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In the days gone by, to consider the West Indies as dark horses would be akin to committing a sin. But this time round, they come to the World Cup as virtual unknowns. They are a young team, but one with enormous potential.
Potential is a quality most teams from the Caribbean have had, but in recent times the application to go with it has been missing. This team though is different. On the recent tour of India they showed that they are not afraid of reputations and played with wild abandon to secure a series victory, something not achieved by few teams in the recent past.
The batting line-up was pretty much settled before the comeback of Brian Lara. They are now faced with a dilemma. Most batsmen are in pretty decent form after the tours of India and Bangladesh, but those tours may not have been a true test of their players' abilities.
Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds have been their preferred openers. The two left-handers have shown the application, resolve and skill to bat in all kinds of conditions and have met with moderate success. Gayle seems to be the more talented of the two and often conjures up brilliant strokes. Hinds could be the batsman to face the axe once Lara returns. Shivnaraine Chanderpaul seems most likely to open the innings alongside Gayle.
Lara, at three, represents the Windies' wild card. He has not played any international cricket since the ICC Champions Trophy, but at 33, knows well that this is most probably his last World Cup. Before the mysterious illness struck him he was in fine nick. Needless to say, he can single-handedly win games for his side.
Captaincy has helped Carl Hooper mature. A free stroking, elegant player who makes the game seem simple. His bowling adds another dimension to his game; he is one of the options for the fifth bowler. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, both players of great promise, add to the strength of the middle order.
Ridley Jacobs hasn't been in the best of form with the bat but has been solid behind the stumps and in the final counting that is what matters.
Among the bowlers, only Mervyn Dillon is the known entity. The others have not played enough international cricket for opposing teams to know what will be coming at them. Therein lies their greatest strength as also their greatest weakness.
Dillon is also the best of the lot. Accurate, can touch 140 kmph when bowling well, and has admirable control. He will be ably supported by Vasbert Drakes, a bowler with extensive experience in South Africa (having represented Border) and England (Warwickshire).
Pedro Collins is a left-arm quick, with the ability to bring the ball in to right handers. Any bowler who can do that will always be dangerous.
Corey Collymore, a steady bowler with good variations, is not expected to get into the team as that pride of place will most probably go to Jermaine Lawson. The 20-year-old could be the best thing to happen to the West Indies since the retirement of Courtney Walsh. He is quick, extracts good bounce from the wicket and has the ability to surprise. He is raw but that can be turned into an advantage.
Nixon McLean has made a comeback into the team but its hard to see him playing in the starting eleven.
Their biggest strength is their middle-order. Packed with batsman of the calibre of Lara, Hooper, Chanderpaul, Samuels and Sarwan, this batting line-up can take on the best in the world. An athletic young fielding side with a disciplined bowling attack, capable of surprising a few teams in the competition.
Their biggest strength is also their biggest weakness. Lara. After such a long lay-off its hard to see him hit top gear straight away. The West Indies have been very inconsistent and while they are capable of individual brilliance, it's teamwork that counts in the World Cup.
While players such as Lara, Hooper and Chanderpaul are established on the international scene for quite some time now, it is the younger players who will be the difference between winning and losing. Gayle, Sarwan and Samuels, three batsmen of high quality, each high on confidence. If even one gets going, the West Indies have a truly formidable batting line-up.
They don't have many. But not many have played the World Cup before and their inexperience may just count against them.
Chances out of ten
5/10. The dark horses of the tournament. Should make it at least to the Super Six.
While South Africa and New Zealand, on current form, appear a class above the rest in the group, it is the match against Sri Lanka that could decide their passage to the Super Six.
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