T20 World Cup 2021: Two-time defending champions West Indies eye flying start

Two T20 World Cup triumphs, in 2012 and 2016, are proof of West Indies dominance and they will once again be counting on their band of veterans when they defend the title in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. Captain Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Chris Gayle form the core of a team packed with talented individuals capable of winning matches on their own. Most of the squad was involved in the second leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the UAE, a welcome edge given that quick acclimatisation to conditions in the Gulf is likely to be key.

“So for us, it’s about trying to hit the ground running, start off on a positive note, get those first two points and see what happens,” said Pollard ahead of their opener against England on Saturday.

A solid start could make all the difference in a tricky group that also includes Australia and South Africa. For a side that has struggled for balance in a batting line-up reliant on brute force, West Indies have discovered an anchor in the form of Roston Chase, a versatile middle-order batsman who can play a role similar to that of Marlon Samuels in 2016.

“We need a guy who can manoeuvre the ball, hit the occasional boundaries and keep the run rate going… and we thought (Chase) was the right fit at this time,” Pollard added. However, the skipper will be concerned by the patchy form of Gayle as the 42-year-old averages 17.46 in T20s this year and the fitness of Russell, who missed the bulk of Kolkata Knight Riders run to the final in the UAE due to a hamstring tear.

Another slight worry could be the spin department, which is shorn of experience after Sunil Narine was omitted from the squad despite his stellar showing for Kolkata in the IPL. Spin proved to be crucial for the West Indies in India five years ago, with Samuel Badree finishing as their highest wicket-taker with nine scalps.

Similar pitches are expected this time and Pollard is hopeful finger spinners Akeal Hosein a late replacement for Fabian Allen and Chase can step up in the absence of the wily Narine. Leggie Hayden Walsh Jr, who endured a difficult season in the Caribbean Premier League, is the other option.

“Finger spinners have come back into favour. They have more control in different and difficult situations… and hopefully we can maximise the dimensions of the ground,” said Pollard.

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Sagar Biswas

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