Proving ground


by HAYDN GILL in AntiguaA YEAR AGO, the Vivian Richards Cricket Ground was the subject of embarrassment after a sandy outfield forced the abandonment  of a Test match.A week ago, West Indies and South Africa were also embarrassed after crashing out of the ICC World Twenty20 Championships at the Super Eights stage when the expectations of both were higher.All three will come under the microscope from today at the start of the Digicel Series that bowls off with  back-to-match Twenty20 Internationals.The outfield, a disaster last year for the Test match against England that was called off after ten balls, appears to be in good shape.After a one-year ban imposed by the International Cricket Council, it has gone through remedial work, staged a regional first-class match in January, and passed an inspection a few weeks ago. A walk across the ground yesterday revealed no sign of sand.From a Caribbean stand-point, the main concern is whether Chris Gayle’s team can quickly put the disappointment of their World Twenty20 campaign behind them against opponents who themselves have a point to prove.“We have something to try and regain. It is going to be challenging.  We are up against a top team.  It is going to be difficult. “At the same time, we have to try and apply ourselves and rebound,” Gayle said yesterday before an afternoon training session at the match venue.“We have just got back as a group. Twenty20 is a pressure situation. The guys should be able to cope with it.  It’s not the big occasion, meaning the World Cup, but it’s a tough team. We should be ready physically and mentally.”After coming through the preliminaries of the World Twenty20 with victories against Ireland and eventual champions England, West Indies were unable to get it together in the Super Eights and lost two of their three matches to Sri Lanka and Australia.South Africa also failed to make an impression in the second stage where defeats against England and Pakistan prevented Greame Smith’s men from advancing to the semi-finals.It was the latest instance  of South Africa failing to make an impression in a global tournament.“It was a very disappointing performance that we put in the T20. The team has taken a lot of flak and rightly so. We’ve got to take responsibility for that,” Smith said.“The team has really worked hard in the last few days that we’ve had here in Antigua. It’s now up to the team to perform well and regain [the] faith [of] the public back home.”While South Africa have made a few changes from their World Twenty20 squad, the West Indies selectors have virtually rubber-stamped their squad, dropping only Wavell Hinds and not bringing in anyone else.Some might see it as an endorsement of the team’s performance and others might see it as the selectors giving the players another chance to come good.“It should be a wake-up call. It is a pressure situation,” Gayle said.“During these couple of days off, it let players look into themselves a bit more . . . [We have to] step up against South Africa.”While Gayle identified the shortcomings among the batsman as the main reason for the World Twenty20 failure, Smith didn’t narrow it down to any area.“We just never hit our straps throughout the tournament. We just never played to the levels that we’ve been able to perform at over the last few years. There are always a thousand things you can look at,” he said.“We’ve obviously got to look forward now. It’s an important tour for us to bounce back. We’ve got a few new players who have arrived. The guys have worked hard. Confidence is a big thing; we really need to find it.”While attendances for the World Twenty20 was encouraging at all the match venues, pre-match sales for these matches here have been nothing to shout about.


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