Full of beans, these Caribbeans

West Indies’s captain Darren Sammy and two landmarks: one, the Independence Square doorway in Colombo and two, the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup, the symbol of an epochal triumph in the history of West Indian cricket.-AP

Infinite prayers were answered on a feverish night in Colombo where Darren Sammy’s men crowned themselves as the ICC World Twenty20 champions. By K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

It all seemed pre-ordained like an Indian masala film where the hero, beaten to pulp, stirs himself up and delivers a rousing climax. For nearly two decades, West Indies cricket struggled to stride forward and the odd luminous streak rode entirely on Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul unassumingly continues to accumulate his runs.

However, the goodwill that the team retained amidst its fans was as safe as money in a Swiss Bank though the yearning for a turning-the-clock-back performance from the Caribbean players remained a nagging thought in millions of cricket followers.

Infinite prayers were answered on a feverish night in Colombo where Darren Sammy’s men crowned themselves as the ICC World Twenty20 champions. The hero had finally woken up and tapped his inner voice and for nostalgia’s children still worshipping the memories of Vivian Richards and the late Malcolm Marshall, it was time to uncork the bubbly and whisper — ‘my team won.’ The West Indies cricketers have that kind of effect, drawing universal love from men with grey beards and women, whose first crushes were legends like Sir Garry Sobers.

Surprisingly, the latest exploits of Sammy and company did not catch their peers by surprise! It again seemed such a big part of destiny. Much before fans quaffed their beers and grew misty-eyed in front of the television, in every pre-match press conference at the Level One Hall inside Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium, rival think-tanks spoke about the West Indies having the ability to last the distance and that it may even be a contender for the ICC World Twenty20 title.

Be it Mickey Arthur, the Australian coach or Mahela Jayawardene, the vanquished Sri Lankan captain, the overwhelming perception was that the West Indies was here to rock the party and not for just making up the numbers. The unanimous analysis was based on the presence of big-hitters like Chris Gayle; stingy and stinging spinners like Sunil Narine; a reasonably strong pace attack with the likes of Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards; and the x-factor — fielding brilliance.

Arthur even went to the extent of saying that the West Indies was the finest fielding unit in the tournament and if further testimony was required, all you had to do was gape at an airborne Andre Russell, pausing a probable six, flipping the ball back onto the turf and tumbling backwards in an earlier game. Yes, a few catches were dropped but the West Indies remained supremely alert on the field.

It was not an easy journey though and definitely not as smooth as the ‘Gangnam’ dance that Gayle and his merry fellow-cricketers unveiled regularly, much to the delight of photographers. In the preliminary phase, the West Indies did not register a single win. Despite Gayle’s hefty hits, ‘Player of the Tournament’ Shane Watson’s muscular heaves and the weather god’s tendency to usher in a damp curtain meant that Australia won a key match and subsequently racked up three wins on the trot, to suddenly emerge as the likeliest championship winner.

Against Ireland, the rain again had the last laugh and the West Indies qualified for the Super Eights with a loss and a no-result, while its net run-rate threw in a helpline. In the Super Eights, the Caribbean willow wielders roared against England, slumped against Sri Lanka before pipping New Zealand in the super-over. The bottom line was still damning for the West Indies ahead of its semifinal against Australia.

And just as worries about whether the West Indies would again wither away cropped up in a few circles, Sammy spoke about ‘belief’ within the dressing room and he also mentioned about drawing inspiration from Jamaican athletes excelling in the London Olympics.

A mighty batting display against Australia with Gayle leading the riot that found welcome echoes in the bats of Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard snuffed out any remaining stains of negativity around the team. The West Indies was indeed ‘The Team’ of the tournament and in the final when all seemed lost with Gayle turning diffident, Samuels emerged as the fresh phoenix. And just like how Kapil’s Devils defended a meagre 183 to shock the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final, Sammy’s men too combined powerfully to make their anaemic 137 cast a huge shadow on Sri Lanka.

The men from the Caribbean proved that they are much more than ‘Gayle’s impact’ and though the opener powered the team into the final and scored 222 runs in the tournament, Samuels (230) at last revealed his inherent ability. Like in all successful teams, different men put their hands up at various crisis points. Be it Johnson Charles against England, Narine and Rampaul’s spells, Pollard’s caning of Australia’s Xavier Doherty or Bravo’s consistency in the knock-outs, Sammy had the men for the job. The skipper too played his part, both with bat and ball in the summit clash.

It may be premature to speculate whether the West Indies has turned a corner, but a beginning has been made. It is imperative that the squad does not rest on its laurels, else much like its 2004 title triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy, the latest fabulous victory too will become a mere speck in its resume. For now, everyone’s second favourite team has recaptured its cavalier spirit in cricket’s shortest version and that calls for a celebration.