It’s probably easier to eulogise a cricketer than an entire team. It has to be led by a Machiavellian captain, must have a famed pace bowling lineup, one or two great spinners, two complementing opening batsmen and a solid middle order that comprises one of those eulogised batsmen.
The last 50 years have produced some legends of the game. Great teams, however, are fewer. Like the West Indies team of the 70s and 80s or the Australia team that lifted three consecutive World Cups along with winning 16 Tests in a row first in 1999-2001 and then again in 2005-08. Even the Sri Lanka team, to some extent, that redefined 50-over cricket in the mid-90s was a tough unit.
For possibly the first time now, a T20 group has nudged the boundaries of greatness.
Not only because they have now won two World T20 titles in the space of four years but also because of the adverse circumstances in which they achieved it. They have a captain who neither has a central nor an IPL contract, no particularly express fast bowler, a spinner on self-exile because of his action, a truly great batsman who has two Test triple centuries but makes himself available for T20 selection and an exceptional middle order batsman who most likely will be forgotten in a few years’ time because he doesn’t have a decent Test record to go with it.
It’s essentially a group of men united by a cause, standing up for their right to a decent life and speaking their mind. What it’s not is a team of cricketers whose silence has been bought by hefty central contracts and undisclosed franchise league deals.
“We have been painted as money-grabbing players. I tell you we would have paid to play here. When we came here we didn’t have shirts or caps. Our manager Rawl Lewis had never managed a team before. But he came here a few days earlier to ensure we got our shirts stitched here,” said West Indies captain Darren Sammy after the post-match media interaction.
Holding the trophy outside the stairwell of the Eden Gardens press conference room, Sammy looked pained at the prospect of perhaps never sharing the dressing room with dancing buddies Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo again. But he was also relieved to know that their last ride together was worth it, that he could walk his talk of being ‘in it to win it’.
“I don’t know when I will see the guys in the dressing room again. I don’t see any T20 schedule this year. We have a triseries, then a Test series against India where I’m not eligible for selection. This win meant a lot,” he said.
Fearless cricket is this ---- playing to win knowing there might be no tomorrow, no recognition from your paymasters but only the unconditional love of the people of your country.
Sammy is perfectly in peace with that fate. He was angered but didn’t let it consume his happiness. When asked if this victory was about vengeance, Sammy carefully requested the journalist to ask him the same question after a few minutes. Those few minutes were spent to describe his feelings after the win and to dedicate this victory to the Caribbean people. His priorities are defined. The battle has been won but he is not ready to go down without a fight in the bigger war. “Now that the cricket is over we can focus on other things,” said Sammy.
The biggest roadblock for West Indies cricket is the ego that bars administrators to understand their players’ problems --- a problem that has had its fair share of history in the Caribbean. It resulted in players signing up for the Packer series and even checking into apartheid South Africa.
But it also led to a bonding so great that it was reflected in gruelling Test tours. Maybe only those who have undergone it all can come up with a logical solution to this festering mess that has cost world cricket a few characters.
Right now, West Indies is all about those characters. Characters who entertain 65,000 requests for a title-winning six, who dance all their way from the team bus to the hotel and show a spine on live television. They are still good at their cricket, as has been proved by the T20 men’s and women’s double along with the U-19 World Cup win earlier this year. But there’s no doubt the game has taken a beating in that region. Even West Indies women’s captain Stafanie Taylor readily admitted to it.
Which is why Sunday night was the stuff of legend. Angered by hurtful opinion, here was a team almost disowned by their administrators that flew halfway around the world to win a World Cup. They could have easily stayed back at their homes in the opulence paid for by the franchise leagues.
Instead, they made it a mission to show not all is done for money. They showed consistency in a fickle format can be achieved through skills and perseverance. To pull that off without pretence makes Darren Sammy and his boys champions to remember for a long time.