West Indies captain Darren Sammy is banking on his team’s familiarity with New Zealand for a victory in today’s do-or-die T20 World Cup Super Eight match. Speaking yesterday, Sammy acknowledged that the match was ‘a must-win’ for his team. “The good thing for us is that we are playing New Zealand. We just played them in the Caribbean, we have a pretty good idea of what this side is made up of.” Sammy feels the West Indies have the measure of New Zealand, after beating them heavily in the Caribbean in July, 4-1 in an ODI series as well as Test victories in Jamaica and Antigua. Victory would give them four points, enough to go through if Sri Lanka beat England, but leaving their fate to be determined on run rate if England discover the “perfect performance” against Sri Lanka that their captain, Stuart Broad, believes is just around the corner.
Deep down, Sammy must know that his batsmen are best placed to fashion that victory, and that Chris Gayle is more likely to fashion it than most. Sammy bristled during a qualifying match against Ireland when it was suggested that spectators just watched West Indies to watch Gayle—such suggestions undermine the team ethic he has fought so hard to implant—but Gayle’s influence on West Indies’ success is undeniable. Against Sri Lanka, for the first time in the tournament, Gayle failed, and West Indies failed with him, indubitably so. Even then attention remained with him. When he was dismissed, the Sri Lankan DJ dared to taunt him by playing Gangnam Style, the Korean rap song from which he has adopted his signature dance. The assumption in Sri Lanka’s celebrations was clear to see: get Gayle and you get West Indies. Sammy was once described as the sort of big-hearted, affable man the players would gladly follow into battle but they would not give much for their chances of survival. That remark sprang to mind at Pallakele on Saturday night as Sammy took it upon himself to bowl four overs of mundane medium pace while Sri Lanka eased their way past an inadequate West Indies total of 129 for 5, winning by nine wickets with nearly five overs to spare.
Tactically, West Indies came adrift against Sri Lanka. A dry pitch had the capacity to turn in the opening match between England and New Zealand. By the end of the night, it was a perfect surface for Sri Lanka’s spinners, but West Indies omitted Samuel Badree’s legspin and, as Mahele Jayawardene batted much as he pleased, overlooked the spin options of Gayle and Marlon Samuels. As for the mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the only mystery at the moment is why there no longer seems to be much mystery. His success against New Zealand only two months ago will give him hope of better denouement today. Jayawardene insisted, though, that as well as he and Kumar Sangakkara played Narine, he could not be discounted. “The bigger picture is we were just chasing 130 and we had a good start, so we didn’t have to take unnecessary risks against Sunil,” he said. “We just milked runs off him; he had a very defensive field. According to the situation we just handled him.”
Either West Indies did not bowl much spin against Sri Lanka presumably because they felt that, even if they picked Badree, they did not have the quality to trouble them or they simply misread the pitch. “I don’t think we have a pitch consultant,” Sammy said when asked how the decision had been reached. To hide behind the enduring image of West Indies cricket as under-resourced and, as a result, slightly ramshackle, was a jovial response but it was hardly a vision for the future. “I said the Sri Lankans would be a challenge in these conditions and they proved to be,” Sammy said. “The pitch definitely suited them but we are playing international cricket and in Sri Lanka we expect the wickets to turn. It is nothing new to us. But I don’t think we adapted quickly enough when we batted. “Even though they had a lot of dot balls, normally they get the partnerships.” Against New Zealand today, Sammy hopes for a substantial turnaround with bat and ball. “It will be good to have a big total on the board—190 plus—so it gives our bowlers a little bit of leeway.”