In this World Cup cycle the Windies have been comfortably the weakest of the ten teams competing at this year’s World Cup. According to CricViz Match Impact - a performance evaluation tool for limited overs cricket - the Windies are the tenth ranked team - out of ten - for batting, bowling and fielding, naturally contributing to the worst overall ranking as well.
Closer analysis of the Windies performance since the last World Cup - ranked against the other nine competing teams at the 2019 World Cup - shows their struggles to be deep-rooted, across all phases of the innings and with regards to both pace and spin bowling.
This poor overall performance is reflected in their individual statistics as well. Since the last World Cup the Windies only have four batsmen to have batted in at least ten matches and contributed a positive average Match Impact: Chris Gayle (+11.6), Shimron Hetmyer (+4.3), Jason Holder (+3.3) and Jonathan Carter (+1.5).
Only two bowlers to have bowled in at least ten matches and contributed a positive average Match Impact: Sunil Narine (+6.8) and Kemar Roach (+1.2). Carter has not played an ODI since 2017 and Narine has not played one since 2016.
And yet - despite coming out unfavourably in almost every Impact metric since the last World Cup the Windies have just managed to draw a series against the best team in the world and the World Cup favourites.
It is a result that should serve as a warning shot to the other teams at the tournament that while the Windies may well have been perennial strugglers across the last four years - they missed out on the 2017 Champions Trophy and only just qualified for the World Cup - they are a very dangerous team with a number of potential match-winners.
The most overwhelming positive to emerge from the Windies series against England was the form of the returning Chris Gayle who bludgeoned an astonishing 39 sixes on his way to 424 runs in four innings - the highest run tally ever by a batsman to bat four times in a series.
Gayle’s high dot ball percentage in the first ODI was criticised in the context of an exceptionally high-scoring match but across the remainder of the series he showed a willingness to run harder between the wickets and start faster.
There is no way that a player of Gayle’s quality cannot be anything but a bonus for a team as weak as the Windies. At the World Cup he will be their main threat: a match-winner who can blow away any bowling attack in the world on his day.
Gayle is the figurehead of a Windies batting order in a similar mould to him. Opener John Campbell looks to be a powerful hitter although could face competition from Evin Lewis for a spot in the team.
Both Darren Bravo and the exceptionally talented Shimron Hetmyer are hugely powerful batsmen with Shai Hope - who himself has elevated his strike rate recently - filling the anchor role at three.
Below this dangerous top five are the all rounders Carlos Brathwaite, Jason Holder and potentially Andre Russell, while the young wicket-keeper Nicholas Pooran is a very exciting talent who deserves a run in the team.
Overall this batting order is one of great potential and like Gayle himself could cause serious damage on their day. On what are likely to be flat English pitches this batting order is capable of posting or chasing scores in excess of 350 and could lay claim to being the fourth most powerful in the tournament after England, India and New Zealand.
The Windies bowling - with an average Match Impact of -34.3 since the last World Cup compared to their batting of -15.2 - is clearly their weaker suit. In this sense their fifth ODI victory, in which they bowled England out for 113, was arguably the most significant performance of the series.
The pace of Oshane Thomas (bowling impact +4.6) and the left-arm variety of Sheldon Cottrell (+6.3) have injected the bowling with much needed variety. The fitness of Kemar Roach - who was ruled out of the England series with a stress fracture - is significant. Roach has an average bowling impact of +1.2 since the last World Cup and alongside Thomas could form a hostile pair on flat English pitches.
Jason Holder will captain the team but his bowling - with an average bowling Impact of -4.3 since the last World Cup is a concern. If Carlos Brathwaite - who bowled intelligently in the fourth and fifth ODIs - can carry extra responsibility with the ball it will reduce the Windies reliance on Holder’s bowling.
The major area for concern is the spin attack. Neither Devendra Bishoo (bowling impact -8.6) or Ashley Nurse (-4.6) look suitable for this level. On days when the pace attack fires opposition teams can be secure in the knowledge that the spinners will offer respite. The return of Narine to the squad could help solve this problem. Although Narine has not played an ODI for two years there is little doubt that he will increase the quality of the spin attack.
Overall this is a Windies team with a recurring theme. While they may lack consistent and reliable performers they are flush with potential match-winners. Given their relative lack of depth and major concerns surrounding the spinners it is hard to see them challenging for a top four finish at the World Cup, but they certainly have the potential to cause at least a couple of major upsets.
(Freddie Wilde is an analyst at the cricket data analytics company CricViz. He tweets @fwildecricket)
First Published: March 4, 2019, 7:58 AM IST