It's finally here — the final of the Champions Trophy. While it hasn’t quite been a carnival of cricket, especially with India’s early exit, the presence of the West Indies in the final has been the event’s saving grace.
There is a spirit to Windies cricket, a sense of history and of a legacy, a feeling of the sport being played how sport should be played — with full-blooded enjoyment as opposed to the sanitized techno-driven cricket we often get to see — all tinged with an unpredictable edge that makes their team so interesting.
Even when they are playing badly, you want to watch the Windies because you never know what they will do. When they are playing well, as they are at the moment, that interest is only magnified.
In fact, the recent controversies over contracts, differences between the players and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and Brian Lara’s very public stands by his players have only made the progress the Windies have shown on the field more fascinating.
You want them to win, not just because however well they play, they are the definite underdogs against the world champions, Australia, on Sunday, but also because they are the West Indies.
For many of us, if Australia are the head and India the heart of cricket, the West Indies are its soul.
Much of their spirit, which seemed to have been in hibernation for a while, seems to have returned with a vengeance in the resurgence of Lara in his third innings as skipper.
But strangely enough, they did, in absolute style — especially in the way they thrashed South Africa in the semifinal — and as Lara says, even if Australia are the favourites to win the Trophy, the momentum might just be with the West Indies.
Their skipper believes that there is a buoyancy in the Windies camp, a joie-de-vivre that stems from their bonding together as players (on the field) and as individuals (off it).
“We have grown as a team, there’s a lot more self belief in this camp,” said Lara on match eve. “Clive Lloyd has come in and we have some good coaching staff but the ultimate thing is the guys are believing in themselves a lot more and they want to prove themselves as worthy contenders for retaining the Trophy.”
Still, it isn’t going to be easy. The Australia the Windies played and beat earlier in the group stage will not be the Australia they will play on Sunday.
Since then, the Aussies have adjusted to the climate and the conditions and have looked like they’re getting better as the tournament has progressed.
In any case, they are the world champions in both forms of the game because they play far better, far more consistently than any other team.
And even though this is one Trophy they haven’t won, if Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting is to be believed, that fact is just incidental to the whole point of playing — winning.
With typically Aussie assurance, Ponting, Player of the Year at the ICC Awards on Friday night, said it didn’t matter that they hadn’t won the Trophy yet.
“We’ve won a lot of other tournaments and World Cups — more than any other team in recent times,” he said. “I think it’s important to be as low key as possible before entering a big final. It’s important not to hype it up too much. I remember the World Cup final last time and we know the mindset to take into these games.”
That’s confidence for you and that might also be the last word on the matter.