As defending champions, the West Indies might be a little aggrieved to be asked to play the qualifying rounds of the ICC Champions Trophy 2006. But their poor showing in recent times reflected in the rankings.
As the eighth-ranked team on April 1, 2006, West Indies had no choice but to play against three other bottom-ranked teams — Sri Lanka (ranked 6th), Zimbabwe (9th) and Bangladesh (10th) — to qualify and join the top six in the next round.
Even the Caribbeans’ current ranking does not justify their complaints of being made to play the qualifying round. Placed seventh as on date, Brian Lara’s men need a lot of improvement in their performances if they are to justify themselves as a force to reckon with. They need to move upwards if they are to be a formidable host in the 2007 World Cup.
Their first two steps towards that mission should not be difficult as they take on a weak Zimbabwe side in their opening match at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium (Motera) on Sunday followed by another easy encounter against last-ranked Bangladesh in Jaipur three days later.
West Indies’ recent performances have been a major worrying factor. Inconsistent performances by their batsmen (Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels to name a few), all of whom can win the match single-handedly, have made a mess of the starts their top-order has given.
Sudden collapses from strong positions have become a regular feature. This is one area that they have been working upon and it has been talked about often by their inspirational captain.
Nine wickets for a mere 29 runs against Australia in the recent DLF Cup in Malaysia after being in a winning situation; inability to chase a modest target of 163 against India and a collective failure in the final against the world champions are some of the recent examples where the West Indies lost out on some winning opportunities.
But there are always lessons to be learnt, and they cannot ask for a better opposition in working their way back than against the two bottom-placed teams.
Frequent shuffling of their batting order has worked in some cases while it has backfired in most others.
Sending the unorthodox Shivnarine Chanderpaul on top of the order to make the most of the field restrictions in the first Power Play (10 overs) alongside the explosive Gayle has worked. But what has not worked is Lara’s experiment with bringing himself down the order in one of the recent games in order to give the others the responsibility of shouldering the batting.
They have also had a fair measure of the inexperienced Zimbabweans when they thrashed them 5-0 in the six-match series at home in April-May this year.
The Zimbabweans, led by an equally inexperienced off-spinner Prosper Utseya, will have to be mightily charged up to even come to half as close as the Windies’ strength.
One cannot blame the young cricketers — the average age of the Zimbabwe team is 21 — for their poor showing. The turmoil in their country that has led to some of the big names in Zimbabwe cricket to flee the region has contributed majorly for their downfall.
But the Zimbabweans are known not to cave in meekly. They are a livewire on the field and with the opportunity to play against tougher opponents, they can only learn and get better in the long run.
The pitch here is generally known to be a batsman’s paradise. The last ODI here saw Sri Lanka successfully chase India’s 285 with more than two overs to spare (Lanka’s only win in their 6-1 thrashing in late 2005) under lights.
Lara (capt), Sarwan (vc), Baugh (w-k), Bradshaw, Bravo, Chanderpaul, Collymore, Edwards, Gayle, Hinds, Morton, Samuels, Smith, Taylor.
Prosper Utseya (capt), Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Terry Duffin, Anthony Ireland, Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Tafadzwa Mufambisi, Tawanda Mupariwa, Ed Rainsford, Piet Rinke, Gregory Strydom, Brendan Taylor (w-k)