This West Indies World Cup squad carries with it more hopes than those in the last few years. We have had a tough time, especially overseas, in these last five or six years, but during those hardships a core group of young players have come into their own. Players like Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Lawson have the talent to succeed on the big stage, and I'm confident that at least one or two of these guys will announce their arrival at the World Cup.
As a selector, I am confident that I have assembled the best possible team this time round, comprising a bright new crop who will share their dressing room with old warhorses like Carl Hooper, Ridley Jacobs, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, of course, Brian Lara. The conditions in South Africa should be to our liking, with two of our bowlers, Vasbert Drakes and Nixon McLean, having experience of playing in domestic cricket out there. The West Indies have traditionally had a bowling line-up that relies heavily on pace bowlers, and I'm sure the bouncy strips of South Africa will suit them. We have the goods to succeed and all we need is some confidence at the start.
This is why the opening game, between the West Indies and South Africa, is crucial to our progress in the tournament. If we manage to upset calculations by beating the hosts it would be a very good way of moving ahead. It can be done. We almost beat South Africa at the Champions Trophy last September, and we must remember that when we take the field on February 9 at Newlands, Cape Town.
What we must guard against is the thought that, since South Africa are tipped to make the Super Six, we need to concentrate only on our games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. I think concepts like the easier group exist only on paper and in statistical data. Even if we look like we are in the more comfortable half of the draw, we still have to go out there and win, which is why it is important to play every match as a do-or-die game.
A crucial factor at this World Cup is the length of the tournament. This is the longest World Cup ever, and all teams have to guard against fatigue and injury. Which is why I am surprised that the administrators in some countries had scheduled games right till a fortnight before the tournament. Players who have participated in tournaments in January run the risk of being jaded, and I'm glad that the West Indies Cricket Board was wise enough to call time-out just before Christmas.
All teams need time to recuperate before an event as important as the World Cup. Since we were not scheduled for any cricket after Christmas, Carl Hooper and Mervyn Dillon had ample time to sort out their knee and back injuries, respectively. The West Indians will be fresh after their break, and the camp they underwent from January 15 will have got them into match fitness. All this also ensured that we had ample time to acclimatize in South Africa, as we were one of the first teams to reach here. This, too, will be crucial because a few of our young batsmen will be playing in South Africa for the first time.
There is some good news about Brian Lara as well. He is in good spirits and looks lean and fit right now. The support team, comprising physio, trainer and coach, is now getting together to ensure that he will be fully fit. Brian himself is keeping a low profile at the moment and would not like to divulge either details of his recovery or his plans for the World Cup at the moment. Suffice it to say, he is fit and ready to reclaim his place in the side.
The West Indies have a glorious tradition in the World Cup, having made it to three straight finals, winning the first two. Will this side be able to rediscover that magic? I obviously would love them to. Many claim that this West Indies team is on its way up, especially after our successes in the one-dayers against India. However, I would think a real watershed moment is still awaited, and that should ideally be a winning performance at the World Cup. That would prove that the team's success in India was not a false dawn and this team is ready to bring cricket glory back to the Caribbean.