A team that did not even have its kit in order. A squad often compared unfairly to Viv Richards and company. An outfit deemed flamboyant but lacking in resilience. Truly, the West Indies had many headaches to counter when it set foot in India for the ICC World Twenty20. > Read: West Indies' road to victory
A shambolic cricket board, the weight of a hoary history and jibes at the attitude of current players, isn’t exactly the ideal back-story for a unit chasing glory in a global event. But credit is due to the men from the Caribbean that despite these issues, it was Darren Sammy’s men, who had the last laugh when the dust and confetti settled upon the hallowed turf of Kolkata’s Eden Gardens after a thrilling final against England which ended with a four-wicket victory on a rousing Sunday night.
It capped a lovely run in various events be it the women’s World Twenty20 where the West Indian lasses won or the earlier Under-19 World Cup in which lads from the Caribbean proved that they are second to none. The focus, though, remains on the men’s team, and it is a testament to its resources and skills that the World Twenty20 title was seized against all odds.
It cannot get bigger than the 19 runs required from the final over of a high-pressure summit clash. The West Indies found its man — Carlos Brathwaite. He did not exactly wield a magic wand but when he did clatter four consecutive sixes off a hapless Ben Stokes, it seemed as though Brathwaite was the harbinger of miracles, much like the many West Indian stars of the past, who we grew up idolising.
Brathwaite and Samuels, who scored an unbeaten 85, snuffed out the last vestiges of hope in an otherwise doughty England line-up and Sammy’s men had a cup to cherish. The West Indies became the first team to win the ICC World Twenty20 title twice, having secured it at the equally hot and humid Colombo in 2012.
Inarguably, the West Indies is a cricketing force in decline, especially in Tests where an indomitable skill-base, an abiding patience and stronger sinews that can withstand five days of scrutiny are required. But once the men from the Caribbean switch to their coloured clothing for limited-over clashes, the change within the ranks is remarkable.
Belief surges, the joys of striking the ball deep into the stands are embraced and so is the uncanny knack of mixing up the deliveries and hoodwinking the batsman. A Chris Gayle, at 36, may not physically last a Test match but throw him into a Twenty20 bash and he is a different proposition.
The tepidness in Tests and the audacity in limited-over contests, is a contrast that boggles. But that is how the West Indies has been for the last few years. May be it also could be an offshoot of a cricketing dogma — fewer the overs, lesser the flaws on view. The West Indies has benefitted from this just like India did in the 1983 World Cup final against Clive Lloyd’s men. There was no doubting which was the stronger unit on that day but when it came to springing a surprise, it was Kapil’s Devils who held sway. In a perverse way, the wheel has come a full circle and ironically it is the West Indies that now draws strength from ODIs and Twenty20s.
The exposure gleaned from the Indian Premier League has enabled many stars among Darren Sammy’s men to find a second wind. Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, just to name a few, have stayed on in public consciousness due to their exploits in the annual summer league. Besides staying relevant, Gayle and company have finessed their skills, sharpened their reaction-time and added another layer of zen to their minds.
Self-esteem has prospered and all that experience has stood the team in good stead. For any campaign to succeed, you need diverse heroes and the West Indies found its men. Gayle, except for a hundred against England in the early part of the tournament, has been mute but others like Lendl Simmons against India or Samuels and Brathwaite in the final, rose to the occasion. So did spinner Samuel Badree.
Even Sammy, despite a poor tournament as a player, led well and has found support within the ranks. His frank views on the West Indies Cricket Board and unstinted support to his men, has perhaps endeared him to a bunch that suffers no fools and takes fierce pride in its achievements. A metamorphosis indeed for a man, who not long ago was considered pro-establishment.
Like his team, Sammy is self-aware and much after the title was savoured, he said: “People might say I didn’t take part in the tournament but for me, my job is to do what’s necessary for the team — to make the right decisions on the field, to take inputs from senior players and it was just a tremendous tournament.”
The latest signpost isn’t exactly an indicator for a rosier future as many of these players will ebb away in the coming years but if the seeds of confidence and consistency are sowed well, West Indies cricket would be well served.
In the meanwhile can Samuels and friends shed their excessive anger and instead quaff their rums and jive? A strong West Indian team, playing hard cricket and having fun is what the world needs, not a forever angry group, waiting to snap at the faintest trigger like it was evident towards the end of the final.
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