One team is on a high with confidence-gaining victories against Australia and India and a semifinal berth from Group ‘A’. The other has been dolefully out of place in the competition and does not have anything to show for.
While West Indies work on maintaining their momentum with another impressive performance against a disjointed England in their final second-round clash here on Saturday, Andrew Flintoff’s men will play for their pride.
The clash at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium will be a repeat of the 2004 final. West Indies and England have not played against each other in a One-day International (ODI) ever since the famous Caribbean win scripted by Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Browne at the Oval that many thought was the start of the team’s revival.
Since then, the two teams have taken different routes. West Indies have played as a cohesive unit under the inspirational Brian Lara, England have hit a low largely due to injury to their top guns.
West Indies are perhaps playing their best at the moment. They seem to have found a winning formula. Their young fast bowling brigade is bowling to a specific strategy while their batsmen have begun to shoulder more responsibility.
The biggest example is that of Runako Morton, who has had all sorts of problems but has now struck a purple patch with a Man-of-the-Match performance against Australia and a vital 45 against India.
Skipper Lara said of Morton, “He is not rash any more. He is an improved player. We have tried to get him to place a premium on his wicket. With his performances in the last two games, he has shown that he wants to be in the playing XI. Consistency is what we want from him and he is willing to work hard.”
Morton is just one example. There’s also Lara, whose mere presence on the field has a positive influence. The Trinidadian sold a dummy to everyone by saying two days ago that he would not play against India without being hundred percent fit. But he played.
“I was not hundred per cent fit," he admitted. “But it (India) was an important game for us and we did not want to be in a situation where we had to defeat England. I was a bit worried about my back but I decided that even if I was 80-90 per cent fit, I’d go.”
With his initial mission accomplished, Lara has the luxury of resting against England, what with his team delivering the goods even without him — as they did against Australia in the field and against India even as he failed in a crucial run chase.
“There is still 36 hours before the game starts,” he said on Thursday night. “If I am fitter, I will play. But the important thing is to get the best team to win the game. We did some experimentation in Malaysia before the final. We lost against India and lost the momentum, which we do not want to do now.”
Lara’s opposite number, Flintoff, does not have that luxury. An ankle surgery in July forced the burly Lancastrian to miss the Test and One-day series against Pakistan. While he has only batted in this tournament so far, he might roll his arm over for the first time since the operation on Saturday.
“There is a possibility that I will bowl tomorrow,” Flintoff said on Friday. “I bowled in the nets the past three weeks and there hasn’t been a reaction to anything. I am fine and will possibly bowl tomorrow. But I do not have any intention of bowling 10 overs.”
Faced with a nothing-to-lose, everything-to-gain situation, Flintoff said, “We want to finish with a win. We want to put up a good show. It is important for us in our development. We know ours is a team that can fight back. We came back from 0-2 to 2-2 in the last English summer against Pakistan."
The West Indies bowling department will be boosted by the return of Corey Collymore, who is returning to India after his wife delivered a baby girl.