NAPIER - The West Indies will have one eye on the skies and the other on the scoreboard as they seek to keep their World Cup campaign alive in a must-win clash with the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. The two-time champions' hopes of a quarter-final berth hinge on a convincing victory in Napier after a series of unconvincing performances in Pool B, including a shock loss to Ireland.
They currently lie fifth in the group and to advance must snatch fourth place off Pakistan or Ireland, who play each other on Sunday in Adelaide. But a cyclone thousands of kilometres away in the South Pacific could blow away their chances if it brings heavy rainfall to New Zealand's North Island by Sunday.
A washout would send Jason Holder's men tumbling out of the tournament -- they need two points from a victory, the solitary point awarded for a no-result will not be enough. Forecasters say a cyclone-related downpour is due on Monday, although the New Zealand weather is notoriously fickle and they warn rain is still possible on Sunday.
Team manager Richie Richardson was confident the weather gods would smile on the West Indies. "It'll be fine on Sunday," the former batting great told the local Hawkes Bay Today newspaper. “We have to play the game to give ourselves a chance so we want sunshine. We need two points badly and we need it big."
Further complicating matters, the West Indies must soundly beat the UAE by 70 runs or more to ensure they have a better run rate than Pakistan and Ireland. Holder is also sweating on the fitness of key batsman Chris Gayle, who missed training on Wednesday as he struggled with a back injury. The explosive left-hander has been in patchy form but showed how dangerous he can ben blasting a World Cup record 215 against Zimbabwe.
The fact that the West Indies' qualification hopes are so tenuous is testament to the erratic form and pre-tournament bickering between players and management that has marred their campaign. Certainly, UAE captain Mohammad Tauqir indicated that the intimidating mystique that once surrounded the men from the Caribbean had evaporated after their four-wicket loss to Ireland.
Tauqir vowed the UAE, winless at this year's tournament, would be no pushovers in Napier after providing stubborn resistance against what he considered superior teams. "We have played 50 overs against Pakistan. We have almost played 50 against South Africa. These are positive signs," he said. "I don't see the West Indies as strong as India or South Africa and we would like to put up a better show."
The West Indies have never met UAE in a one-day international and Holder was confident his team would get the job done against the Gulf amateurs, weather permitting. He said the match was a chance for the West Indies to wrest back control of their own destiny and make the knockout stages, when he believed the team would finally hit their straps. "What I can control is the game against UAE, and I can assure you that we are going to win that game by all means," said Holder. "We just need to be aggressive and finish this preliminary round in a good manner."
Jason Holder (capt), Marlon Samuels, Sulieman Benn, Johnson Charles, Jonathan Carter, Sheldon Cottrell, Chris Gayle, Denesh Ramdin, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith, Jerome Taylor, Nikita Miller.
M Tauqir (capt), Khurram Khan, Swapnil Patil, Saqlain Haider, Amjad Javed, Shaiman Anwar, Amjad Ali, Nasir Aziz, Rohan Mustafa, Manjula Guruge, Andri Berenger, Fahad Al Hashmi, M Naveed, Kamran Shahzad, Krishna Chandran