The West Indies’ first two was in the 17th over of the innings.
Some of that is down to the fact that Chris Gayle is ancient, and they have replaced his hamstrings with biscuits. They are stiff, but they also crumble. But it’s also about the way the West Indies play. Since Javed Miandad hit the ball over short cover’s head and Dean Jones turned ODI batting into a 10,000-metre race, teams have used the two as a safe option to score quickly. But the West Indies’ newer style of batting is not as much about twos, or even running at all; it’s about the power. By the time their first two came today, they’d already scored several boundaries and a six.
And it’s not that their style isn’t right – batsmen take a risk with twos for a low return. They’re playing an attacking shot, if not checked, and then hustling for a run that may not always be entirely there. If you are going to take a risk, you might as well take it when there is four or six runs on offer. It just wasn’t the right style for today.
Since the last World Cup, West Indies score a two every 20.39 balls, third slowest. England leads the world with a two every 16.69 balls.
But it isn’t just twos that the West Indies don’t bother with, they also score off fewer balls than most teams. Since April 2015, the West Indies have a dot ball percentage of 57. Only Afghanistan faces more dots. England is down at 49%, which means that on average the West Indies face 24 more dot balls than England each game.
Not all of this matters if your players are waiting for the ball to be in their zones and hitting it out of the stadium. But today the pitch was not that conducive to swing through the line, and this is the biggest ground in the tournament. The smallest boundary here is 76 metres, the largest boundary at Taunton is 68 metres. It’s not that you can’t hit sixes here, but you can’t hit them consistently.
Eoin Morgan had talked about this before the game. “The parameters of the ground here are a lot bigger than the West Indies.” He also mentioned the pitch may not be ideal for swinging through the line. That seemed like a warning to the West Indies players before the game, but they didn’t seem to listen. Gayle and Andre Russell both were caught on the boundary with hits that would have been sixes anywhere else in the tournament, and in most places in the world.
If there is any pitch in England to bat in the more traditional ODI way, it’s the Rose Bowl. In the first ten overs they scored 41 runs, and had 41 dots. In the following ten, with the field out, they still managed 33 dots. Gayle hurts in that, but they don’t have many great strike rotaters. And in truth, they don’t have many traditional batsmen at all. They are not set up for this ground.
Shai Hope is their only frontline batsman who has a well-rounded game suited to ODI cricket, and even he struggles with strike rotation. Of the 36 batsmen from the teams in this World Cup who’ve faced at least 1000 balls in the last couple of years, Shai Hope has the ninth worst dot ball percentage with 55%. There’s no reason for a player like Hope not to rotate the ball more; he’s the fourth worst boundary hitter in this World Cup. He’s physically fit and talented. He should be able to score regularly with no risk.
On Friday, he batted at three and was followed by Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer. Both are incredible talents and ball strikers, but neither are strike rotaters. Pooran played a very mature innings, his best for the West Indies in his short career. At the other end, the Hetmyer was scoring his boundaries by moving his front leg and heaving the ball even in the middle overs. They scored some twos, but they always appeared to be mis-hit boundaries rather than special placement.
They didn’t look like they were playing the same ODI cricket as other teams in this tournament. And maybe that’s because they don’t play as much of it. India has four top-order batsmen with over 60 ODIs in the last four years. Jason Holder is West Indies’ only top seven player with over 60 matches, Shai Hope is at 58, and then Evin Lewis has played 37. Gayle has been largely unavailable. Hetmyer is still relatively new. And Pooran only made his debutant earlier this year. And it’s not like these players have a lot of one day domestic cricket either.
Obviously it’s not like ODI cricket is a foreign concept; they’re not like aliens trying to learn a new game. And a lot of their T20 strengths are now part of ODI cricket. But twice in this tournament, not changing the way they have batted for the conditions, or state of the game, has cost them. Against Australia they turned a near run-a-ball chase into a solid loss by over-attacking. And here they made a weak total on a pitch where Chris Woakes batted at three and made 40. They didn’t even get much of a bat against Pakistan; so the two times they have batted this tournament, they’ve failed.
At six today was Andre Russell. Expecting him to look for twos when he’s borrowed his gran’s knees seems like a stretch. But also hoping for him to become a batsman when he has spent his entire life being a hitter is asking a lot. Not that he is in this side for plucky rearguard innings when the top order have failed either. He is made for T20 and death hitting.
And in reality, this team is the same.The talent is there, but while they have the team to score 400, they might also not be for all conditions. If you look at their results, one win, one draw and two losses, you’d have to wonder if they are the right team for this tournament.
Holder said, “There’s still a lot of cricket left to be played in this tournament”. But if they keep playing like today, it’ll be over sooner than they want.
(Stats inputs from Shiva Jayaraman)