Can ageing Windies defend T20 title?Saturday, October 23, 2021
After venue switches and delays caused by various factors, including international cricket's crowded schedule and the novel coronavirus pandemic, the ICC Twenty20 (T20) World Cup opened a week ago with a final qualifying round in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, both located at the south-eastern tip of the Arabian desert.
From that qualifying round Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are predictably through to the business end of the tournament, the Super 12s, which begins today.
Also through to the Super 12s are Scotland and Namibia, the latter having stunned traditional giant killers Ireland yesterday.
More to the point for Caribbean cricket followers, defending champions West Indies open their campaign today against England, the side they conquered in spectacular circumstances in the final of 2016.
Back then, with the West Indies needing 19 runs to win in the final over bowled by the English champion Mr Ben Stokes, Mr Carlos Brathwaite amazingly blasted the first four balls for sixes to give West Indies its second hold on the global T20 crown.
Today's Group 1 clash between West Indies and England will follow another mega Group 1 encounter, Australia vs South Africa. The group is completed by late qualifiers Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Group 2 includes India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia.
Against a backdrop of strong criticism about team selection and a most unfortunate outburst by Mr Chris Gayle, a great servant of West Indies cricket against the legendary Sir Curtly Ambrose, there is considerable public pessimism about the Caribbean team's chances this time around.
Incredibly, the selectors chose to relegate former West Indies captain and accomplished all-rounder Mr Jason Holder to the travelling reserves.
Also, not only is Mr Gayle now 42 years old and seemingly way past his best, several others including Captain Mr Kieron Pollard, the iconic pair of Messrs Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell, as well as seam bowler Mr Ravi Rampaul and batsman Mr Lendl Simmons, are all on the wrong side of 30 by some distance.
Yet there is much virtue in experience, as was demonstrated by Mr Bravo and his ageing Chennai Super Kings when they famously claimed the Indian Premier League title recently.
Heavy defeats for West Indies in warm-up games against Pakistan and Afghanistan added to pessimism, but players, coaches and other backroom staff will be well aware that in the context of the World Cup, warm-up games are just that, nothing more.
Perhaps a more pertinent consideration is the loss to injury of the dynamic left-arm, spin-bowling all-rounder and outstanding fielder Mr Fabian Allen. However, his replacement, another left-arm spinner with good batting credentials, Mr Akeal Hosein, brings considerable talent to the table.
Can Mr Gayle, who opened the triumphant West Indies campaign of 2016 with a sublime century against England five years ago, roll back the years to dumbfound the naysayers one last time?
Will the young guns Messrs Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer announce themselves as their immense talent suggests they should?
These and numerous other questions about this West Indies team will be answered in this tournament, which like so many other sporting festivals over the last year and more, is being played in the shadow, and according to strict protocols, dictated by COVID-19.
We wish the West Indies well.