Sorrowful start for West Indies
Failure to get to the semi-finals of the World Cup more than once in the last seven tournaments does not appear likely to be lifted this time around for West Indies. Our opening match, carded to be the least challenging, hit us smack in the face as Ireland not only beat us but did so with an emphasis little short of dismay. Facing a side short of pace bowling of any incendiary effect, West Indies, sent in to bat, did not accept the gift of first use of the pitch at Nelson with expected enthusiasm. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith – more so the first named – were reduced mainly to plodding along at a very pedestrian two runs per over and suffered further loss of ground when Smith fell at 30 for one attempting to move into second gear, caught as he picked out the lone man on the straight boundary.
A sense of foreboding intensified as wickets tumbled: 31 for two, 78 for three, 78 for four and 87 for five. In this debacle Darren Bravo was run out without facing a single delivery. Gayle's 36 runs terminated without managing to really escape the shackles of his very limited foot movement. For Samuels, it was entrapment LBW to Dockrell for 21, failing to get his bat in the right place. Ramdin forestalled Dockrell's hattrick, but only just with more than half the overs remaining, he elected to sweep in disjointed manner when all good sense called for a commitment to provide support for Lendl Simmons.
Ironically, it was left to the much maligned Daren Sammy to take a positive attack to the Irish – his approach lifting Simmons out of the self imposed lethargy that had impeded the earlier action. Sammy blasted 89 before he was caught attempting to lose the ball. This ended a 154 run partnership but allowed Simmons scope to get an invaluable century (102 from 84 balls). Andre Russell put finishing touches to an only just respectable 304 for seven by West Indies. Poverty of the West Indies score against bowling which was little better than anaemic was fully revealed in the manner in which Ireland raced without inhibition to 250 for the loss of only two wickets in as little as 38 overs. Joyce, 84, and Nail O'Brien, 79, proved pertinent advertisement for Guinness, Ireland's World renowned beverage, as they romped to 307 for six, leaving West Indies perplexed and wondering whether they have it in themselves to emerge out of a pit dug largely by their failure to score handily on a good surface followed by grossly inept fielding. This latter was highlighted by Jason Holder grassing an abject lollipop on the boundary.
With big guns South Africa, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe remaining on the menu, the prospects appear bleak for West Indies. South Africa showed their expertise in extricating themselves from 83 for four with a blistering 146 runs in their last 10 overs aided by centuries by David Miller, 133, and J.P. Duminy 115 not out in posting a resolute 339 for four against Zimbabwe. Though defeated, Zimbabwe had South Africa quite worried by striding to 207 for three. They left the distinct impression that closer adherence to their game plan might have seen them much nearer to their objective. For West Indies the threat of finding ways to deal with Masakadja and Chibhaha, who hammered 80 and 64 respectively – without a shred of respect for the feared pace of Dale Steyn and Morkel, looms disturbingly. The West Indies pacers presented themselves as prime slaughter for any really intelligent batsman.
Traditional enemies India and Pakistan did not live up to the blockbuster expected by the public. There was all the concentrated hoopla of a 53,000 crowd but India gained and retained the early upper hand. Sent in, they reached 300 for seven on the strength of Virat Kohli's 107 from 126 balls, Suresh Raina's 74 and Dhwan's 73.
However, Pakistan's reply faltered to 102 for four and eventually 224 all out in 47 overs and still short of a World Cup victory over India in six attempts. New Zealand signaled their recent prominence in O.D.I cricket in the curtain raiser at Christchurch, accepting with open arms Srilanka's offer of a first use of the pitch. They made 331 for six to win by 98 runs, buoyed by 57 from Williamson, 49 by Guptill and 75 by Anderson and 65 from Brendan McCullum who seemed more at home than their opponents in the relatively chilly weather.
Sri Lanka folded dramatically in their middle order, slumping from 124 for 1, to 233 all out in 47 overs. Resistance by Thirmianie, 65, Sangakara, 39 and Matthews, 46, failed in some measure to adequately pass the New Zealand test of hostile pace and tight spin. Their well intentioned musical support unit was not encouraged to endure in patriotic fervor. From the time Sri Lanka had fallen to 163 for 5, their kindred musicians defaulted: "baille finis vielon en sac".
Meticulous build up in their preparation did not allow England to escape unscathed against Australia, whose overwhelming support from 90,000 spectators at Melbourne saw them to 342 for nine, recovering from 50 for 3. England had themselves to blame for dropping Finch before Australia had scored. He went on to amass 135 before he was run out at 216 for four. Maxwell 66 and Bailey 55 were the other main contributors.
England never got down to a meaningful reply, despite Taylor's 98 not out, leaving Australia winning by 111 runs.
Bangladesh and Afghanistan used Canberra as setting to demonstrate how well they have developed despite problems of homefront civil unrest. Bangladesh scored 267 and then restricted Afghanistan to 162 – fully indicative of how much the latter are still to mature in their batting. Shakib 63 and Mushfigur, 71, led the way for the Bangladeshi. For the Afghans Shenvari, 42, and Nabi 40 assisted in a recovery from three runs for three wickets and 78 for five. Still very early in the campaign, it is pretty evident that West Indies are faced with a monumental task of levering Caribbean cricket forward – not made any easier by continuing problems with leadership issues for control of the administration due to face elections early next month.