The weather gods have rained on the West Indies’ parade all throughout their lead-up to the 2011 World Cup.
Their five match-ODI series in Sri Lanka was first postponed due to bad weather, then shrunk down to three matches, one of which was, again, rained out. Then just before the World Cup began this weekend, the latest ICC rankings announced that the two-time World Cup-winning West Indies now find themselves at No.9, behind Bangladesh in the ODI rankings, their lowest position so far.
Yet newly-appointed team manager and former captain, Richie Richardson, is upbeat that Darren Sammy’s team can do well in a World Cup that can spring surprises.
Richardson said from Colombo: “We are not affected or thinking about our ranking, because we have gone down one spot in the ranking won’t have a negative effect on us. We are just trying to get our minds right, get our players in as good a condition as possible. In a one-day tournament, it’s how well a team plays on the day, and how consistent you are. If we can raise our game and if we can really come together and play as a unit, I believe we can spring a few surprises.”
The West Indies have been clubbed with India, South Africa, England, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands in Group B, and are expected to struggle to make it to the knock-out stage. The team has had a very poor ODI record over the last two years, their last ODI victory over a Test team was in June 2009 versus India. Youngsters like Adrian Barath and Kemar Roach need to mature quickly.
Richardson, whose last international appearance was in the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup, said that every World Cup tournament acts as a clean slate. “At a World Cup, it doesn’t matter how you are doing, how good you are, what number in the ranking.
“Every team at the World Cup looks forward to go out there and win it. Sometimes you have some upsets. The little teams want to cut down the big teams.”
If the West Indies are being thought of as a minor team in this World Cup, it is because they have only beaten Zimbabwe, Canada and Ireland over the last 12 months.
A player-strike over the contracts issue in 2009 and the 2010 decision by Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard to turn down West Indian Board contracts have only added to the grim news around the team. Richardson said that as manager of the World Cup team,
“What happened in the past in terms of the contracts is none of my business. I just want to make sure the players are in the right frame of mind and are ready to go and play World Cup.”
“I say that to the players, we’ve got to go there and prove to the world that we can play to a high level. Let’s surprise a lot of people, because people at the moment are not thinking very highly of us. But we have got to just focus on what we have to do, believe in what we can do and create a few upsets. That’s what we want to do – go and impress. Every single player.
“Pollard is a hard-hitting batsman in Twenty20 and at the end of the day if you are a batsman, you are a batsman and you should be able to adjust in various situations. He should not be thinking that he’s just a Twenty20 player. When he gets the opportunity he should be looking to go there and bat and do well.
“And I’m hoping that what he’s thinking. Quite often the press has opinions; the fans have an opinion… At the end of the day you have to focus on what you have to do and work there and work hard.”
Besides Pollard, the West Indies have several quality batsmen, both experienced and upcoming, but have a fragile and understocked bowling unit. Richardson said: “Well, you know cricket is not played on paper. We don’t think that we are weak in that area.
“We know what we are capable of doing. If players bowl in the areas they have to bowl, bowl with control and the confidence and the fielders support the bowlers, anything is possible.
“My approach has always been a very a positive one and this is what you have to instil it the players. You can’t listen to what people are saying, we have just got to work with what we have and back ourselves and do what we have to do to do well in this tournament.”
He said the team will not be affected by the fact that the scheduled five-match ODI series versus Sri Lanka had been reduced to three, in which eventually only two full ODIs were possible.
Given that he played in a golden era for the West Indies, Richardson said taking over as manager at a time when the region’s side was at its lowest was “not easy”, but added: “There are certain things in life you have to accept. You have good periods, you have bad periods.
“If you are on top, you are not going to be on top forever. What we need is accept that things are not as nice or as great as it once was, but it is for us to work hard to bring it back. We know the fans expect great things of us and we want them to support us because we will give our 100 per cent.”
For all the bad tidings around the West Indies, they do have what other teams in the competition would crave for: 15 fit men to choose from. The worry around the sight of a limping Bravo after pulling off a stunner of a catch for Victoria in the Australian Big Bash versus Western Australia is now a thing of the past. He has recovered well.