When West Indies announced their provisional T20I squad for the summer, leading into the T20 World Cup, it was pretty evident that they were not leaving any stone unturned to defend their World T20 Championship title.
Their 18-man squad — announced for the 15 T20Is at home against South Africa, Australia and Pakistan — saw the return of their highly experienced players like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo into the fold. Their return not only boosted the confidence and morale of the entire squad, but it also improved their batting dynamics and depth considerably.
On paper, West Indies do not have the bowling attack that would look threatening in any situation. They do have the experience of Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Bravo. The likes of Jason Holder, Russell and Hayden Walsh Jr. are decent bowlers too, but all of them have their limitations. It’s not a bowling attack that can tear through batting units.
But what makes this West Indies side dangerous is their batting strength and depth. With players like Gayle in the top-order and Pollard, Russell and Bravo in the middle and lower middle-order, they could now afford to have a unit capable of batting at least till No.9. So that gives them the freedom to play an attacking brand of cricket that most other international teams in the world can’t afford to play.
This is the first time Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell are playing in the same Twenty20 (as team-mates/opponents) since the 2015 Johannesburg T20I against South Africa. #WIvSA
— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) June 26, 2021
In spite of the depth, it is also important for them to use their resources in the right positions and at the right time. For example, their squad has four proper openers in Lendl Simmons, Andre Fletcher, Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle. They have two specialist middle-order batters in Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer too, besides Russell, Pollard and Holder. So it was important for them to choose the right resources that would most likely go with the brand of cricket they want to play, without affecting the synchronicity and flexibility of their batting unit.
And West Indies nailed their plans to perfection as they set their preparatory ship in motion with an eight-wicket win over South Africa in the first T20I of their ongoing five-match series against them.
The playing XI they went with in this match was: Evin Lewis, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Kieron Pollard (c), Andre Russell, Jason Holder, Dwayne Bravo, Fabian Allen, Obed McCoy, Kevin Sinclair
The explosive combination of Andre Fletcher and Evin Lewis at the top of the order clearly suggests how they want to make use of the fielding restrictions in the Powerplay. Both are known for getting their team off to quick starts and hence, Simmons’ omission here is understandable as he has struggled big time to tee off at the start of an innings in recent times.
Lewis and Fletcher also repaid the faith of the team management as they got their team to a total of 85-0 by the seventh over, after their bowlers did a fairly good job to restrict the visitors to a total of 160/6. Such an attractive stroke-play against quality pacers like Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje would have surely given them a lot of confidence.
When a wicket fell, with Fletcher’s run-out, there was no surprise to see Chris Gayle walking out to bat either. No.3 has been his more familiar position in T20s of late and he has done a very good job at this position for the Punjab Kings in the last two editions of the IPL as well. His ability to take the spinners on makes him a dangerous weapon for West Indies in the middle-overs. He started off slowly today though, but he could afford that as Lewis was going hammer and tongs at the other end.
When Lewis departed for a well-made 71 off 35 deliveries in the 12th over, it was Russell who walked out to bat. The think-tank could have easily sent out Pooran, who is quite natural at this position. However, by promoting Russell they showed that they want to go with a flexible batting approach — something that should be the norm for all teams in T20 cricket.
Russell’s promotion summed up that they will be using Pooran more as a floater in their batting lineup. That means, he will come ahead of Russell, Pollard and others in case West Indies lose early wickets. But, in case they find themselves in a good position like yesterday, they won’t hesitate to attack more by promoting the likes of Russell and Pollard either. It’s not like Pooran can’t play with an attacking approach. It’s just that Russell and Pollard are better pace hitters than Pooran and they have immense experience in the last 10-over scenario too.
West Indies faced more dot balls (38 vs 37), hit fewer fours (9 vs 12) and had less than half of singles (26 vs 56) & twos (2 vs 10) than in South Africa innings.
Yet, they chased down 161 with five overs to spare all thanks to hitting TEN sixes more than SA! (15 vs 5) #WIvSA
— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) June 26, 2021
When we look at their scoring approach, it shows how far ahead they are as compared to other international teams in this respect. Their process of scoring runs was in complete contrast to that of South Africa in this match. West Indies faced more dot-balls and scored fewer singles, twos, and fours, than South Africa but they took the match away from their opponents with their six-hitting ability. They hit 15 sixes as compared to South Africa’s total of five and each of those sixes increased their odds of winning massively.
So their batting template for the T20 World Cup looks pretty sorted, if the events of this match are anything to go by. With 14 more T20Is to go this summer, West Indies still have a lot of opportunities to try and test out their resources, but their batting template should be the same and they need to nail it to perfection every single time.