NOTTINGHAM, England (CMC) – Fuelled by a desire to prove their many detractors wrong, a confident West Indies will launch an ambitious bid to win the ICC World Cup when they take on enigmatic Pakistan at Trent Bridge here today.Winners of the first two World Cups back in 1975 and 1979 West Indies’ star has since fallen and are no longer considered one-day powerhouses. And with just a single series win in the last five years, their tag of underdogs is perhaps justified.Yet, their performance against world number ones and tournament favourites, England, in the Caribbean this year pointed to somewhat of a rejuvenation, giving players and fans alike the faintest of hope that the side could put together a formidable World Cup challenge.Written off before the start of the England series, the Caribbean side managed to pull off a 2-2 draw, doing so while brandishing a bold, audacious brand of cricket not seen in recent years. The result also instilled a new level of self-belief in the squad and there is now a quiet confidence the Caribbean side can now put the lean years of under-achievement behind them.Captain Jason Holder, leading West Indies for the second straight World Cup, said the squad was settled and in a good place mentally heading into the opening clash against Pakistan.“One thing I like coming into this tournament is that every player is in a good frame of mind,” he told media here yesterday.“Everybody is playing with a smile on his face, and I think that’s how we play our best cricket. We’re fearless, we enjoy what we’re doing and we enjoy one another’s company. I can safely say within the group we’ve got that.“We’ve got an atmosphere that we would like to create, and we’ve got the energy going into this tournament that we would want to have.”He added: “I think the rest is left to us on the field. We’ve just got to execute whatever plans we formulate, and I think execution is key in this tournament, you know, whether it’s West Indies, England, India or whoever.“I think the teams that execute their plans and are as disciplined as they can be more often than not they’re going to come out on top.”West Indies will have to buck recent history against Pakistan, which has seen them lose 11 of their last 16 ODIs in bilateral series. The Caribbean side have had better luck against Pakistan in World Cup match-ups, however, winning six of their eight meetings – including in the 2015 edition when they crushed their Asian opponents by 150 runs.For their part, Pakistan enter the contest on the back of a poor run of form that has seen them lose 13 of their last 18 ODIs. Earlier this month, they were creamed 4-0 in a five-match series by hosts England.But Pakistan are mercurial, lurching from mediocre to brilliant in the blink of an eye and Holder said his team would be taking nothing for granted against them.“We’ve obviously looked at their players, tried to formulate our plans towards them and obviously our mode of attack,” he explained.“We’ve had a few discussions as the team and a few team meetings just to formulate whatever plans we’re going into tomorrow’s game with. But yeah, it’s just a normal thing. It’s nothing different depending on who the team is.“We just want to be as professional as we possibly can, not take anything for granted. I don’t think we’re in a position to take anything for granted; to just be in a situation where we just assess who we’re playing against, formulate our plans or look to execute them.”West Indies’ batting is to be feared. Headed by veteran talisman Chris Gayle, it boasts the likes of the classy Shai Hope and Darren Bravo, as well as the brawn of Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer and the spectacular Andre Russell.Against England earlier this year, they twice scored in excess of 350 – including an all-time record 389 in the fourth ODI in Grenada. Their mammoth 421 against New Zealand in their last official warm-up in Bristol last Tuesday served as a timely reminder of the Caribbean side’s ability and at Trent Bridge where there have been several large totals this season, expectations are already high.However, Holder reminded that cricket was played on the day and depended heavily on conditions, and there was no guarantee of consistently high totals.“I don’t want to sit here and try to predetermine what’s going to happen, but I just think in this situation we play a normal cricket game,” he stressed.“We assess the conditions as early as possible and we play to suit. I think where the game has gone now, especially in England here, there have been some high totals, but there have been totals where I saw one or two games lately that were relatively low-scoring. It can happen.“That’s the way cricket is played, and that’s the nature of the game. I just don’t want to sit before a game and say we’re looking to score 500 or 600, I just want to play it as we see it and assess the conditions like any other game.”SQUADS:WEST INDIES – Jason Holder (captain), Fabian Allen, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Shannon Gabriel, Chris Gayle, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Evin Lewis, Ashley Nurse, Nicholas Pooran, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Oshane Thomas.PAKISTAN – Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz.
When I was assigned the baseball beat last spring for the Daily Trojan, I couldn’t have been more excited. The program was coming off its most encouraging season in years, making the 2015 NCAA Regional Final and losing to the eventual champion, Virginia. Jeremy Martinez, one of the premier hitters in college baseball, would be back at USC for his junior season along with senior ace Kyle Davis and a host of other talented ballplayers, and USC looked set to make a serious run at the College World Series.But the Trojans stumbled just a little out of the gates, and they never recovered. When I flew home for the summer, the team was two games under .500, finishing the season at an even 28-28 — with a school-record 12 MLB Draft picks on the roster.I was disappointed, but it wasn’t a huge deal personally: I had enjoyed my weekends and Tuesday nights at the ballpark regardless. Having said that, I just couldn’t be optimistic about the 2017 season when I assigned baseball beat writers in January as one of the new sports editors. Surely, a green USC team would struggle this spring, if only because of the ridiculous amount of roster turnover. I grimly thought about head coach Dan Hubbs, who I enjoyed talking to throughout the 2016 campaign. I wondered if I would see him in the Dedeaux Field dugout come my senior spring semester?But here we are near the end of March, and Hubbs and his Trojans are sitting pretty at 15-8 overall (they were 11-12 at this point last season) and in third place in the Pac-12. They have taken two of three in their first two conference series of the year, and they shut out a high-powered San Diego State offense for the second time this season on Tuesday night. Dedeaux Field has also been a fortress early on, with USC boasting an 11-5 mark at home.How did the Trojans manage this after losing two-thirds of their regular 2016 starting lineup and close to half of their entire roster of pitchers? After Hubbs endured much criticism last year, credit must go the head coach now, as he has rallied a USC squad that was picked to finish second-to-bottom in the conference in the preseason.The return of outfielder Corey Dempster was a massive boost as well: The senior passed up a chance to sign with the New York Yankees last summer to return to USC, and he has been a menace hitting cleanup so far this spring, mashing .325 with two home runs and 12 runs batted in. Junior infielder Adalberto Carrillo has also chipped in three home runs and 17 RBIs in his third year in Cardinal and Gold.The star of the season so far, however, is undoubtedly sophomore Lars Nootbaar, who has shifted over to first base after playing outfield during his freshman campaign.Nootbaar cooled off dramatically after a hot start last year, but he has showed no signs of slowing down in 2017, leading the team with a .338 batting average, four dingers and 21 RBIs. He went 3-for-4 on Tuesday and also drove in two crucial runs with a double in the series finale against Arizona State last weekend.But USC’s team batting average has actually fallen considerably compared to 2016, from .294 down to .268. Though they have come up with clutch hits when needed, the Trojans’ hitting has been more timely than consistently deadly so far this year.The squad’s biggest boost this year has come from its pitching. USC endured many disappointing performances on the mound in 2016, finishing the season with a team earned run average of 4.51, which ranked 131st in the nation. The staff has shaved nearly a half-run off that figure this spring. Six Trojan pitchers own ERAs under three, and this wealth of reliable arms may very well be the team’s X factor so far, as USC has taken 11 of its 15 victories this year by fewer than five runs.And the most exciting part about this team is its age. Dempster and infielder David Edson are due to graduate at the end of the season, but most key players should return next spring, assuming last year’s record number of draftees was an anomaly and not the start of a trend. If the Trojans can play to this level with a relatively inexperienced roster, what can they do with a seasoned group of veterans?Of course, USC’s youth also puts it at a disadvantage this year. It’s early: The college baseball season has more than 50 games, and who knows if Hubbs’ many freshman bats and arms will be able to power through the stretch run.Nevertheless, it has been exciting to watch freshman outfielders Brady Shockey and Matthew Acosta deliver clutch hits, and redshirt sophomore Bryce Dyrda and freshman Austin Manning are developing into shutdown closing options in the bullpen. Freshman Chris Clarke even pitched his way out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation after earning the win with 5.2 innings of shutout relief against UCLA at the Dodger Stadium Classic.With a collegiate baseball program as historic as USC’s, it’s always great to have a nationally relevant team on campus — the Trojans are the alma mater of Tom Seaver, Mark McGwire and and Randy Johnson, after all. It seemed like the Trojans were back on the road to a championship before last season’s stumble. Perhaps this year’s underdog side is about to get things on track again, no matter what the experts may predict.Ollie Jung is a junior studying print and digital journalism. He is also a sports editor for the Daily Trojan. His column, “Jung Money,” runs on Thursdays.