Going into the International Cricket Council’s 20/20 world championship in Sri Lanka, the West Indies led by Darren Sammy had every reason to be cautious about the label that had been attached to the Caribbean side: “the favorites.”
And the reason for their caution was summarized in a well-known warning, which has been around for more than 75 years: “cricket is funny. It’s a game of glorious uncertainties,” the sages never ceased to remind us. In short, anything can happen in a match, even after a resounding victory. They have forgotten when lowly placed Ireland and Kenya beat their side.
Marlon Samuels, the West Indies alrounder, put it best after Sunday’s victory over Sri Lanka and captured the highly coveted ICC 20/20 trophy in Colombo, when he said in the midst of widespread celebrations “coming into the tournament, we were labeled as favorites. (But) we put that to the side. We can be the favorites, but at the end of the day, we have to come up trumps with our best cricket.”
That’s precisely what the Caribbean cricketers did and it explains why the entire region was catapulted into a state of delirium.
Sammy, the West Indies skipper, added a special touch when at a post victory news conference he said “we know how to party” and West Indians wherever they are “will need a lot of bartenders” to provide the libation for the millions of cricket-loving fans in St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana, Antigua and their neighbors who are toasting to their team’s success.
Sammy, Chris Gayle, Samuels, S.P. Narine, Dwayne Bravo and the other members of the victorious team have earned the accolades being thrown in their path. They batted, fielded and bowled with panache and a commitment to excellence and in the end that brought us victory. Success can be very sweet. Oh, how sweet it is. What a pity that we had to wait eight years since our last international cricket success when our boys led by Brian Lara beat England at the Oval to take the Championship Trophy to taste it once again.
The long-suffering West Indians can provide chapter and verse about the agony of defeat. They know only too well about the promise of better days only to watch as their team flattered us with a scintillating batting display in the first innings of a test match or a magnificent piece of bowling in a limited overs match only to fall to a crashing and humiliating defeat later in the game.
That explains why people across the region and West Indians in the Diaspora are jumping for joy, but keeping their excitement in check, fearing it may be short-lived. They are praying for a return of the long and glorious reign at the top of the international standings which made us the toast of the cricketing world. They readily recall how we defeated Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, you name them. So while they would be the first to hail the talent of, Samuels, Rampaul, Bravo, Fidel Edwards and a long list of excellent cricketers who collectively can defeat any team, whether in the traditional long form of the game or in 50 overs or 20/20 realism tells them that trouble can be around any corner in the form of a lack of discipline in our batting or penetration in our bowling.
What’s clear is that Sammy, no shining star or budding rose either with the bat or the ball has succeeded in molding the men into a fighting unit that vanquished all they surveyed in the tournament in Colombo. Otis Gibson, the coach, also deserves much credit for the faith he placed in the players and for the respect he has shown them. That Gibson, Gayle and Sammy were able to put their differences aside, a disagreement that hurt not only the team but left the countries in our region frustrated and ashamed, speaks volumes about their maturity and professionalism.
But we have traveled this road. Victory in a series was followed by a disastrous player’s strike in 2009 when the persistent cellar-dweller in international cricket, Bangladesh, whitewashed the West Indies at home. The West Indian Players Association and the West Indies Cricket Board must accept most of the blame for the tragedy that befell our team. Their inability to get along derailed every effort to build a cohesive unit. For its part the WICB and its President, Dr. Julian Hunte mustn’t squander the opportunity presented to it by the success in Sri Lanka. They must move with alacrity to reform the governance of cricket in our region and send a strong message to everyone that it means business.
After all, Cricket is much more than a sport to West Indians. To the fans it’s a way of life, a source of great collective pride that unites us and shows people everywhere how a band of players of color can dominate a game that was nurtured by a former colonial power. It’s also a business. India has shown how a professional cricket league can be a money spinner that benefits players and countries alike. West Indian cricketers are now some of the Caribbean’s highest paid professionals, capable of making millions and securing a high standard of living long after their playing days are over. That must be preserved. At the same time we can show the world that we aren’t just “calypso cricketers,” sportsmen and women who can play well when we feel like it and then fall flat on our faces with dismal conduct.
Already, the Australians, the English, South Africans, Indians and Pakistanis are studying how the West Indies did it this week and we too must plan for them when we meet in the next tournament.