Courtesy of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Women World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe, the West Indies women, without breaking much of a sweat, have advanced to the 2022 World Cup slated for March in New Zealand. Their qualification, however, was never really in doubt as they have been in good form lately.

The West Indies women were slated to play Sri Lanka on Friday but the match was called off after several Sri Lanka players tested positive Friday morning, according to Cricket West Indies. Six Sri Lanka players had already contracted COVID since the start of the competition.

On Saturday, the International Cricket Council, which governs the sport, wisely decided to cancel the qualifiers, citing the emergence of a COVID variant in South Africa and the implementation of stricter new travel regulations from a number of African nations, including Zimbabwe, according to Cricket West Indies.

In cancelling the tournament, the ICC announced that the West Indies, Bangladesh and Pakistan — the top-ranked teams in the qualifiers — would advance to the 2022 World Cup. New Zealand, because of their hosting duties, had already advanced along with Australia, South Africa, England and India.

Courtney Walsh, head coach of the West Indies women’s squad, said he was pleased with the ICC’s announcement because health issues are of paramount importance.

“I think the right decision was taken by not putting the teams at risk, especially with the recent developments,” Walsh told Cricket West Indies. “We are obviously delighted that we have qualified and that we will be there at the World Cup next year. The women are very happy because that was one of the missions we wanted to fulfill when we left the Caribbean.”

In terms of the West Indies women, success begets success. Months after trouncing Pakistan on their home turf in an ODI series, they made easy work of Ireland in the opener of the Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Harare. And the usual suspects — captain Stefanie Taylor, Deanna Dottin, Hayley Matthews and Anisa Mohammed — made key contributions as the women fashioned a six-wicket victory. Spinners Taylor, Matthews and Mohammed (and pacer Shamilia Connell) limited Ireland’s lineup to a paltry 159 runs. The West Indies, led by opener Dottin’s 73 runs off 87 balls, then racked up 163 runs in just 36 overs. Taylor chipped in with 41 not out off 54 balls.

West Indies men flounder

The West Indies women’s squad is obviously flourishing, full of vigor and pep on the pitch, but their male counterparts are struggling in all formats of the sport with lethargic and flat performances an all-too-often occurrence. Noted for their big-hitting tendencies, the men nonetheless flopped at last month’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, not even advancing to the semis. And last week they were thoroughly outplayed by an average Sri Lanka squad — one in which the West Indies are a notch higher in the ICC test rankings — in the first of two test matches. They were soundly beaten by 187 runs, the batting underwhelming. With the exception of Nkrumah Bonner (68) and Joshua DaSilva (54), both of whom scored half-centuries, none of their batsmen distinguished themselves.

The test matches are being contested on Sri Lanka pitches so the latter has a slight edge. Familiarity matters. But none of Sri Lanka’s spinners are world-beaters, so their dominance was puzzling. Blade in hand, the West Indies batsmen whiffed repeatedly, their production, or lack thereof, unacceptable.

In post-match interviews, West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite expressed disappointment at his team’s execution but remained optimistic. Discipline is the key, he stressed.

“We bowled a number of bad balls and we didn’t bat that well in the first game at all and it’s just about getting the two to blend, and the sooner we can do that and the more consistent we can do that, that would be very, very crucial,” he told the Trinidad Express newspaper.

Brathwaite said the second test — the match will be in full swing by the time this column is published — is the West Indies’ final five-day competition of the year, the team’s last opportunity to get points toward the 2021-2023 World Test Championship cycle.

“So it’s important to finish strong, in terms of 2021 ... Once we can stick to our plan as batters and bowlers and fielders, we will do well,” he said.

Will they prosper? We will just have to wait and see.

— Contact Curtis Walcott at 340-714-9108 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.