T20 World Cup: West Indies back to their best for home title tilt after 50-over low

X-factor: Shamar Joseph is a real danger in the West Indies’ pace attack (Getty Images)
X-factor: Shamar Joseph is a real danger in the West Indies’ pace attack (Getty Images)

West Indies’ failure to qualify for last year’s 50-over World Cup was billed as a new low in a story of sad cricketing decline.

It was the first time in men’s World Cups across either format, stretching back 20 renewals and spanning six decades, that, as the cliche goes, everyone’s favourite second team had not been present. As their own side crashed and burned, England fans missed the fallback more than most.

Romantic optimism about the state of West Indies cricket, however, soared this winter, with the magnificent story of Shamar Joseph and the historic victory his bowling inspired over Australia at the Gabba. They will no doubt make popular tourists on these shores for a three-match Test series that starts in early July.

Really, though, it is in the T20 format that West Indies have continued to hold their international own with most force, one of only two dual World Cup winners, along with England.

Since the most recent of those successes, in 2016, the Windies have underwhelmed twice at T20 World Cups, but head into this edition on home soil well-fancied on the back of a hugely-encouraging few months.

Before Christmas, there was a series victory over England in the Caribbean, while even in the 2-1 defeat in Australia that followed, they showcased their batting power by posting totals in excess of 200 in all three games. As many teams have muddled through disjointed lead-ins, the team led by Rovman Powell have just swept South Africa 3-0.

With only two to go through from a group that includes New Zealand and Afghanistan, there is obvious potential for an early exit, but this looks a side under head coach Darren Sammy, twice a winner as player and captain, that is both united and brimming with confidence.

All-rounder Jason Holder’s late withdrawal through injury is a blow, but this remains a squad with most bases covered.

The inclusion of Joseph, who has played just six top-level T20s in his career, adds an X-factor to the pace attack, while spinners Akael Hosein and Gudakesh Motie caused England plenty of problems on their recent tour.

Their batting remains as power-packed as ever, with Brandon King and Johnson Charles established as openers and the likes of Nicholas Pooran (499 runs at 62 during a terrific IPL), Andre Russell and Shimron Hetmyer making up the middle order, the latter having infamously played no part in the last World Cup after missing his flight to Australia.

Overnight came another boost in the shape of a comprehensive victory over the Aussies in the final warm-up, albeit with the opposition so light on players that coaching staff had to once again take the field.

Pooran blitzed his way to 75 from just 25 balls as the hosts put on 257 for four in Trinidad, before Joseph bowled David Warner at the top of Australia’s reply, which fell 35 runs short.

Going into this World Cup, no team appears to be in better form. There would be no more popular winner, either.