“It is great to be a blonde,” remarked Pamela Anderson of Baywatch fame. “With low expectations, it’s very easy to surprise people.”
The West Indies cricket team, currently contesting a series of One Day Internationals (ODIs) may be suffering from a bout of low expectations. The evidence for this is the reaction in some quarters after victory over India in the fourth match of the current ODI series. Many reading more into the victory than is really warranted.
Batting first on a slow Sir Vivian Richards Stadium surface in Antigua, the home side made what was thought to be a vastly inadequate 189/9 off their 50 overs. In response India fell for 178 in 49.4 overs, losing by 11 runs.
According to West Indies coach Stuart Law, the win placed them “one step closer to where we want to end up.” He went on to say, “I believe they’ve got the skill, I believe they’ve got the talent. If we just improve their work ethic and they’ve got to play a different game than they’re used to. As soon as we start realising that and start working towards that, I think we can start making progress.”
“Extremely proud,” is how captain Jason Holder described his feelings after the game. “We have copped a lot of criticism over the last four months as a team. We haven’t had the best results and people tend to write us off. The way the guys played today, I am extremely proud. Our backs were against the wall at the halfway stage and a lot of people didn’t expect us to win the game. But it shows what we have in us and I am really, really proud of the guys.”
The West Indies did well to emerge with a surprising win, but it is unlikely this result is a sign of what is to come in the future. This win does not mean that the West Indies are making strides, that they are becoming a better team in any way, or that they will now start winning more matches. Their bowling did well to recoup a game their batting almost lost. Yet this is but one game and it reveals little about the Caribbean side’s future prospects.
You could reasonably argue that the result was a fluke. India are still a vastly better team than the West Indies. The fact they played badly and lost signifies little. Good teams play below their capabilities on occasion, just as surely as not so good teams sometimes rise above theirs. In the grand scheme of things nothing has changed, and chances are both teams will return to their normal selves before too long.
The West Indies are still a poor team. Victory over India only seems significant because, considering their recent form, the result is surprising. Nobody expected the West Indies to win, especially after posting such a low total. Nobody expects much of the Caribbean side anymore. Expectations are, on the whole, very low, and that kind of mindset will do little to advance the team’s cause.
Despite the conditions being in their favour but bowlers still had to find the right areas. The nature of the pitch suggested that at least a few bowlers would emerge with flattering figures. That is the perspective in which Holder’s very impressive 5/27 must be judged, along with the other miserly bowling figures of the other members of the West Indies’ attack.
The level of batting witnessed must also be placed in proper context also. The lethargy of the pitch inhibited positive strokeplay, and so both batting units struggled to find even moderate degrees of fluency. The excellent Ajinkya Rahane scored a game-high 60. Yet with all his skills and batting form, he could only manage a strike-rate of 65.93.
MS Dhoni has come in for a fusillade of denunciation following his innings of 54 made off 114 deliveries, India’s most pedestrian half century in 16 years. He is blamed for losing India the game but fans can often be unfairly harsh.
Unlike the West Indies team, Dhoni might have been the victim of high expectations. He has won a number of games for his country, some of which they had no business winning considering the position they had found themselves in. Against Sri Lanka in Trinidad four years ago he struck six, four, and six off the second, third and fourth deliveries of the last over to earn a thrilling win for India. And it was his late innings heroics that gifted India the 2011 World Cup.
Those are but two examples of his exploits as a finisher of limited overs games. That he faltered on this occasion warrants no great recrimination.
It’s possible, but by no means certain, that at almost 36-years-old his powers may be on the wane. Manchester United footballing great Paul Scholes revealed that as he approached the end of his career he felt the urge to take fewer risks. As the diminution in confidence took hold, his passing became more cautious, less expensive. Rather than looking for ways of encroaching on opposition territory he became more concerned with playing safely. Scholes was still a good player; just not as effective as he was in his prime.
Dhoni may now be travelling the path that Scholes did as the end of his playing days drew closer. There is indeed much cricket left in him still, but the days of him walking on water may be drawing to a close.