As the West Indies ready themselves to embrace the Kiwi challenge for yet another series having lost badly in 2017, the odds, they should know stand against their favour.
No rocket science theory this.
It’s not that the West Indies cannot win an overseas tour. Heck, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the pre-lockdown era- how else does one define what’s been a frustrating period for all- they beat Sri Lanka in the T20Is held in Sri Lanka.
This was a massive improvement in that the team hadn’t won a single game on their last tour (prior to 2020) to the very destination, circa 2015. Moreover, on the 2020 tour they’d lost all ODIs before the big turnaround versus the Lankans in the Twenty-20 format.
Who can forget the sight of a clueless Malinga – which isn’t always the case- witnessing the brutal blade of a Simmons, Russell, Pollard, Hetmyer-powered assault?
But as the West Indies travel to a completely different geography, not before having won hearts for willingly participating in the resumption of the sport something doesn’t seem quite right for the men from Calypso.
Probably it’s the predicament of the fan.
For he knows the suddenness with which his West Indies oscillate- going often from brilliant to the unbearable -there’s not much reserved for normalcy (read consistency), not exactly the team’s strength.
Or is it?
So this time around can one expect less of mindless strokes, more of partnership building, match winning spells, who knows something to do with spin as well and the diving around by limbs that don’t belong to Pollard or Pooran, or Cottrell alone?
Can the young and those labeled resourceful step up to, at least, ensure a spineless surrender of the kinds witnessed in 2017 doesn’t recur?
In fact, much to their chagrin, they’d be reminded to increase the span of concentration- again, not exactly their customary mode of operation- given there are 2 Tests as well following the T20Is.
During 2017-18, Windies put a best Team score of 310, whilst their oppressors made 520 and that too in the First game wherein Holder’s side collapsed for 134.
An innings defeat wasn’t the best way to begin- or was it?
Not that misery ended any time soon. At Hamilton, the venue for the Second and Final Test which the visitors lost by 240 runs, the best the team could come up with was 221, a score that was never going to be enough in responding to Williamson’s side’s huge 373.
That no West Indian in any of the Tests reached the three-figure mark – barring the usually reliable Brathwaite coming mighty close with 91- wasn’t the only sad part.
In the exact same conditions that New Zealand made 2 centuries (that too in the opening game wherein Holder’s men failed to put bat to ball) highlighted weaknesses that need attention.
But can the returning Darren Bravo and Jermaine Blackwood, the latter the hero of the First (of the 3-match) Test win (July-August 2020) join forces with Roston Chase (Test vice captain) to rescue a Hope-less team will form the narrative of what happens on December 3.
That there’s the experienced and consistent Jason, the leader, not to forget, the Holder of #1 position in all-round Test augurs well for the team.
Moreover, the calm-headed and silently gritty Shane Dowrich is there as well.
But can the red ball squad that gives the likes of Rakheem Cornwall and John Campbell, the latter of whom disappointed in England, where he threw away starts, make it count?
We don’t know for sure.
Surely, if it helps then both Pollard and Holder, who’re leading the white and red-ball formats with sporadic successes albeit unquestionable gusto albeit must remember that the Caribbean loyal who had to put up with abject surrenders in 2017 has perhaps seen enough.
Not that the responsibility of the mighty Kieron Pollard, who took over from Jason Holder as the white-ball leader will be any easy.
Forget that the famous Trinidadian hasn’t once led the team in conditions that are anything but breezy like what one finds back home.
His challenge will be slightly difficult than most would want to counter and perhaps it’s that which makes the upcoming series exciting.
Remember, the West Indies are still the kings of the T20 template. Not only have they won most number of titles in the game’s most exciting format but are arguably speaking, hold the DNA or if one may, the imprint of the very format; i.e., unpredictability.
Either ways, a series win in the white ball games – and there’s no luxury of making up lost ground in ODIs (unlike 2017)- should offer massive boost to the men who bring to cricket the joie de vivre that it so seeks.
So even as this is a series that (also) features T20Is (3 of them)- a format suited to the West Indies’ free flowing wham-bam style of play – a crucial element is still missing in Kieron Pollard’s men.
Pollard’s unit lacks a massive series win against a prominent side. Probably there may not be many who’d doubt this.
Under the prominent all-rounder, West Indies beat Afghanistan fair and square in the ODIs (the series held in India), which was to be Pollard’s maiden assignment, a task that may never have been necessarily easy since Afghanistan are no lame bowling unit under Rashid, Nabi, Gulbadin and company.
But all the hardwork done by Shai Hope (who also starred in T20s as a last-minute adjustment and misses out this time in Tests), Roston Chase and company in 50-over cricket was spoiled when the team fell on its face in the T20s that followed.
Yet Pollard and his team must chin up for after all they avoided, months later, what could have even been a whitewash in India.
It must be remembered that during the 2019 T20Is, the Windies, who having lost to India strangely in the Caribbean, fought bravely even as they went down fighting 2-1.
Could denying Kohli’s mighty army of talents have been any easy is anyone’s guess?
So this time around, while the usual mix of muscle power – even if that means no Andre Russell in NZ tour- is present including Rovman Powell, Pooran, Hetmyer and Pollard himself- there’s the notorious West Indian unpredictability that must be avoided.
Can they win? Will they win? Can they hold their nerves in crunch situations, which let’s face it, are embedded in the DNA of Cricket’s briefest format?
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Remember New Zealand aren’t going to be easy, not really when they are going to exercise power and familiarity from home own turf.
Not since they’ll have the dangerous looking Devon Conway feature alongside the very promising giant Kyle Jamieson.
Well, don’t forget there’ll be the experienced figureheads in Taylor, Neesham, Sodhi, under Southee too.
And it wasn’t too long ago, when in 2017, the New Zealanders managed to inflict a defeat over their clueless opponents by a margin no less than 119 runs.
Has anyone forgotten the Bay Oval hammering of the Third and final T20?
So will Pollard- 1,123 runs, strike rate over 132- who wasn’t the captain back then make a note?
Also what’s the guarantee of a turnaround for there’s no Dwayne Bravo or Chris Gayle either?
Truth be told, the visiting West Indian side shall need something similar to its 2019 Kerala performance in the second T20I against India where, a Simmons and Lewis-led-charge smoked India to oblivion.
For this and more, and to uphold the dignity of a team that hardly lacks talent – now remember there’s Pooran, Pollard’s T20 deputy in there too and the newbie Kyle Mayers – you’d hope things change.
And that’s why the sun must shine albeit New Zealand’s usually nippy weather on the West Indies.