Fighting West Indies finally come good
O me of little faith.
Even with an appreciation of the brevity of the format, the mercurial nature of Caribbean cricketers and the enormous pressure on the Sri Lankans to deliver in their own country after three world finals disappointments in the last five-and-a-half years, the West Indies seemed to have fallen over the precipice halfway through their innings yesterday.
At 32 for two, with danger man Chris Gayle gone cheaply and only ten overs left — four of which were to be bowled by the often lethal Lasith Malinga — home fans could have been forgiven for starting the victory celebrations early. By the same token, the most optimistic of West Indian supporters must have felt that even a spectacular assault over the latter half of the innings would not have been enough to deny the hosts, led as they were at the top of their batting by the redoubtable Mahela Jayawardene, the audacious Tillekeratne Dilshan and the masterful Kumar Sangakkara.
That’s maybe how an optimist would have thought. For a pessimist like myself, someone who has been conditioned to expect the worst, it was time to give this one up as another lost cause, focus on youngsters developing their football skills on a Sunday morning in the Aranjuez Savannah, and so avoid the possible anguish of seeing the regional side claw their way back into the match, ignite the flame of hope for an amazing turnaround, only for it all to end in disappointment at the hands of a Sri Lankan side that seemed to be playing better and better as the tournament progressed.
But West Indies cricket is a very addictive thing. You search for a distraction but still stay somewhat connected to the goings-on in Colombo, on this occasion via the hyper-excitable Andre Baptiste providing ball-by-ball commentary off the TV via the I95.5 FM studios on Tragarete Road (so this is what radio coverage of West Indies cricket has come to…even when we are in a world final!).
Listening to Andre in these circumstances is not the best thing for the heart, or the digestive system. A single to mid-off sounds like a six over extra-cover, so when Marlon Samuels launches into Malinga and drags the West Indies up to the respectability of 137 for six with an infuriatingly majestic innings of 78, the only thing that Andre doesn’t do in the people’s radio station is have a heart attack.
Why “infuriatingly” majestic? Well, batsmanship of such quality, combining as it does power, precision, timing and a God-given instinct to respond in a millisecond to every adjustment in line and length by the bowler, merely confirms that the outrageously talented Jamaican was basically playing the arse for almost ten years before being handed a two-year suspension from all cricket in May of 2008.
Since coming back on the international scene, we are witness to a determination, a dedication and sense of purpose to buttress those sumptuous gifts, qualities borne out of a desire (and he has said it more than enough times himself) to make amends after being debarred for two years from playing a game that he obviously took for granted.
His remarkable consistency on the England tour three months ago, followed by a similar cheese-stands-alone innings of 123 out of 209 during the Sabina Park Test against New Zealand in Kingston at the beginning of August are a testament to the cricketing reformation of the 31-year-old who previously delivered considerably more style than substance.
On this evidence, there are a few more who could do with similar two-year bans. Anyway, back to the final.
Football coaching is over for this Sunday morning, so while picking up all the training paraphernalia out of earshot of the radio and the screaming Andre, a tremendous roar explodes from the rumshop across the road. Now, in this part of the country, where the phrase “allyuh West Indians” is not uncommon, I’m wondering if this means that the Sri Lankans are off to a flying start in pursuit of an apparently modest target.
Turns out that it’s the complete opposite as Ravi Rampaul’s first delivery of the match is what Ian Bishop — I’m back home watching on TV now — describes as possibly the “ball of the tournament,” squaring up Dilshan and sending his off-stump cartwheeling. After Samuels’ heroics, it’s an important strike that keeps the momentum with the West Indies and adds to the pressure that is becoming almost unbearably heavy for the suddenly tentative Sri Lankans.
Darren Sammy’s decision to remove Rampaul from the attack after that effective opening over is bewildering, even moreso given the fast-medium bowler’s reputation for going for plenty later in the innings as happens when Nuwan Kulasekera takes 22 off the Trinidadian in the 16th over to leave Sri Lanka with a hint of light in a dark tunnel needing 44 from 24 balls.
It represents yet another opportunity for Sammy’s many critics to tear into him as a tactical buffoon and West Indies Cricket Board “yes man,” conveniently overlooking his important late contribution with the bat, his immediate removal of all-rounder Angelo Matthews with the ball and the unavoidable fact that he has led the West Indies to the World T20 title. If the match had been lost, it would have been his fault. Now, it has been won despite him.
Yet whoever deserves or doesn’t deserve the credit, the West Indies are world champions in one form of the game. Even for a pessimist, that is good enough…for now.