Saturday 24 October, 4.00am
|Papua New Guinea|
In the first part of a series of articles advising long-term bets, Jamie Pacheco tells us how the Windies' team of T20 globetrotters can go out and do it all over again...
"So not only are the Windies’ players the real deal, but it’s only the real deal that they really care about. And here’s what we mean by that: they might not bust a gut day-in-day-out out there, but they certainly raise their game for the World T20."
One of the first questions one asks when considering who might win a tournament this time round is: who won it last time?
The answer is of course the West Indies themselves. Their second title by the way, making them the only side in six editions to have won it twice. Although that's by no means the be-all-and-and-end-all as regards picking the 2020 winner, it's certainly not going to do the case for them any harm.
Besides, we're talking about defending champions who are a [9.6] shot at present. That makes them fourth favourites, so hardly the same as plumping for hot favourite Novak Djokovic to defend his US Open crown at just [2.5].
There are good reasons to think they can come pretty close to doing it all over again. Here are the most important ones.
Players are some of the world's best
There's a long way to go until their first Group game against New Zealand on October 25 and injuries, late withdrawals for personal reasons or certain players opting to not be considered at all will no doubt happen among all sides. History suggests it would be naive to pretend the latter two aren't more likely to happen with Windies players than those of other countries.
Having said that, this is one of the quieter and more peaceful times in Windies cricket history. The appointment of Phil Simmons for a second spell as Coach was a popular choice and giving Kieron Pollard (more on him in a minute) the captaincy may yet prove to be a masterstroke. Pollard hasn't been in the role for long but it's significant that Dwayne Bravo was happy to play in the recent series at home to Ireland and away in Sri Lanka; his first appearances for the Windies in this format for three and a half years.
Right there and then you've got he two most experienced T20 players in history. Pollard has played 501 matches, Bravo 455. Andre Russell is arguably the most valuable T20 player in the world, Shai Hope is one of the most consistent limited-overs batsmen out there, Sunil Narine has been Player of the Series in the IPL on two separate occasions.
Not a bad start.
If all goes to a plan, their XI against New Zealand could look something like this:
Lendl Simmons, Evin Lewis, Shai Hope†, Shimron Hetmyer, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas.
It's a side that ticks all the boxes that our man Ed Hawkins identifies as crucial to being a champion T20 side: explosive openers, classy middle-order batter (Hope, pictured below), deadly finisher ((Pollard), world-class all-rounder (Russell) mystery spinner (Narine), wicket-taking strike bowlers (Thomas/Cottrell), canny death bowlers (Bravo/Russell).
And given there may be clouds over the participation of a couple of these, it's not like they don't have a decent 'bench', that includes opener Brandon King, middle-order duo Nicholas Pooran and Rovman Powell, all-rounders Fabian Allen and Keemo Paul, pace bowler Jason Holder and spinner Hayden Walsh. We deliberately didn't mention Chris Gayle because we're hoping for the sake of our bet that he won't play. Nothing personal against the big man; he just happens to be over the hill.
Proper T20 specialists
Perhaps more than any other country, Windies players have happily embraced the so-called T20 circuit. Of the XI listed above, only Hope and Chase haven't played T20 cricket at domestic level outside their native Caribbean. The likes of Pollard, Bravo, Russell and Simmons practically don't do anything other than play in T20 leagues all year round.
Now compare that to the likes of India, where no current international is allowed to take part in any T20 competition bar the IPL. They know Indian tracks and the IPL like the back of their hands but miss out on the experience of playing in completely different conditions, against different world-class players.
Or to England, where their IPL players are often hooked at the business end of the competition, to report for Test match duty.
What it all means is that beyond just becoming proper specialists in terms of the key skills of T20 cricket- finding the boundary, bowling dot balls, sharp fielding etc - the players are in a nice mindset that combines being in T20 auto-pilot mode with the ability to think on their feet in light of the game's individual circumstances.
So, despite acknowledging their importance to an extent, the likes of England can keep their teams of analysts and number-crunchers who see a game of T20 more like a study of stock market trends than a simple game of bat and ball.
I'm not sure the Windies players really need all that when they have hundreds of games in the format under their belts and have faced the players they're up against several times that year already, on wickets ranging from Melbourne, to Nottingham, to Chittagong.
The real deal
So not only are the Windies' players the real deal, but it's only the real deal that they really care about. And here's what we mean by that: they might not bust a gut day-in-day-out out there in a run-of-the-mill T20, but they certainly raise their game for the T20 World Cup.
They're currently ranked just 10th in the T20 rankings with the likes of Afghanistan (7th) and Bangladesh (9th) ahead of them. It's that ranking that perhaps more than any factor is responsible for their inflated price. All the better for us.
The absence of star players from run-of-the-mill T20 series goes a long way to explaining why they're just tenth, but so does the mentality and motivation among the players who do play those Series; they raise their game for the big occasions.
In this regard, Pollard is important. New to captaincy, yes, though you would have thought he's a learned a thing or two after over 500 T20 appearances, turning out for 30 different teams.
Crucially, he has an approach of keeping a relaxed camp where players are encouraged to express themselves while not forgetting that this is serious business at stake.
In this regard, he's carrying on with the captaincy style that worked so well for Darren Sammy.
Money down now, details later
There's a long way to go till the tournament kicks off. We don't even know which four sides will join the eight who have already qualified yet. By the way, assuming we take the view that the four left to qualify aren't going to ruffle too many feathers (or else they'd already have qualified) and I think the Windies' Group A with Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand is an easier than one than Group B where England have India, South Africa and Afghanistan for company.
In the coming months, a handful of players will miss inevitably miss out through injury and if they happen to be guys like Virat Kohli, Ben Stokes, Mitchell Starc or Babar Azam, we can't pretend that won't make a huge difference. It may case some re-thinks.
Nearer the time we'll all also look at the different grounds and work out which ones might suit which sides, as well as find out whose head-to-head records stack up well, not to mention of course the merits of each of the other teams, one-by-one.
But right here right now, the Windies are a cracking price.
Saturday 24 October, 4.00am
|Papua New Guinea|