West Indies may not be among the World Cup favourites, but captain Jason Holder believes fate and the experience of winning major tournaments could see them pull off a shock this summer.
Holder’s team have history on their side given West Indies’ two World Cup wins both came in England – in 1975 and 1979. More recently the men from the Caribbean have won two World T20s, in 2012 and, after beating England in the final in Kolkata, in 2016.
However, having been forced to qualify for this year’s tournament, the West Indies are not expected to be among the leading contenders for this World Cup, even if they showed their potential to cause an upset when drawing their series against favourites England 2-2 in the Caribbean back in March.
That result against the No1-ranked side could only instil belief. So the bullish response of Holder when asked whether his team can win the World Cup should be no surprise.
“Definitely, man,” he said. “I think anyone in our dressing-room would think the script should be written for us to lift the third World Cup here in England. It’s obviously something to play for but we’ve got to take it step by step, we’ve got a lot of work to put in.
“No doubt everybody in the group would be giving their all to lift the trophy and we’ve had the recent success in the T20 arena. The guys will tell you it’s a really proud feeling to win a World Cup and to perform so beautifully at that level. So the guys are really up for it.”
As hosts and top of the world rankings, England are rightly favourites for the tournament. Yet Holder has warned Eoin Morgan’s men that the added pressure of that tag could be their downfall – just as it was when they were knocked out of the 2017 Champions Trophy at the semi-final stage by Pakistan. “It’s funny how things go at these world events,” he said. “I think it’s all about which team can hold their nerve and perform under extreme pressure.
“We’ve probably talked up a lot of teams prior to World Cups who have not come in and performed as everybody thought they would. That’s surely down to not being able to hold their nerve and handle the tight situations. For me it’s an open tournament where any given team could come together and do something special.
“I don’t think many people would have thought Pakistan would win the Champions Trophy here in England a couple of years ago.
“Pakistan won that competition because they just played the closer moments better than the teams they played against. I think we could see something similar in this World Cup.”
West Indies have been buoyed by the return of Chris Gayle, who even at the age of 39 showed his class when he scored 424 runs at an average of 106 during that series against England earlier this year.
“It’s a huge boost to have Chris, especially psychologically,” said Holder. “When he is at the crease lots of people fear him – he’s a definite match-winner and has proven that on a number of occasions.”
Other experienced heads in the squad include Darren Bravo, Carlos Brathwaite and fast bowler Shannon Gabriel.
Allied to the all-round talents of Holder and exciting young batsmen such as Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope, West Indies have plenty of reasons to be positive ahead of the World Cup even if they were beaten by Bangladesh in the final of the recent Tri-Series in Ireland.
“I’m really excited,” said Holder. “We’ve got a pretty young group and we’ve still got some players at the back end of their careers. It’ll be interesting to see the great mix that we put together.
“We are probably seen as underdogs – which is good for us. We can probably play a little more fearlessly than the teams who are higher ranked. We’ve had the opportunity of playing in the World Cup qualifier, which was quite something – a really good challenge.
“We’re pretty much at the flip side of that scenario where we’re coming into the World Cup as underdogs and we’ve got the opportunity to go and play fearless cricket.”
CHRIS STOCKS / Photo: Getty Images