From afar it almost looks like the West Indies have written this World Cup off. Their squad selection has been confusing and their recent form has been patchy to say the least.
When the squad was announced for the World Cup, there were two clear stories to be observed. Firstly, the omission of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo came right from the left field. It’s firmly believed that both have been punished for their decisions to the pull the plug on the side’s tour of India late last year. While you can find some cricketing reasons for their non-selection (neither players form has been scintillating), it would be misguided to state their absence as anything other than political.
The second headline from that squad announcement was that 23-year-old Barbadian fast bowler Jason Holder would lead the side down under. A veteran of just 21 ODI’s at his time of appointment, his captaincy experience now extends to a chastening series defeat in South Africa last month.
His captaincy appeared okay, but that was about it. Nothing extraordinary, no funky fields, no screaming and shouting. Certainly nothing obvious to explain why a relative unknown has been thrust into the role of guiding his side through the World Cup.
Maybe I’m being a littler harsh on Holder though; Clive Lloyd has praised his attitude and says that he has heaps of character. If I was to be cynical, I would say that Holder is a willing compliant to the WICB tough line on the players who have voiced concern over the future of West Indies cricket; in particular the dispute over pay.
Hopefully for the six weeks of the tournament, most of this can be forgotten and we can get on with watching what still has the potential to be a pretty exciting side. While I’m sure Pollard and Bravo’s names will crop up more than once, it gives a great opportunity to a number of other players to make a name for themselves on the grandest stage.
I think it’s safe to say, that whether it’s for on-field reasons or not, Holder will be one of the most talked about players at the World Cup. As a player he has the hallmarks to be a seriously talented fast bowler. But since the retirement of Ambrose and Walsh, the West Indies have been through a pack of fast bowlers, all with underwhelming results. The trio of Tino Best, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor are all testament to recent West Indian struggles with the ball.
Despite being hampered by controversial sections and a long running feud with their own board, the West Indies do actually have the attack that could win games in Australasian conditions. A pace pack led by Holder, alongside Taylor, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell has bags of energy and the potential to run through line-ups.
The role for Holder with the ball will be absolutely vital for his side, not only in terms of taking wickets, but also in setting the tone for his team to follow. As a young captain he will need to quickly gain the respect and trust of his vastly more experience teammates. The quickest way to do that? Take wickets. Lots of them.
In the recent series in South Africa, he did take 8 wickets, but it was his economy rate where he was a let down. Admittedly, the Proteas and AB De Villiers would have savaged any attack with the form they were in, but Holder’s return of combined figures of 8- 287 at an economy rate of 6.83 still make grim reading.
If he and his side are to be successful in the World Cup he will need to get a handle on the opposition’s scoring rate and find a way for his side to take wickets too. With Chris Gayle at the top of the order, it can sometimes feel like any score is within reach, but realistically, the West Indies need to be restricting sides to have any chance of winning matches.
This has the potential to be a disastrous campaign for the boys in maroon, but equally it provides a blank canvas on which they can paint the future of West Indian cricket. Jason Holder and his team will need to battle hard to restore the credibility of the side, but with some serious hard work, and a good run of form, I wouldn’t back against them causing a few shocks. Hopefully Holder’s tenureship is not a short-lived experiment, but rather the start of a new age of West Indian cricket. We can live in hope…