course since Carlos Brathwaite’s four consecutive sixes off England’s Ben Stokes in the 2016 final at Eden Gardens sealed a memorable double-triumph for the West Indies men and women.
And what of Pollard’s “vultures” comment? Well, that’s typical of the modern sporting environment where any utterance or critique which is perceived as negative is presented as some sort of conspiracy to bring down an individual or team. It is a perspective growing in popularity and threatens to make cheerleaders of us all.
But that is for another time.