I was at a meeting with the Prime Minister of Antigua when the news of our win reached us. I was not surprised since I had seen most of West Indies’ run chase. The Prime Minister was obviously thrilled with the result, and his first thought was the good such a consistent performance will do for Caribbean cricket in general and the 2007 World Cup in particular.
Thursday’s win was convincing for a semi-final, and with it, Brian Lara’s men have managed to defeat the top two teams of the world and the Indians at home in a span of 10 days.
Chris Gayle seemed galvanised with a determination and energy ever since he had that run-in with Michael Clarke and Damien Martyn against Australia. I had always felt that Gayle was a little aloof and detached from the game.
I don’t know if someone has read out the riot act to him. Now, Chris seems to relish the task of leading the batting which takes a lot of pressure away from the rest of the players. He always had the talent, but now he has tightened his technique and strengthened his mind.
I spent a lot of time with Chris when we toured India in 2002. I knew he had a great eye and awesome power, but I felt he needed to get closer to the ball. He’s not the shortest guy in the world and I felt he could use his height to play forward as well as back.
Today, he looks pretty complete as a batsman, and is a major force in the team. And I have not even started to speak about the crucial contribution he makes with his off-spin.
Though I have spoken about just Chris Gayle, the factor that has brought the West Indies this far has been teamwork. Jeremy Taylor led a very efficient bowling performance and the contribution of Shivnarine Chanderpaul was also significant.
As far as the South Africans were concerned, I think they played a little too cautiously. Instead of judging the pitch by what they saw on Thursday, they made the mistake of assuming that the match will go along the lines of the games that had been played so far.
Graeme Smith’s plan was based on earlier games, and that is where he erred. Herschelle Gibbs played a good knock, but he was not his usual run-a-ball self. He looked tentative at the start of his innings, and even towards the end he was too worried about preserving wickets.
Looking ahead, West Indies must be positive and not get overawed by Australia’s world champion tag. On current form, they have played as well as Australia, and there is no reason for them to feel like a lesser side.
The West Indies have played and beaten the best teams in the competition, and they must now put mind over matter on Sunday. They will be happy to know that they have beaten the Australians more than any other side since 2003. What’s more, the Australians have never won this tournament and would be under some pressure to correct that statistic.
As defending champions, the West Indies must play with pride and confidence, because, if they continue to play as a unit, there is no reason why they can’t defend their title against Australia.