West Indies beat Australia in the third T20I at Gros Islet and reminded the world of their prowess in the format as they secured the five-match series taking an unassailable 3-0 lead. Albeit against an Australian team without some of the big names, the performance of the West Indies team as a collective sounds a real warning to others in the year of the World T20 in the UAE. After their loss against South Africa the team might be gaining momentum and peaking just at the right time before the start of the mega event in October.
West Indies started their 15 match home season with a bang with a thumping 8 wicket win over South Africa at St George’s. However the visitors got the better of them and took the series 3-2. Even though they ended up on the losing side there were a number of positives for the hosts from the series.
Firstly, for the first time in years they had all their marquee players playing as a cohesive unit under one umbrella of the West Indies - superstars like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell, Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran - all in the same XI. These are some of the biggest and most impactful players in the history of T20 cricket - players who have broken many records and led their franchises to many titles in different T20 leagues all over the world including the IPL, BBL and CPL.
But these superstars have hardly played as a unit for the West Indies in the recent past. Prior to the series against South Africa, Pollard played a maximum 34 (out of a possible 53 matches) for the West Indies post their win in the WT20 in India in 2016. Hetmyer and Pooran played just 27 matches which is half the number the West Indies has played in the format in this time-frame. The Universe Boss - Chris Gayle - regarded by many as the greatest T20 batsman ever, had mustered just 137 runs in 10 innings for the West Indies at a strike rate of 103.78 post April 2016 (till before the South Africa series).
Thus, there was no camaraderie between the West Indian players post their historic win in India and not surprisingly the team was ranked as low as number 9 in the ICC Rankings prior to the start of the home stretch.
Secondly, despite the loss, the performances of a few players stood out in the series. Evin Lewis showcased why he is amongst the most destructive openers in the format in the world at present aggregating 178 runs in 5 innings with two scintillating performances at the top of the order - he had a strike rate of 160.36 and was also the second-highest run-getter of the series.
Pollard, one of the most successful players and captains in the world in franchise T20 cricket hammered a match-winning 51 off just 25 deliveries in the fourth match of the series while veteran Dwayne Bravo and new left-arm seamer Obed McCoy returned as the highest and second-highest wicket-takers of the series while also being very restrictive.
If the South Africa series was the appetizer, the series against Australia was the main course.
West Indies raised their game collectively and more match-winning performances resulted in a significant 3-0 series win in the five-match series with two matches still to spare. While McCoy continued to impress and bagged 4 wickets at a fine economy rate in the series opener, three other big performances stood out for the home team.
The biggest takeaway for them was the return to top-form of their ace all-rounder Andre Russell. He had a great season in IPL in 2019 but completely went off the boil next year scoring just 117 runs in 10 matches. He gave some glimpses of his destructive prowess in the 2021 season but was still far from his best. 51 off 28 deliveries from 65 for 4 in the 12th over, 24 off 8 deliveries and 7 off 2 - these were his contributions in the lower-middle order for the West Indies against Australia.
Chris Gayle produced his best for the West Indies in more than 5 years hammering a match-defining 67 off just 38 deliveries in the third match thereby sealing the series for the hosts. The standout feature of his knock was his clean striking - he hit as many as 7 sixes in the match.
Shimron Hetmyer also blasted 61 off just 36 deliveries in the second encounter and showcased his destructive capabilities with the bat.
The South Africa series helped the West Indies to gel together as a team and they took their game to another level giving a glimpse of their prodigious talent against Australia. The heartening thing for the team was the fact that it was not the same set of players who emerged as match-winners - the pool kept increasing as the home season went along - from Lewis, Bravo, Pollard and McCoy against South Africa, it was the turn of stalwarts like Gayle, Hetmyer and Russell against Australia.
West Indies are peaking and getting into top gear just at the right time. If they can end the series against Australia with a scoreline of 5-0 or even 4-1 and continue this form against Pakistan, then no one can bet against them in the upcoming World T20 in October in the UAE - where conditions could be very similar in terms of weather (hot and humid) and pitches (slow and low) as in the Caribbean. No team in the world, not even England or India has more batsmen in their XI who can single-handedly win the match for their team than the West Indies - who easily have six to seven such players!
West Indies never do well in bilateral series. Lack of motivation and context and some of their big names being missing and ploughing their trait in major leagues around the world are the two major reasons for this. But something gets triggered in them when they come together and play in a world event like the World T20 - they were in ordinary form prior to the start of the tournament both in 2012 and 2016 but stunned the cricketing world with their performance.
This time around they have the extra advantage of playing together with their biggest names as one unit in 15 matches just before the mega event in October.
And it seems that the results have already started to show.
This West Indies team will be difficult to stop.