After rallying around the West Indies cricket team in the wilderness for so long, its fans from the Caribbean and its far-flung Diaspora are understandably ecstatic with their snatching of the ICC Twenty20 (T20) World Cup. That the team won so dramatically after Chris Gayle’s failure in the final is a tribute to the talent it now possesses. They were truly convinced that on any given day, they could defeat any other team in T20. But how many fans really believed that they would emerge victorious after posting only 137 runs after twenty overs?
While Samuels’ epoch-defining innings saved West Indian blushes, the bowlers and fielders had to rise to the occasion – and they did. They showed the world what the West Indies can achieve provided its inherent cavalier streak is coated with a liberal dose of consistency and everyone plays his part. And this brings to the fore the methodology that might have produced what all fans hope is a return to the old winning ways of the past.
That past was invoked recently in the documentary ‘Fire in Babylon’, chronicling the exploits of legends like Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge and a battery of supreme fast bowlers ranging from Andy Roberts to Michael Holding. This fabulous history of untrammelled cricketing riches that suddenly vanished within the Caribbean, has often lent a funereal undercurrent to the West Indies teams of the last decade and a half despite Brian Lara’s genius, Courtney Walsh’s incisive perseverance and Curtly Ambrose’s menace.
The last time the West Indies won a final was in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy game against England. Only Gayle and Bravo from that team were in Colombo and they had to have raised their eyebrows at the talk of West Indies returning to the pinnacle of world cricket. They heard it all before in 2004, when Brian Charles Lara was the captain: but their downward spiral continued unabated. How many remember 2004? The question that must be answered is whether 2012 will be different.
That answer depends to a great degree on whether we define “cricket” as T20, or Test – with the 50-over game falling in between. Few doubt that the West Indies have outstanding individual players. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the World Cup tournament, they were among the favourites to go all the way. To a great extent, T20 can still be dominated by individual talents. Once the West Indies allow new talent to receive exposure at the highest level, they will always be contenders in this format of the game.
The test for proving that this team is not a flash in the pan as was its 2004 predecessor, will be in the Test arena. As Samuels declared, Test Cricket is the ‘real’ cricket. This version needs a complete meshing of the administration, the coaching staff and the players, to produce a band of players that can withstand and overcome the rigours of the international professional game. The present travails of the other test-playing nations – especially England – are a reminder of what lies ahead.
First the administration: with the departure of WICB’s CEO, Ernest Hillaire, will his replacement be less high-handed towards senior players and not demand a level of obsequiousness that leaves them feeling degraded? This is a key question. Gayle and Samuels are perfect examples of talented players that need some space for their individuality to flourish. This time, Coach Gibson notably did not demonstrate his denigrating attitude of the last T20 World Cup. If he will be rehired, he will have to accept a more nuanced approach to man-management.
Then there is the captain Darren Sammy. While he had his moments in the final game and no one doubts his sincerity, how long will he be carried for non-cricketing qualities? In the shorter forms of the game the team might get away with it. But in our considered view, the captain, more than anyone else must be selected on merit – cricketing merit. And on this criterion Sammy sadly fails.