- Shai Hope hundred fires Windies to record one-day score
- Big win over New Zealand could be a sign of things to come
This West Indies side sure knows how to entertain. Whether it’s the explosive batting of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell or the raw pace bowling of Oshane Thomas and Kemar Roach, their Caribbean flair is always fun to watch.
Ask any cricket fan which side they would most like to see go far in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 other than their own and the answer is likely to be the same.
That’s partly due to the romanticism that surrounds the West Indies, born from “that team” of the 1970s and 80s which sensationally claimed back-to-back World Cup titles.
Legendary names such as Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall wrote their name into cricket folklore with their exploits in the 1975 and 1979 editions.
Such was their impact on the game – they were also runners-up in 1983 – the expectation on the players who have tried to follow in their footsteps has weighed heavily on their shoulders.
West Indies last qualified for the last four more than two decades ago in 1996, while their best performance in the last five tournaments has been a pair of quarter-finals in 2011 and 2015.
The potential has always been there – but for all of their individual brilliance in the intervening years since their last World Cup success, they have struggled to put it together when it mattered.
But despite coming into this World Cup without an ODI series win in the last five years, there is a school of thought that the West Indies could be the dark horses in England.
They certainly possess the batting power to blow any team out of the water, as shown by their blockbuster showing in their final warm-up game against New Zealand in Bristol.
Gayle lived up to his boom or bust billing at the top of the order with a rapid 36 off 22 balls before he holed out to Kiwi captain Kane Williamson off the bowling of Trent Boult.
And while Evin Lewis took a slightly more cultured approach en route to his half-century, he provided useful support as a swashbuckling Shai Hope teed off at the other end.
Hope smashed the New Zealand attack to all corners as he catapulted the Windies innings into the stratosphere along with valuable contributions from Darren Bravo (25) and Shimron Hetmyer (27).
He brought up his century from just 84 balls, which included nine fours and four sixes, before gifting his wicket just two deliveries later to Boult by chipping the ball to Williamson.
Yet just as one batting heavyweight exited the arena, another one entered the fray, with Holder (47) already up and running by the time Russell joined him at the crease.
Fireworks followed as the sixes only got bigger. Russell opened his account with a gigantic maximum and continued in that vein as he raced to his half-century from just 23 balls.
The highlight of his seven fours and three sixes was a monstrous maximum strike down the ground that easily scaled the fourth floor of the flats behind the Ashley Down Road end.
His show-stopping cameo was a joy to behold before it was ended by Boult, but his contribution ensured West Indies surpassed 400 as they finished with their highest ever one-day score.
While the 421 total will not count – the game did not carry official ODI status – it laid down a marker for the tournament and set New Zealand a target they never looked in danger of chasing.
If there is a question mark over this Windies side, it surrounds the lack of variation in their bowling attack, which relies heavily on the pace of Thomas, Roach and Sheldon Cottrell.
When on song, as they were against the Black Caps, they are a formidable force. But too much of a reliance on their quicks could prove to be their undoing against the very best batting line-ups.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether these players can produce a new chapter in the West Indies cricket history book. Whatever happens, though, it is certainly going to be an enjoyable ride.