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West Indian cricket continues to flounder as Champions Trophy flourishes without them

After missing out on this tournament in England, the West Indies are fearful of failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup too

Monday 12 June 2017 15:06 BST
West Indian cricket continues to decline as their rivals enjoy the Champions Trophy
West Indian cricket continues to decline as their rivals enjoy the Champions Trophy (AFP)

The great British summer time may have done its best to rain on the ICC’s Champions Trophy parade but, with the semi-final line-up now confirmed, the competition is living up to its billing of being the most exciting in the 50 over calendar.

There’s just one thing missing from the party – and that’s the West Indies, the winners of the 2004 edition of the competition when they defied England amid the South London gloom at the Oval.

World champions in 1975 and 1979 and the dominant force in global cricket throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, anyone suggesting that the men from the Caribbean would one day fall behind Bangladesh in the international game’s pecking order would have been laughed out of town.

Now, after missing out on qualifying for the Champions Trophy, the West Indies are fearful of failing to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, again held in England, after slumping to ninth in the ICC ODI rankings.

The top eight in that ranking table qualify automatically for the tournament in two years’ time and with the clock ticking, the West Indies are unlikely to break into that elite group by the September 30 cut-off.

It’s a fall from grace as dramatic as any in international sport and anyone who watched their display against Afghanistan in St Lucia on Friday, will appreciate just how long the road back to respectability is likely to be.

At the Darren Sammy International Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Jason Holder’s side were humbled by an 18-year-old leg-spinner who recorded the fourth best figures in the history of one-day internationals.

Even by modern standards in the Caribbean, that loss represented a brand new low water mark.

 Rashid Khan humbled West Indies with a stunning display of spin bowling 

Rashid Khan astonishing performance – he took 7-18 in 8.4 overs – as the West Indies slumped to 149 all out and a 63 run defeat was Afghanistan’s first victory over full member nation, other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. It was rightly seen as another enormous step forward for Phil Simmons’ side. It also took Rashid’s one-day wicket tally to 60, scalps which have come at an average of just 15.

He nearly repeated the trick on Sunday, taking three wickets as the West Indies stumbled towards their victory target of 135 for the loss of six wickets on the same ground.

Rashid’s performances have once again put the West Indies in a spin. And, for the moment at least, there appears little chance of the one-time superpower steadying itself and being able to look up rather than down.

 West Indies had no answer for Khan 

If the West Indies record in Test cricket has been dire for longer than most Caribbean cricket lovers would care to remember, their slide in one-day cricket has been equally catastrophic.

In July 2012, the West Indies celebrated a 4-1 series victory over New Zealand in Basseterre, St Kitts.

Astonishingly, with the exception of solitary wins against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, that was the West Indies last series victory against a full member nation. Their last series win against any opposition came as far back as August 2014.

A T20 World Cup win coupled with the success of their under-19 side at last year’s World Cup points to better days ahead but Toby Radford, their Welsh batting coach, believes that patience is the name of the game.

“There are some good youngsters coming through and the Test team has really improved in the last year and a half,” he tells the Independent. “It’s the 50 over game that has been identified as the area we most need to improve.

 Defeat to Afghanistan is yet another low point for the game in West Indies 

“No-one here has really talked about the Champions Trophy, they’ll watch it if there’s a game on but it’s not something they’re discussing, really. It could be that we have to qualify for the World Cup but with a young side I think there’s a general feeling that that might not be the worst thing because you’re rebuilding anyway and that gives you time to keep improving and keep working on these areas that we clearly need to work on.”

There might not be too many conversations around the Champions Trophy but there’s certainly no shortage of discussion around the prospect of touring England later this summer, a prospect which will no doubt excite the new West Indies coach, Stuart Law, who spent the majority of his career playing here.

At least the tour will give them the chance to play in stadiums that offer a reminder of the crowds that would once routinely flock to watch them wherever in the world they were playing.

“Crowds aren’t anywhere near what they once were,” says Radford. “But I think the only way you’re going to get them back is to try and win more games and become a better and better team. We’re pleased with the inroads we’re making in Test cricket and T20 is probably our strongest suit at the moment. It’s in 50 overs cricket where most work is needed.”

With India heading out for a five-match series at the conclusion of the Champions Trophy, life isn’t about to get any easier. A win in their series decider against Afghanistan on Wednesday will only bring a measure of temporary relief.

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