When the West Indies take on England tomorrow, the match will have taken on the aspect of a knock out tie. Irrespective of what occurs in the final group match between South Africa and India, the winner of this match will be joining South Africa in progressing from the group. It is a far cry from the expectations that pre-tournament favorites South Africa and defending champions India would easily qualify from the group. The South Africans have lived up to their billing. India has been outplayed by both England and the West Indies, who now hold their fate in their own hands.
Before the start of the tournament the West Indies were accused of being lethargic and unfocused by several prominent figures of the England media. With wins over India and Australia, the team has answered such criticism by showing that they can play as well as anyone and are capable of beating the best teams. The team is not known for its consistency however and the main issue will be whether the West Indian team that arrives for the game will be as energetic and as motivated as the one that defeated India.
England by contrast came into the tournament on the back of very impressive wins over the same opponents they will be facing. The tournament began for them in the worst possible fashion by losing to a Dutch side they were expected to defeat easily making their next match against Pakistan a must win to get them through to the Super Eights. They showed what they were capable of by beating Pakistan by a comfortable margin but were again back to being lightweights against South Africa, where they looked completely out of their depth. Their revival and renewed energy against India was a welcome arrival for the host nation who should now be going into their final group stage with positive momentum.
The win over India was due to excellent tactics as well as good play on the field. No doubt England realized the weakness shown by the Indian batsmen when playing the short ball, which was exposed by the West Indies, and exploited the deficiency. As successful as this tactic was against India it seems unlikely that this strategy can be repeated against a West Indian side full of stroke makers. England will need to adapt their strategy to contain the West Indies but if their successful reading of tactics against India is anything to go by such a plan has possibly already been devised.
The main architects for England’s win over India were the English fast bowlers, who maintained an excellent line and length throughout the game. They were not afraid to bowl short with the new ball as well as increasing to fuller lengths as the ball became older and had the accuracy to finish off the innings with accurate yorkers. Graeme Swann also bowled well; maintained an accurate line and picked up the crucial wicket of Yuvraj Singh. Swann has been the nemesis of the West Indies since the English tour of the Caribbean and he will be hoping to continue his dominance over the West Indian batsmen tomorrow.
A worry for England is the continued underperformance of their batting lineup. Other than Kevin Pietersen and Ravi Bopara, no one else looks capable of hitting the boundaries needed to achieve a suitably large total. Luke Wright showed good form in the warm-up matches but has yet to convert starts into big scores thus far in the tournament. Owais Shah has looked the most likely batsman to rebuild an innings but he has not given the impression that he can produce the big hits needed in this form of the game. The batsman most known for his six hitting prowess is Dimitri Mascarenhas, but he is yet to fire in this tournament and England must surely hope that the time is right for him to perform against the West Indies.
Paul Collingwood also seems more suited to a role of rebuilding the innings than for that of power hitting, but so far has been getting out cheaply. This lack of form shown by their usually most stable batsman, who is also the captain, coupled with the repeated brittleness of the lower order batsmen puts huge pressure on the English top order to perform.
For the West Indies the opening bowlers are critical. The spells bowled by Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor in the matches against India and Australia were instrumental in setting up wins in both games. In contrast, the poor opening spells against Sri Lanka and South Africa allowed much of the momentum to be lost from the previous wins. In the match against South Africa they showed that they were capable of restricting the batsmen during the death overs even after a bad start and the West Indies would be hopeful that they continue with their accuracy at that stage of the game.
Suliemann Benn has remained consistently difficult to get away due to his excellent control and variations of pace. Bowling in tandem with Gayle should successfully restrict runs once they both maintain their accuracy. Gayle however is hindered by an ankle injury and it is not known the extent to which this will restrict him from bowling.
Bravo continues to show his control of multiple variations at the death, which makes him one of the most lethal bowlers at that stage of an innings. His knack for making things happen will be a bonus for Gayle if an impetus is needed. The real question is, if Gayle does not feel comfortable bowling, who fills in as the 5th and if necessary 6th bowler. Kieron Pollard has been filling that role with some degree of success but as Tilakeratne Dilshan showed he is rattled when faced with unorthodoxy. The batting of Pietersen, creator of one of the most unusual shots in the game – the switch hit, might prove too difficult a task. Lendl Simmons bowled very well against Sri Lanka, picking up four wickets but whether he is capable of bowling four overs is yet to be determined.
A possible solution as to where the remaining overs would come from could be found by the inclusion of Darren Sammy in the team. A genuine all-rounder, he has the added pedigree of being very successful against England in the past and has consistently performed in this form of the game. Coming off the back of a successful first-class season with both bat and ball, it may be wise to place him in the side. The lack of any substantial knock form Pollard as yet in the tournament could also come into the reasoning.
As always prior to a West Indian game the focus is on Chris Gayle. There is more to the West Indies batting line-up as they have shown, but when Gayle gets off to a good start the rest of the batsmen find themselves with a much lighter workload. Andre Fletcher comes into this game without a run in his last two innings and he will be eager to prove his fifty against Australia was no fluke. Simmons has emerged as an exciting and extremely talented batsman, who has made the #3 spot his own. He top scored against South Africa with 77, all the more impressive considering the next highest score was 13. If the top 3 make runs, then given their rate of scoring, West Indies should quickly be on their way to a very competitive total.
Dwayne Bravo with his promotion to #4 brings energy to the crease which seems to affect the other batsman. His arrival can change the pace of an innings as he showed against India and seems to be in good form. Worrying for the West Indies though is the lack of form shown by Sarwan and Chanderpaul. Chanderpaul seems eager to continue with the unorthodox, such as reverse sweeps, which has hastened his downfall in a few innings so far. Sarwan, however, does not seem to be hitting the ball well. The team will be hoping that they break out of their respective slumps as soon as possible in an effort to get the West Indies through to the semi finals.