Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Many positives for Windies in victory over Black Caps

The West Indies completed their first ODI series victory against a major nation since April 2008, by beating New Zealand in the last one day by 20 runs. The 4-1 scoreline was comprehensive, and compliments their impressive showing in the Twenty20 series, where they completely dominated the Kiwis.

There is no denying that this New Zealand team have been one of the most poorly prepared to come to the Caribbean in recent years. Nonetheless, you can only beat the opposition in front of you, and for the West Indies this series fuels the growing belief, that at least in the limited-overs game, they certainly are on an upward curve.

While they are bound to face stiffer opposition in the near future, there were aspects of their game that would be handy against any opposition, no matter the conditions. While there were some weaknesses exposed, there were key positives for the West Indies to take forward in limited overs cricket.

1) Sunil Narine's bowling
Sunil Narine didn't have his most productive tour in England. However, the sample size was too small to make a judgement in those conditions, and the reality of the global cricketing calendar is that you are only likely to encounter English conditions once every three years.

In most other conditions, Narine is turning out to be simply unplayable. Many a mystery spinner before have turned out to be a flash in the pan, but Narine seems to have the intelligence to maintain the enigma.

In 5 games this series, Narine had unreal figures of 13 wickets, averaging 11.23 at an economy rate of 2.92. His miserly economy is becoming a major weapon. Irrespective of the situation and asking rate, Narine knows how to apply the brakes against batsmen, and subsequently get them out. With him in the team, WI can rightfully be considered one of the favourites at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.

2) Chris Gayle's return
Any concerns about how Chris Gayle would fit back into the team after a year on the sidelines have now surely been quashed. Even more pleasing is the willingness to do well, positive smile and a real sense that he is excited to be performing for West Indies again.

His century in Jamaica was a masterclass. Gayle has now applied a new approach to both formats of the limited-overs game. He is keen to build an innings. The unique aspect of the new Gayle is that even while building an innings, the scoring rate of the team doesn't dip. He seems to have become an expert at knowing which balls to go after, and this is translating into huge scores for him individually, and great starts for the team as a whole.

3) Marlon Samuels role
Many pundits in England praised Marlon Samuels throughout the tour of England. Samuels finally seems to have allied discipline to his natural batting talent. One gets the sense that he knows the next few years can define his career, and Samuels is really determined to leave a positive legacy.

He is relishing the role of elder statesman along with Gayle. Samuels has also turned out to be an excellent partner to Narine, holding one end with his canny off-spin. The ability to throw in some surprise yorkers means he is a genuine wicket-taking option in addition to stemming the flow of runs. A mature Samuels can now the be the rock on which the new Windies middle order can be founded.

4) Andre Russell
The emergence of Andre Russell could yet end up being the biggest breakthrough for Windies cricket in recent times. Russell played a huge role in the ODI series victory over New Zealand, and would surely have been Man of the Series, but for Narine's brilliance.

Russell has the ability to take wickets with the ball, mixing ferocious pace with a variety in length that can catch the best batsmen off-guard. Russell needs to improve his line to reduce his high economy rate, but throughout the series he has taken wickets with the new ball as well as during the slog overs.

He has been seriously under-rated as a batsman. Once he gets his eyes in, Russell can score at an extremely quick rate, without ever looking like getting out. Many have said that he has batted too low in this series, and it certainly is a very valid point. Extremely adept at using his wrists, Russell can plunder runs across all sides of the wicket, and he doesn't seem to get perturbed by the opposition bowling attack no matter the conditions.

With no glaring weaknesses in his batting, this observer would say that Russell is an even better batsman than Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy. His bowling is already better than Dwayne Bravo, and if it improves he could possibly even lead the attack along with Narine. Featuring dazzling skills with both bat and ball, brilliance in the field allied with a natural flair, it's only a matter of time before Andre Russell becomes the leading all-rounder in the West Indies team across all formats.