New Delhi: Once cricket`s powerhouse, the West Indies are now a pale shadow of their past. As they get ready for their first 2011 World Cup match against South Africa here Feb 24, veteran Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and coach Ottis Gibson calmly assured they are comfortable with the "underdogs" tag as it allows them to stay focussed.
The West Indies team quietly went through their paces in a three-hour practice session at the Air Force Ground, before Chanderpaul and Gibson, a former fast bowler, spoke about the team`s preparations.
"We are the underdogs. We were the underdogs when we reached the final of the Champions Trophy in 2006 in India. So that`s fine with us," said Chanderpaul, who will be playing his fifth World Cup.
The West Indies triumphed at the first two World Cups, and Gibson says this team can throw a few surprises.
"We know we have the team which can go all the distance. Every match is important for us. Yes people are not giving us a chance. That is because West Indies have not given good results in recent years. But that gives us an opportunity to go out there and prove everyone wrong. We can stay focussed on our job and surprise a few people. We will go there with the expectation of doing very well," said Gibson.
Chandrepaul, 36, said the team has experience in its ranks and some talented youngsters.
"The team has been working hard for past couple of months. We have put in lot of work with the new coach. We played an ODI series in Sri Lanka in January where we could assess the team. So we are well prepared. And now, we are just waiting to go out there and get the job done," says the left-hander.
Asked about the role of spinners on subcontinental wickets, Chanderpaul said: "Of course spin will play an important role in the subcontinent. We saw that in the warm-up games. We have to be ready for these things. We have played in the subcontinent and we know what to expect."
On his role as a senior player in the side, he said: "I know I need to be out there batting with the younger players for as long as I can. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it does not."
Gibson said though they are up against South Africa, one of the favourites of the tournament, in the first match and they know what to expect.
"The World Cup is a high-intensity tournament. We played South Africa at home last year. Though we lost the series 0-5, there were a lot of moments where we had the opposition in trouble. Its just that we were not able to take advantage of those situations. So we know how to approach the game and not repeat those mistakes."
Gibson hoped that the fast bowling department would make up for the absence of Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor, both of whom are rehabilitating from injuries.
"For the last four-five years, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor have been leading the attack. You are going to struggle without them but we do have some good young fast bowlers. Kemar Roach is quite talented. Andre Russell is a very exciting prospect. He is a big, tall fellow and he has got some pace. Ravi Rampaul has been playing first class cricket for a long time. So we have a good group of bowlers. They need support and they need to be fit for a period of time to do good."
"We have Chris Gayle who can be destructive on his day. We have the experience of Chanderpaul, who will be playing his fifth World Cup. Ramnaresh Sarwan is one of our top players and we know he can go out there and score a lot of runs."
Just when the West Indies were winding up their practise, Richie Richardson, a former captain and now team manager, made his presence felt.
"There are a lot of teams who can do well. We have a good team too. But I love surprises and upset. I have a feeling that it might be a dark horse who can surprise a few," Richardson said with a smile and a hope the West Indies could be the one.