The unfancied West Indies team won the World Twenty20 by taking cricket back to the basics

2012-10-13 00:00

TO the casual observer, they were just another team making up the numbers but, to the trained eye of an astute cricket follower, there was something more to the package.

And so it came to pass. Darren Sammy’s West Indians were a revelation at the recent ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, not just for winning the tournament, but how they went about it.

From early on in proceedings, it was plain to see there was something about this team, something that made it warm to the spectators, whether West Indian or not. Of course, Chris Gayle at the top of the order was perhaps the biggest drawcard and those fortunate enough to be in the stadium when he clicked are richer for the experience, but there was more.

The glory years of West Indian cricket, when the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and others strutted their stuff with disdain while the rest of the world’s mere cricketing mortals could only fall at their feet and behold true greatness, are firmly entrenched in the memory banks and these days, the Caribbean Crusaders are seen as easy opposition, not worth wasting too much sweat over.

In hindsight, such regard may have been the spark needed to go all the way and lift an ICC trophy. It’s what world cricket needed and has given the game a refreshing face wash as the stronger, sometimes more talented and definitely more fancied runners in the field faded in the home straight.

Sammy and his men arrived without any fuss or fanfare, no battle talk, just common sense prevailing in saying the team would give its best shot and take every match as it came. Reaching the Super Eights was expected, but anything beyond that was a bonus and something to be appreciated and worked upon. Onlookers and, dare it be said, other teams most likely looked at the men in maroon and quietly noted that if Gayle misfired it was game over and easy picking for the opposition. Besides him, there were no other players of solid substance in the team who could really turn a match.

They were bits and pieces cricketers, some going through the motions for a while, others a bit wet behind the ears tasked with the unfortunate burden of taking West Indian cricket forward on a road seemingly to nowhere.

That was their trump card. Unlike AB de Villiers and his army who arrived for the tournament under huge scrutiny from fans at home and abroad, expected to at least reach the final, let alone win, the West Indians were left to do what they had arrived for — play cricket.

Another of their aces up their sleeves was the team spirit. It was there for all to see, from the first game. Here was a side with a steely resolve in its heart to achieve something. In the field, they prowled like hungry tigers, chasing the ball, diving to pull off stops, committed to taking catches, no matter how difficult. Even fielders on the boundary were jumping up as the ball went over them for six in the hope that just maybe, something miraculous could be pulled off. And, when it was, the joy flowed forth. The whole team celebrated in a piece of superb fielding, a stunning catch, a misely bowling analysis. From all sides of the field, the maroon blur rushed in to join the congratulatory pats on the back and high fives. Sammy led the way with a beaming smile, running from wherever he was stationed to share in the moment and applaud his warrior. It quietly bred confidence and belief.

Even when things went slightly wrong, the smiles were still there, the belief still aflame, the dream still alive. After all, cricket is a game of ups and downs, but the right attitude is half the battle won.

And so it came to pass. A loss to England was a slight kink in an otherwise easily negotiated path and suddenly, while other proud and stronger nations crumbled — South Africa included — the West Indians were in the final, ready to leave another stamp on world cricket.

Gayle perished early, the powerplay was anything but power and it looked an all too familiar tale of falling at the final hurdle.

It looked as though the host nation had been handed the trophy on a plate. Gayle gone, who else is there, from whence shall come any inspiration?

It came from Marlon Samuels, another un-noticed, past-his-best type of player. Again, with no pressure of expectation, he changed the game, ultimately winning it for his team with a knock to be remembered.

It was an exhibition of unshackled cricket, doing what had to be done with what was available. The Proteas would do well to take note and shrug off the suffocating blanket of expectation that engulf them whenever they play any format of the game. Somehow, there is the fallacy we are better than the rest and deserve to win, let alone try to win. The pressure on the players is huge and all that’s needed is a bunch of players who apply the basic principles of the game, encourage a strong team spirit and appreciate the talent they have — the talent to hit, throw, catch and chase the ball. It takes a while but, as the West Indians have shown, it does fall into place and it’s worth the wait and celebration.

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