Thursday, April 25, 2024

FAZEER MOHAMMED: In search of confidence


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WHETHER IT was a case of soft dismissals in Antigua on Friday or panic stations in Zimbabwe last November, the circumstances surrounding the succession of West Indies One-Day International setbacks are symptoms of a greater concern.

Yes, it might be comforting to think that it’s just bad luck, or just one (or two, or three, four) of these things that happen in the game. You may even want to go the way of believing that if most of the T20 franchise stars were regularly available we would be in a much healthier position and wouldn’t have to be worrying about scraping ranking points before September 30 to ensure automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup.

Delusions can be delightful but they don’t change reality. And the reality is that the West Indies team, as presently constituted, lacks the self-belief as a unit to prevail anywhere close to consistently at the critical moments.

That 45-run loss to England at the Vivian Richards Stadium was a case in point.

Chances were missed in the field – century-maker Eoin Morgan was let off at four and 69 – while poor shot selection accounted for the top three in the order when the chase for 297 began. Still, as much as they managed to hamper their own effort, the Caribbean side were actually on course and ahead of England at the comparative stage of their innings with ten overs to go.

Okay, so it was still asking a lot to get 96 runs off a potential 60 deliveries with five wickets in hand. In the end they fell 46 runs short. Competitive, yes, although going neck-and-neck or even being a short nose in front only to regularly falter in the home stretch appears to be more a matter of confidence than any technical deficiency or, for that matter, anything to do with formidable opponents imposing their will.

his 50th ODI, Jason Holder could only mutter the usual shallow post-match platitudes to explain away another disappointment. Really, what else could he say? That getting over the line has become as much of a psychological hurdle as a real one? He was at the crease on all three occasions in Zimbabwe for the tie, the one-run loss (chasing 331) and the five-run defeat on Duckworth/Lewis, and his was the wicket to fall at the start of the last ten overs two days ago which allowed England to tighten their grip on the opening fixture of the three-match series.

For a 25-year-old to cope with such challenges, having been thrust into a leadership role two years earlier in the aftermath of chaos in India, and then to see one issue after another stymie any suggestion of real progress, and escape unscarred is unrealistic.

But elite level sport has little room for sympathy. It is ultimately about results. Unless they can rebound immediately and turn things around today to keep the series alive heading into the final match at Kensington Oval on Thursday, another barrage of region-wide criticism can be anticipated.

As much as these things usually degenerate into matters of parochialism and insularity, distilling everything to “us versus them” or “defending our own” results in very little meaningful action being taken to prevent warning signs from becoming chronic ailments.

Jonathan Carter confounded the sceptics – including this writer – questioning his place in the squad, yet he needs to be more consistent. Jason Mohammed’s third ODI spread over a six-year period brought an innings that must be a stepping to stone to a higher level of performance. And Carlos Brathwaite can’t continue threatening to deliver without doing so and expect to command a place in the final eleven.

This is an environment though where players have been sustained by former glories and the belief, if not the expectation, that they can do it again.

Only last week Dwayne Smith announced his retirement from international cricket, probably to facilitate a Kolpak deal in England because he has disappeared from the selectors’ radar since the last World Cup two years ago. A blazing century against South Africa on Test debut at Cape Town in 2004 suggested great things, although his glaring technical deficiencies were swiftly exploited.

All power to him as a talent for hire in T20 franchises all over the world, but how did he play as many as 105 ODIs averaging just 18.57 with the bat? Was he that good of a bowling option and brilliant outfielder that such sub-par numbers could be tolerated?

Whether winning brings confidence or self-belief develops the winning habit is a matter to be debated for those who like to discuss these things. Surely, though, there can be no room for mediocrity or repeated errors if the culture
within the team is to be transformed.

Let’s see if today’s match breaks that mould.


Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.


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