Struggling West Indies look for home boost

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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St John's:Ever since their stunning capture of the ICC Champions Trophy for the first time three years ago in England, there has been widespread optimism in thST JOHN'S (AFP)e Caribbean that West Indies could be the first host nation to win the World Cup.

That optimism did not seem misplaced, following their stunning qualification for the final of last year's Champions Trophy in India, where they were rolled over by Australia.

After all, West Indies' lowly position on the official one-day international rankings had forced them to come through a qualification tournament with Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh before entering the main draw of the Champions Trophy tournament.

All of this came on the heels of a triumphant run in consecutive home series victories - 5-0 over Zimbabwe, who they will face in the group stages of this World Cup, and 4-1 over India.

Since the Champions Trophy final last October in Mumbai however, Brian Lara's side has endured something of a slump, losing six of their last eight ODIs in separate series in Pakistan and India.

Injuries to a couple of pivotal players, including Ramnaresh Sarwan, have also hampered their World Cup preparations.

But coach Bennett King is optimistic and believes the limited-overs format suits his side perfectly.

"The concentration levels are shorter, and this amount of time is quite good, so with that in mind, we're optimistic," he said.

"The limited-overs format is an interesting game. Anyone on their given day, if they have a good day, can win a game of limited-overs cricket.

"If a side has a below par game, they can lose. What we've got to make sure of is that we don't have a lot of bad games."

King indicated that his main focus now is to help his side avoid the kind of catastrophic declines which characterised their performance in the final of the Champions Trophy in India.

"Our bad games tend to be the ones when we don't score over 150," he said.

"The better sides, their bad games are when they don't score over 250. We've got to work towards this.

"We've been winning games in the one-day format against really good opposition, which gives the players confidence. We've just got to maintain that consistency."

To win the World Cup, West Indies will have to overcome themselves like they did last year, when they won 17 of the 29 matches they contested.

This was in stark contrast to the previous year when they could only muster two wins in 18 games when the players and the board were embroiled in a bitter dispute over contractual terms.

With terms now agreed, and a squad packed with players more settled in their roles, they have a great chance to rock the World Cup.

Most of the squad picked itself.

Lara, Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo and Corey Collymore were the foundation; Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Smith, Denesh Ramdin, Ian Bradshaw, Daren Powell, and Jerome Taylor established themselves over the last two years.

The surprise package is the teenage all-rounder Kieron Pollard.

The 19-year-old made his debut in the West Indies' domestic first-class and limited-overs competitions this year, and has captured the imagination of fans in the Caribbean with his big-hitting for his native Trinidad&Tobago.

Pollard first gave notice of his emerging status when he crashed 83 off 38 balls against Nevis to put T&T in the final of the inaugural Stanford Twenty20 Cup in Antigua.

He distinguished himself with a century on his first-class debut against league champions Barbados in the opening match of the season, and followed up with another hundred against Leeward Islands.

Outside of the established batsmen, West Indies can turn to Lendl Simmons, a talented player, but still a rookie, and left-hander Devon Smith, who has been given another chance two and a half years after he was seen as unsuited to the abbreviated game and dropped.

West Indies won the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979 in England, but have failed to reach the semifinals since then.


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