Can West Indies find a way to stay alive, without Andre Russell? - 5 minutes read
Remember Bristol, May 28? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? In their final warm-up game before the World Cup, West Indies gave everyone a taste of what they could be at their best. A fast start, courtesy Chris Gayle. A hold-the-innings-together hundred from Shai Hope. Big hitting from almost everyone else, all the way down to No. 10, with Andre Russell in particularly unforgiving mood. A total well north of 400. Pace and bounce from a five-man seam attack, and eventually a 91-run win.
All this against one of the more fancied sides going into the World Cup, New Zealand.
Three weeks on, West Indies have one win from five matches in the tournament proper, and are falling behind in the race - if it can still be called that - for semi-final spots. Much like Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, Russell hasn't managed to make the switch from bossing a T20 league to doing likewise in a 50-overs tournament, with further complications thrown in by a pair of utterly wonky knees. His World Cup has been a microcosm of his team's tournament; too much hitting, too little batting, slow on the field, and no real Plan B beyond the short ball.
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If West Indies are to make any kind of push - even a heroic failed one - they'll need to show there's more to their game. Their last two round-robin fixtures are against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, but they could be out of top-four contention before that if they don't find a way past New Zealand and India.
New Zealand? They're still unbeaten, and they've come through a couple of cliffhangers to stay that way. They are more than likely to make the semi-finals, but they know they can't relax against West Indies - who remain a dangerous team for all their flaws - especially given that they are yet to meet two of their fellow top-four favourites, Australia and England.
New Zealand WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies LLLWL
In the spotlight
He made an unbeaten half-century in New Zealand's tournament-opener against Sri Lanka, and got off to a couple of starts thereafter, but Martin Guptill hasn't really lit up this World Cup. West Indies, however, will want to get rid of him as soon as possible. While they've undergone plenty of personnel changes since 2015, Gayle, Russell and their captain Jason Holder will remember all too well Guptill's 237 against them in the quarter-final in Wellington.
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Evin Lewis hasn't featured in all of West Indies' matches, but after a quiet start he found some form with a 67-ball 70 against Bangladesh. West Indies' lower-order hitters become more dangerous the less time they're required to bat, and if Lewis clicks alongside either Gayle or Hope, he could set them up to do what they do best.
New Zealand seem unlikely to make any changes, unless they replace the out-of-sorts Colin Munro with Henry Nicholls at the top of the order.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 James Neesham, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Matt Henry, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Trent Boult
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West Indies could bring back the offspinner Ashley Nurse if the pitch looks a little dry, given the number of left-handers in New Zealand's top seven. The match-fitness of Russell, as ever, remains to be seen.
West Indies (probable): 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Shai Hope (wk), 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Andre Russell, 9 Ashley Nurse/Shannon Gabriel/Kemar Roach, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Oshane Thomas
Pitch and conditions
The two matches so far at Old Trafford have produced first-innings totals of 336 and 397, so plenty of runs can be expected once more. Cloudy skies are forecast for Saturday - though rain isn't expected - and there might, as a result, be some new-ball swing, particularly for Trent Boult and Matt Henry.
What should West Indies do if they win the toss? New Zealand have batted second in all of their matches at the World Cup so far, and their biggest target has been 245, against Bangladesh. They've shown a bit of vulnerability in a couple of these small chases, so West Indies have two options: back themselves to post a big total on what has been a flat pitch so far, and put New Zealand under scoreboard pressure; or bowl first and expose New Zealand to a challenge they haven't faced in a while.
Since scoring an unbeaten 58 against Sri Lanka, Colin Munro has made 24, 22 and 9, and has twice fallen to the short ball, against Afghanistan and South Africa. Given West Indies' propensity to bowl fast and short, New Zealand could replace Munro with Henry Nicholls, a strong back-foot player who has been in excellent form, across formats, in the months leading up to the World Cup.
West Indies' fast bowlers have pitched 52% of their deliveries at this World Cup either "short" or "short of good length", according to ESPNcricinfo's data. That's significantly higher than the overall figure (before the England-Sri Lanka match) of 43% for all fast bowlers at the tournament. Given the dimensions of Old Trafford, with long straight boundaries and short square ones, West Indies might need to find a Plan B.