Given the injury problems that have dogged Andre Russell's career, it's the reality nobody wants to face. This was supposed to be the tournament in which he finally showed the talent he possesses on the biggest stage, a defining moment in the career of this gifted - but terribly unlucky - cricketer.
He was said to be strong of body and mind, but once again, it is his body that has let him down. Russell's World Cup dream has turned into a nightmare.It all started so well just over two weeks ago. Against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, he bowled three rapid overs, took two wickets and started the collapse that would see West Indies register an opening-game victory. It was quite a statement.
After the match, the signs were there though; signs that suggested all was not well. Russell has waged an almost constant battle with his knees for a number of years and they were already giving him jip, requiring treatment after that match. He said he would manage them and be fine for the next game.
That next match in Southampton, Jason Holder unwisely bowled Russell for a five-over spell against Australia. Russell wanted to bowl and West Indies desperately needed another wicket between overs 30 and 40. He was the most likely. But Russell ended up on his haunches and walked off at the end of the final over of that spell - his eighth in all - in obvious discomfort. Holder admitted afterwards that maybe it was a mistake to keep him on so long.
Against England on Friday, Russell made it onto the field but was clearly limping after just his fourth ball. He had two overs rest and then came back on. He hit Jonny Bairstow with a nasty bouncer, but such was the exertion involved, he had to leave the field straight after and didn't bowl again. Two overs in all then.
At Taunton against Bangladesh, he bowled just six. In his final over, he pulled up after each delivery, hopping along to the end of his follow-through. Again, he hobbled off the field.
That Pakistan match promised so much, but since then it has been pretty desperate stuff. He has five wickets at 20 with the ball which is strangely both excellent and not as good as it could have been had he been able to operate at full tilt for ten overs each game. His batting, so destructive in the IPL, has been a shadow of that so far with 36 runs from three innings. How much of that is to do with more difficult batting conditions and how much to his knees is a moot point. Russell's tournament is shrinking without trace.So are the West Indies, which in a way, may make the decision about Russell that much easier. Even though there is a mathematical chance, Holder's team is almost certain to miss out on the semifinals. They have four games left and they need to win all of them. Given that they have to play both India and New Zealand, it is a tough ask. With their chances all but over, it's easier to ignore the temptation to keep patching Russell up and pushing him out there.
Up until now, Holder has understandably picked his man for all four games even though Russell's fitness has looked to be getting worse. He is such a dangerous player with gifts not possessed by many other players in world cricket, adding an aggressive dimension to West Indies with both bat and ball, so it is easy to see why. But it just hasn't worked out. His body has failed him and a half-fit Russell is increasingly becoming a liability. Seeing him at Taunton was a sorry sight - a thoroughbred gone lame.
Russell's future as a bowler is surely in question. He worked hard on his fitness in the lead-up to this tournament to be able to hit top speed and the Pakistan spell proved that he remains a danger when he can run in hard and let fly. But the stress on his knees is too much and has been for a while no matter how much work he puts in.
Continually trying to be the bowler he knows he can be might be jeopardising his longevity. Better forgo the bowling, perhaps, and eek out another five or six years as a short-format batsman.
There are some who accuse Russell - and others of the West Indian T20 franchise fraternity - of being mercenaries, and not caring about representing the Caribbean region and people. Willing to take the T20 money, yes, but not willing to do the hard yards for their country, so that particular trope goes. Yet, in Russell's case, that is so far wide off the mark as to be not even in the same postcode.
He is a man who is proud to represent West Indies. After the opening match against Pakistan he said he was thankful to be back in maroon, desperate to do his best for his country. Anyone who saw him run in at Taunton on basically one leg would not have doubted for a second that Russell was giving everything for the team. Anyone who saw him limping off, head bowed, and then, once returned to the pitch, hobbling round the outfield would have been stone-hearted not to feel sympathy.
"He gave his all," Holder said of Russell after the defeat to Bangladesh. "He gave his all. Yeah, I can't say much more about his effort. He gave his all." That Russell did, and nobody could say he has given anything less throughout the tournament so far. But his all just hasn't been enough. His heart and character and willingness to take the field can't make up for dodgy knees that just won't play ball. Sadly, it's not looking like they ever will.