There is probably not a single cricket fan in the Caribbean who doesn’t share West Indies captain Darren Sammy’s hope that winning the World Twenty20 title will inspire the team to “start something special.” Indeed, there is cause for optimism after the West Indies, in a reversal of past trends, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to secure a 36-run victory over Sri Lanka in Sunday’s dramatic final in Colombo. Contributing significantly to that win was the dazzling 56-ball 78 from Marlon Samuels, which boosted the team’s fortunes after a poor start.
The Sri Lankans must have felt they were within easy reach of the World T20 title when they restricted West Indies’ batsmen, particularly big hitter Chris Gayle, who took 16 balls to reach three before he was dismissed early in the West Indies innings. The West Indies score of 137 for six did not look like much of a challenge to their opponents, until the Caribbean players hit back to bowl Sri Lanka out for 101 and secure their first international cricket title since 2004.
The team’s performance in the series was reminiscent of West Indies domination of international cricket from the late 1970s through to the 1990s. However, this victory alone won’t take the team back to those glory days. They must now build on this victory. Before Sunday’s win, the West Indies had won the ICC Cricket World Cup twice—in 1975 and 1979— and only lifted the ICC Champions Trophy once, in 2004.
Credit is due to Sammy, who has often been criticised ever since he took over as captain from Chris Gayle in late 2010. Sammy is proving more successful than several of his predecessors. He steered the team to the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup, then a drawn Test series against Pakistan in the Caribbean a few months later. Just a few months ago, there were victories for the West Indies during the New Zealand tour, with the 2-0 T20 series win in Florida, the 4-1 ODI victory and the 2-0 Test series victory.
An important factor in the T20 win was that a full West Indies team showed up in Sri Lanka—the strongest regional team to have been put together in recent times. It showed in their performances throughout. However, the return to full cricket glory depends not only on the players but all the other regional stakeholders, including the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA). The relationship between WICB and WIPA continues to be strained and that is a cause for concern. In fact, the WICB recently lost its 15th arbitration to the WIPA—a $500,000 ruling in favour of player Narsingh Deonarine. Add to that the recent matters involving Ramnaresh Sarwan and Lendl Simmons which were also costly to Windies cricket. To date, the WICB has lost more than $20 million in its legal battles with WIPA.
The protracted, high-profile dispute with Gayle, which left the team without his services for 14 months, was another forgettable chapter in West Indies cricket. Hopefully, there will be improvements at the administrative level under the guidance of WICB’s new CEO Michael Muirhead, who replaces Dr Ernest Hilaire. The regional game needs to move on from the Hilaire era, which was marred by turbulence including public spats with WIPA and contentious handling of issues relating to senior players.
In the months ahead, West Indies cricket needs several more special moments like Colombo last Sunday to ensure the bright future that seems just within reach. Twenty20 cricket is wildly popular, but success in this modern form of the game does not automatically lead to success in the classic one-day and full-length Test versions—still the real measure and the more prestigious forms of the game.