Friday, April 19, 2024

TONY COZIER: Windies hopes on Badree, Benn

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IT IS A FORMULA for T20 cricket ideally suited to their game.

As they have done since the International Cricket Council (ICC) added the shortest version of the game to its list of Cup tournaments, in South Africa in 2007, the West Indies again rely in today’s final of the fifth World T20 on robust, audacious boundary-hitting batsmen supported, not so much by fast bowling on which their once exceptional record in Tests and One-Day Internationals was built, but now by stingy spinners.

They enter the match at Kolkata iconic Eden Gardens with double motivation. It is almost certain to be the last appearance in the West Indies’ maroon of the stars who commit themselves to global franchise teams.

The consideration is boosted by the appearance of their women’s equivalent in their first final, a few hours earlier, breaking the previous Australia-England-New Zealand axis.

As dangerous as the men’s raft of experienced, gung-ho ball beaters are, their key men today are likely to be Samuel Badree, the 35-year-old unimposing Trinidadian whose wicket-to-wicket control of fizzing, phantom leg-spin has influenced the ICC to name him the new No.1 bowler in the format, and his contrasting Bajan partner Sulieman Benn, the fiercely competitive 6 feet, 7 inch beanpole left-arm spinner.

Their task is curbing England’s own belligerent attackers, the young brigade of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, the classy Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, and building pressure with dot balls. 

Badree’s is a curious case. He is cricket’s only authentic “T20 specialist”. His method has never been considered suited to Tests or ODIs so he has played none; his last first-class match for Trinidad and Tobago was seven years ago.

Since then, he has had 27 T20s, claiming 38 wickets at an average of 15.05 and an economy rate of 5.44, invariably opening the bowling.

They were figures similar to those in his three World T20s. The upshot was that he has been snapped up by franchise teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Australia’s Big Bash and the Pakistan Super League.

In a significant reversal of traditional roles between the countries, he has been signed on as part of a Cricket Australia programme to mentor young spinners at a week-long camp in Brisbane in May, working alongside Cricket Australia’s head spin coach John Davison.

Benn, 35 in July, has been around far longer than Badree. He has played 26 Tests, 34 ODIs and 23 T20 Internationals spread over seven years.

Although he hasn’t attracted bids from any global franchise, he has capably filled the crippling gap left by Sunil Narine’s withdrawal from the squad on the eve of the tournament as T20s most effective bowler. In their five matches on the way to the final, Badree’s economy rate is 5.68 runs an over, Benn’s 5.78.

The West Indies batting is the most feared in the tournament, none more so than Chris Gayle at the top of the order. Their method sometimes misfires, predictably leading to inconsistency.

The lead-up to their triumph over Sri Lanka in the final of the 2012 tournament included setbacks in the group stage to the Sri Lankans, by nine wickets, and Australia. There was also the necessity of overcoming New Zealand in a “super over”.

When it came down to the semi-finals and final, the matches that really mattered, they were unstoppable. In the semi, Australia were dismissed for 131 in response to 205 for four, based principally on Gayle’s unbeaten 75 from 41 balls and with a collective 14 fours and 14 sixes.

In the final, even after Samuels’ 78 off 56 balls that featured his astonishing six-hitting assault on Lasith Malinga, the West Indies had to defend a modest 137 for six; the combined spin of Narine, Badree and Samuels took five wickets from 11.4 overs between them as the home team crumbled to an all-out 101.

The pattern was repeated over the past six weeks in India. In earlier matches, they laboured 19.4 overs to overhaul South Africa’s modest 122 for eight and 18.2 overs to overhaul Sri Lanka’s 122 for nine for victory by seven wickets. The most spectacular meltdown was 117 for eight against the feisty Afghanistan spinners and shocking defeat by six runs.

Such struggles were sandwiched between Gayle’s unbeaten 100 off 48 balls, with his record 11 sixes, that underscored a total of 183 for four and victory by six wickets in Mumbai in the opener against the England opposition they confront again today and Thursday’s semi-final dismissal of India at the same Wankhede Stadium.

This time Gayle lasted six balls for eight to be quickly followed by Samuels as the innings stuttered at 19 for two in pursuit of India’s imposing 192 for two, driven by the classy Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 89 off 47 balls.

Now others showed up to revive the innings, validating captain Darren Sammy’s statement that his was not a one-man team.

Two days after returning from Trinidad to rejoin the team following treatment to his back and the pulled hamstring that ended Andre Fletcher’s tournament, Lendl Simmons’ unbeaten 82 out-Kohlied Kohli.

He and the underestimated Johnson Charles’ 52 from 36 balls got things going; Andre Russell’s blistering 43 from 20 balls put the finishing touches to the result. There were 20 fours and 11 sixes in the innings.

It repeated evidence of their ability to raise their game for the matches that count. Sammy described the Afghanistan defeat a few days earlier as “a blip”. So it proved.

Whether or not the batting amasses a formidable challenge today, the roles of Badree and Benn, the odd couple, are crucial to the outcome.

Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.

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