Gayle, Lara key for West Indies in Cricket World Cup
West Indies coach Ottis Gibson is relying on some Gayle-force batting and the relative genius of Brian Lara to give his Caribbean squad a chance of winning the World Cup.
Chris Gayle, one of the most destructive batsmen in limited-overs cricket, will be entering his third World Cup determined to restore the status of the West Indies in the ODI game. The West Indies won the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979 but have slid in the rankings since then, their best recent run being a run to the semifinals in 1996 — the last time the tournament was staged in Asia.
Darren Bravo is preparing for his first World Cup, and comes in with great expectations as a batsman of the future. He has been groomed for international cricket, as the younger cousin of former skipper Lara and younger half-brother of established allrounder Dwayne Bravo.
"I think we have a team that can win the World Cup," said Gibson, an allrounder in the 1996 squad. "We will go there with the expectation of doing very well and putting ourselves in a position that we can reach the semifinals, which is a very realistic possibility.
"With everyone focused on the top teams, we can stay in the shadows and I think that we are a team that can spring a few surprises."
Gibson has been in the job for 12 months after spending the previous two years as England's bowling coach. The team he took over had just been swept 5-0 in an ODI series by Australia and another 5-0 defeat soon followed at home against South Africa. Gibson identified those two countries as among the World Cup favorites — along with host India — but he backs his batsmen to take his team out of a lengthy slump.
"I think it is going to be a batting tournament and we have players like Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, young Adrian Barath, Darren Bravo, who is looking very good, and Ramnaresh Sarwan who has a very good record in the subcontinent," Gibson said. "If our senior players and our batsmen put the runs on the board, it is going to be up to the bowlers to defend it."
Much of the pressure will be on Gayle. He was born in Jamaica three months after the West Indies' last World Cup triumph, when Viv Richards blazed an unbeaten 138 and shared a breathtaking 139-run fifth-wicket partnership with Collis King to set the Caribbean team on course for a 92-run victory over England in the final at Lord's in June 1979.
His workload will have to be much heavier than the West Indies legends of the last 1970s, who only had to play four 60-over matches in a two-week tournament to retain the title four years after winning the inaugural World Cup in 1975.
The 31-year-old Gayle, the former captain and heartbeat of the team as left-handed power-hitter at the top of the order, has blasted 165 sixes — the fifth most in all ODIs — in 221 matches and scored 19 centuries.
His partner at the top, Adrian Barath, is equally attack-minded but that is where the similarity ends. Eleven years younger, right-handed and almost a foot shorter at 5-foot-5, he is dwarfed by Gayle's height and bodybuilder physique.
Barath confirmed his promise with dazzling centuries against Australia on test debut, aged 19, in November 2009 and his first in a one-day international, against Sri Lanka recently as West Indies warmed up for the big show.
The solid frame of the middle order is built on the two long-serving Guyanese, Chanderpaul and Sarwan, and the rising star of Caribbean cricket, Darren Bravo.
Left-hander Chanderpaul, now 36 and in his 17th year of international cricket, shows no sign of losing his insatiable appetite for runs. He already has 8,661 in 262 ODIs.
Sarwan's averages of more than 40 in both tests and ODIs establish his class. In 2005, he was good enough to be ranked No. 1 by the ICC among ODI batsmen.
Now 30 and with 157 ODIs behind him, the right-hander is keen to prove his conditioning and commitment as much as his quality after he was overlooked for a central contract and excluded for the tour of Sri Lanka last November due to what the West Indies Cricket Board cited as an indifferent attitude to fitness.
Bravo, 22, could be one of the stars of the tournament. He is a left-hander whose elegance and flair bears the stamp of recent West Indies batting legend Lara, also a left-hander.
The resemblance, both physically and in his strokeplay, is not coincidental. His mother, Earlene, is Lara's first cousin and the youngster grew up in the same district in Trinidad and Tobago, idolizing the batsman who holds the records for the highest score in both the test and first-class game.
Bravo's half brother, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and captain Darren Sammy, are allrounders who round out a solid batting line-up with their big-hitting ability down the order.
Pollard, a sought-after sensation in domestic Twenty20 leagues around the world, has yet to make an international impact in the 50-over version but opponents will be wary of the influence of his big-hitting.
Wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh, recently recalled, is another quick scorer down the order, although his batting record is the worst of all the glovemen at the tournament.
The West Indies' bowling does not present the same confidence as the batting.
Kemar Roach's genuine pace and hostility has been a handful for batsmen in his two years of international cricket but the 22-year-old, along with pace colleagues Ravi Rampaul and Andre Russell, will be severely tested on what are likely to be batting-friendly surfaces.
So, too, the medium-pace offerings of Sammy, Dwayne Bravo and Pollard and the left-arm spin of Sulieman Benn and Nikita Miller.
Still, batting is expected to dominate on most pitches in the subcontinent, leading Gibson to predict a "very wide open tournament."