It’s been a long few months for those cricket fans not enamoured with the bright lights of T20 cricket. Since mid February the only relief for those suffering under the deluge of cricket’s shortest format has been the parasol of a couple of one sided Tests between England and Sri Lanka. Starting only a couple of weeks ago, the first match broke a run of 84 days without any non T20 international fixtures. Of course there are obvious reasons for this with the World T20 Cup and it’s qualifying round leading straight into the seven week slog fest which is the IPL. During this period over 100 T20 matches were played, making for a constant source of entertainment for the average fan.
Out of all this, the performance of the West Indian players were some of the more notable achievements. Carlos Brathwaite arrived in stunning fashion hitting four consecutive sixes in the last over of the World Cup final to take the West Indies to a surprise victory. This continued into the IPL with match winning performances from players like Gayle, Russell, Brathwaite and Bravo. Sadly for the West Indies, continued problems between a number of these players and the board mean that all of them bar Brathwaite won’t be representing the West Indies this series and in fact haven’t been representing the island nations outside T20s for close to eighteen months.
This lack of star quality and the subsequent increased dip in form of the team, not only have lead to the West Indies dropping out of the top 8 sides in the ODI cricket and qualification for the Champions Trophy, but also convinced the ICC to set up this series against two cricketing heavy weights. The problems for West Indies cricket don’t just surround the conflict between the players and the board. Overall participation and attendance numbers have been declining downwards in recent years, predominantly in the regards to the two longer formats, and it’s hoping that a contest between some of the biggest names in world cricket will help to bring about a revival. The recent T20 World Cup win showed that there are still large amounts of passion for the game in the reason, but it remains to be seen whether this will expand to cover the longer format. It would be a shame to see a region with such a proud cricketing history go the way of T20 exclusivity, but an uncompetitive performance here will be another small step down what is looking an increasingly possible path.
Steve Smith (c), David Warner, George Bailey, Usman Khawaja, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Glen Maxwell, Mitch Marsh, James Faulkner, Matthew Wade†, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Scott Boland, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon.
Possible XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitch Marsh, Matthew Wade†, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood/Nathan Lyon
Australia come into this tri-series as the firmly entrenched No 1 side in ODI’s. The return of the arguably the best limited overs bowler in the world in Mitchell Starc will only bolster their chances and they’ve got a healthy competition for spots amongst their squad. The two big question marks around the team are based around who gets the first nod as opener and whether they decide to go with a dual spin option or not. At the moment Khawaja will probably get the first look at opening with the in form David Warner, but expect to see Finch be given a shot at some point as in all likelihood they’ll be resting players at some point after an intense schedule.
Zampa is the current first choice spinner, but the turning tracks of the Caribbean may convince the selectors to pair him with incumbent Test choice, Nathan Lyon. If this is the case they’ll most likely drop one of Hazlewood and Starc and trust all rounders Faulkner and Marsh as alternative pace options. If they wanted to make a statement they may drop an out of sorts Glenn Maxwell, who offers a couple overs of handy off-spin and trust players like Marsh and Wade to pick up the slack in terms of batting.
AB de Villiers (c), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis Quinton DeKock†, Rilee Rossouw, Jean-Paul Duminy. Farhaan Behardien, Kyle Abbott, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi.
Possible XI: Quinton DeKock†, Hashim Amla, Rilee Rossouw, AB de Villiers JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott/Aaron Phangiso Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
South Africa come into this series as the 3rd ranked country in ODIs, but a strong performance will see them move into 2nd place ahead of New Zealand. Although the team offers a strong top order and quality pace and spin options with Rabada, Morkel and Tahir, there are still a few areas that they need to improve in. For starters they are yet to nail down a 5th bowling option. Morris offers enough with the bat to be almost considered an all-rounder, but other options like Duminy and Behardien aren’t consistent enough to be entrusted with too many. Because of this they may go with another bowler in one of Abbot or Phangiso, depending on whether they want the second spin option in Phangiso or not.
The absence of Du Plessis due to a finger injury puts added pressure on South Africa’s middle and lower players to perform with the bat. The lack of alternative batting options in the squad suggests that the Proteas will be persisting with the erratic performances of players like Roussouw and Behardien. Strong performances with the bat from these two players as well as Duminy and Morris will be needed to back up the firepower of AB, Amla and DeKock.
James Holder (c), Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Jonathan Carter, Andre Fletcher†, Denesh Ramdim†, Kieron Pollard, Carlos Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse, Sulieman Benn, Shannon Gabriel, Jerome Taylor, Sunil Narine.
Possible XI: Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin†, Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse/Sulieman Benn, Sunil Narine, Jerome Taylor.
The lack of recent match practice for a lot of their squad provides the biggest problem for what is a talented, but relatively inconsistent team. The Windies last played an ODI series against Sri Lanka in November last year, a 3-0 loss, and although their recent form in T20 matches has been good, the one day format is a different beast entirely. Losses in the two warm up matches they’ve played against a Barbados side, is a worrying sign for those seeking a competitive performance. The return of proven performers in Pollard and Narine will help, but it’s difficult to look past the continued absence of the world class Gayle, Bravo, Sammy and Russell. Their exile from the side exposes the lack of quality coming through the domestic scene in the region and makes it difficult to see them being too competitive this series.
The top six pretty much picks itself due to the lack of any other potential options and it’s almost a certainty that the IPL hardened duo of Holder and Brathwaite will be getting spots as all round options. Because of this, as well as Pollards ability to throw down a couple of overs of medium pace, it seems likely that they’ll go with two spinners to round out their bowling lineup with the experienced Taylor. The returning Narine is the obvious choice for one of those spots, but it’s a toss up between the inexperinced Nurse and the ageing Benn for the other.
Players to Look Out For
Adam Zampa (AUS)
The young leggie has made a promising start to international cricket so far. After debuting in the limited overs series against New Zealand at the start of the year, Zampa has shown enough guile and control to suggest he could be a long term prospect. He was Australia’s highest wicket taker in the recent T20 World Cup and backed that up with a strong finish to the IPL taking 12 wickets in just 5 matches. The smaller West Indian grounds will pose a challenge for the spinner, but it also gives him an opportunity to cement himself as Australia’s limited overs option for the coming years.
Kieron Pollard (WI)
The talented, yet controversial West Indian was a surprise addition to the squad for this series. Having long been considered to be on the outer of the team after disputes with the board, Pollard will bring some much needed X-factor to the Windies lineup with both bat and ball. The T20 journeyman hasn’t played in an ODI match since October 2014 and will be looking to improve on what is quite the unflattering record at international level. Pollard averages an underwhelming 25.20 with the bat and 38.11 with the ball after 91 matches and looks like one of the few West Indies batsman with enough experience and skill to take it up to their top class opposition.
Jean-Paul Duminy (SA)
Although his position in the side doesn’t yet seem to yet be at risk, another poor series from Duminy could lead to some unwanted questions to where his career’s heading in this format. A career average of 38.73 certainly isn’t shabby for limited overs, but it’s his recent form with both bat and ball which are causes for concern. Since last years World Cup, Duminy has averaged only 27.50 with only one fifty to his name, coupled with 2 wickets at an average of 144 and economy of 6.54, certainly not numbers that inspire confidence. An in form Duminy would take some much needed pressure off a South African side becoming increasingly dependant on its top 4 of Amla, De Kock, AB and Faf to score runs.
The success of the this tournament for the home side is almost equally dependent on how they perform off the field as much as on it. Big crowds would be ideal to demonstrate to the world that cricket still has it’s place amongst the island nations, but they’ll also need competitive performances on the field to show the ICC and the rest of the cricketing world that they’re heading in the right direction.
They’ll be up against it though, with Australia and South Africa bringing two of the most intimidating lineups in limited overs cricket. Australia will be in the box seat to win due to a strong recent history in the format and the fact that they have a large of established players throughout their lineup. In all likelihood the final will take place between these two higher ranking sides, but there’s a chance that the West Indies might make them work for it. Both visiting sides are relatively inexperienced in the Caribbean and the home team may be able to take advantage of this. A breakout series from a couple of the West Indies unheralded players, particularly the two openers would go a long way to seeing a upset and the return of some respect to this once proud cricketing region.