Windies pace attack harkens back to days of old

By Karunya Keshav for ICC Cricket June 10, 2019

West Indies' pacers have shown sparks of the old Caribbean fire, but it needs to translate into more consistency, and wins for the team, before they can be truly compared to the greats of that era. 

There is a moment in the 32nd over of Australia's innings, when Steve Smith, fending off one of Oshane Thomas' rockets, is scorched on the hand and needs Australia's physio to run out. Andre Russell, he of the original X-factor in a tournament full of prospects, is down as well, nursing the knees on which he’s been limping all day. Thomas, all young, pacy and hungry, waits for his turn with the physio. Then, they are all at it again.

Against the background of Trent Bridge, if ever there could be a poster of the chaos that this West Indies pace attack could cause – and be consumed by – it is this pause in play. And it is a theme that plays out all day.

The West Indies pace fivesome of Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell, Russell, Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite accounted for all 10 Australian wickets, and all but five overs on Thursday, June 6. In the process, they gave away 24 runs through wides.

Thomas’ delivery that Finch feathered to the 'keeper was a peach. It was perfectly bowled: good length, angled in towards off, drawing the batsman forward, and just a little away movement off the seam. This, after his first ball of the day flew for five wides, and three balls later, he overstepped.

Russell was exhilarating every time he came on. The set-up of Usman Khawaja was perfect: short, short, then full and wide. But between those game-changing spells, he limped off like a soldier worthy of a Cottrell salute, his knee protesting a fast bowler’s unforgiving grind.

Cottrell and Thomas had bounced Pakistan out in West Indies' opening game, and they set out to do it again against Australia. If not with the rising ball itself, then with the rising fear it sparked. Australia, with a glamorous top order of Finch, Warner, Khawaja, Maxwell – batsmen hardened on the country's bouncy pitches – were reduced to 38/4, then 79/5. But they finished on 288 and West Indies went on to lose by 15 runs.

For a while there – and for the second time in this tournament – West Indies sparked the imagination of the romantics, for most of whom cricket was a Caribbean fast-bowling machine of four parts whirring in tandem. As was evident by their struggle for consistency and control, this lot isn’t at the same level as the masters whose names are being invoked — but, ah, the potential! Even as two of their best, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach, are on the bench.

“They’re quick. And they like the short ball – my chest still hurts a bit,” was the wry assessment of Australia’s left-arm speedster, Mitchell Starc, of his opposing bowlers.

“It’s much more enjoyable catching it than batting it.” Shai Hope, the Caribbean wicket-keeper said. “It’s very exciting seeing those guys charging in with the brand new ball, putting the batsmen under pressure. It’s a sight to see from behind the stumps.”

Thomas, 22, had played just nine ODIs before the World Cup; Cottrell had featured in 14. This isn’t an experienced line-up. Yet, they have enlivened West Indies’ campaign.

"[The pace attack] is going to be a huge weapon for them going forward in this World Cup,” declared Starc, and captain Holder has left little doubt around his strategy. At the risk of slow over-rates and being wayward, he wants more aggression – “smart aggression” – to get them the crucial early wickets.

They know they need to tighten up. Adjust quickly. Find discipline. Be near the standards of greatness that they've reminded everyone of. The world has only now taken notice, but they have been backing themselves.

“We don’t want to send messages, we want to win games,” said a vehement Brathwaite. “We scored 421 against New Zealand, everyone said we sent a message. We shot Pakistan out for 105, everyone said we sent a message.

“And today we lost. The dressing room is gutted. We thought we had Australia on the ropes. Regardless of whether the message is sent or not, we want to win.”

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