T20, Windies coming of age
The West Indies’ thumping victory over Australia in Friday’s World T20 semi-final was as near to flawless as it gets in Twenty20 cricket.
The shortest form of the game has evolved from its early guise as 40 overs of crash-bang-wallop that needed accompanying pop bands, dancing girls and fireworks for entertainment into an intriguing tactical contest.
Big hitting, quick running between the wickets and sharp fielding remain essential. Now, spinners are no longer the four-over fodder they were considered in the beginning (if they were picked at all) but significant contributors. Captains have come to realize they need to have their wits about them more intently and bowlers to control their nerves more steadily than in the longer, more unhurried versions.
On Friday night, Australia’s skipper George Bailey made the wrong choice in left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty for the last over. Mitchell Starc, the left-arm swinger who had been outstanding in earlier matches, started to the spray the ball around under the West Indies onslaught. Wicket-keeper Matthew Wade suddenly became porous.
In contrast, the West Indies, for all their assumed excitable nature, remained calm throughout and Darren Sammy, on top of his game otherwise with bowling changes, erred only once. His introduction of the previously underutilized Andre Russell came when other choices were available. Russell clearly wasn’t comfortable and was pounded for 25 in his one over. By then, it didn’t matter much, the outcome was virtually over.
The West Indies entered the Sri Lanka tournament as one of the favourites not simply because they possess two of Twenty20’s most powerful hitters in Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard but because they and several others had mastered the nuances of the game in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Australia’s Big Bash.
So there was no panic from Gayle or anyone else on Friday night while he was confined to receiving 41 of the 120 balls of the innings. He knew, as he said afterwards, that once he stayed to the end he would “get runs”.
He got 75 of them. He also knew, from his IPL experiences, what Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard could do.
Yet, Gayle couldn’t do it by himself.
Twice in World T20s, he had dominated West Indies’ innings only to end on the losing side.
In the first ever match, in 2007, his 117 off 57 balls underpinned an identically imposing total of 205 for six. Woeful bowling, with 23 wides, allowed South Africa to pass it with 14 balls and eight wickets to spare.
In the semi-final of the second tournament, against Sri Lanka, he batted through the 17.4 overs the innings lasted, scoring 63. No one else managed double figures in defeat by 57 runs.
In the preliminary round this time, his 54 and Marlon Samuels’ 50 saw the West Indies to 191 for eight off their 20 overs; Australia responded with 100 for one off 9.1 overs against slapdash bowling and victory through the Duckworth/Lewis method.
There was none of that on Friday.
Samuel Badree, whose flat, skidding, controlled straight balls have made a huge difference at the start of the innings, quickly took care of Australia’s Gayle equivalents: David Warner and Shane Watson. Samuels removed Mike Hussey cheaply and the always threatening Ravi Rampaul ensured there was no coming back for a limited Australian batting side.
So now, on to today’s final.
It is the ideal match-up between typically high-spirited, carefree West Indians who take their lead from an underrated captain and one of contemporary cricket’s most popular players in Gayle and his modern Gangnam dance moves and the calmer, classical Sri Lankans, from a different culture on the other side of the planet.
To take their first ICC title since the 2004 Champions Trophy in England, the West Indies have to be on the same wavelength of self-belief and overall excellence they were on Friday.
Sri Lanka are far more rounded opponents than Australia. They have all the bases covered and will be backed by 30 000 noisy, passionate supporters in the Premadasa Stadium.
They will not be so easily beaten – but they can be.
The long-held public perception of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) as a dysfunctional, not to say incompetent, organization gains credibility by the day.
In the past few weeks alone, it has lost yet another of the cases it carried to arbitration (the 14th and counting), then been obliged to issue a cringing apology to the arbitrator, Seenath Jairam S.C., for allegations it made in a public statement on his ruling.
This was followed by its rejection of the main proposals in a report its president had commissioned specifically to consider improvements to the board’s structure and governance.
In the first instance, it had to fork out sizeable payments to Ramnaresh Sarwan, Narsingh Deonarine and Lendl Simmons for what amounted to slander; in the latter, it led to the indignant resignation of Charles Wilkin, the Kittitian Queen’s Counsel (and, incidentally, former Leeward Islands and Cambridge University player) whose governance committee presented 17 recommendations, seven of which were rebuffed by the WICB directors.
Wilkin’s group (chartered accountant Grenville Phillips and WICB director Elson Crick were its other members) was the second set up by a WICB president who recognized the need for change.
The first, created by Ken Gordon in 2007, was headed by P.J. Patterson, the former prime minister of Jamaica. The incumbent, Julian Hunte, who has changed his stance on the issue since responding to the Patterson report, called in Wilkin.
Both proposed a radical restructuring of the board.
Wilkin advised halving the number of directors from two to one each for the six territorial boards (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leewards, Trinidad and Tobago, Windwards) and introducing six directors from outside, elected on the basis of their proven experience and expertise in other areas, all under a president and vice-president with the chief executive an ex-officio director.
The proposals were similar to those instituted earlier this month by the WICB’s Australian counterpart, Cricket Australia.
Both the Wilkin and Patterson reports came to the same fate, blocked by the impenetrable wall erected by directors fearful that they would no longer be able to safeguard their narrow, parochial interests.
Wilkin probably guaranteed the dismissal of his proposed changes by stating in his report that they would “limit the tendency to interfere in operational management of the affairs of the WICB which the current structure (mainly that of the ‘executive’ committee) encourages”.
Patterson has claimed his report was “pigeon-holed” as its proposals “would have resulted in some degree of openness and accountability which do not now exist in the present situation”.
So nothing changes. Yet, no one familiar with the history of the West Indies Federation and the present state of CARICOM should be surprised that the same problems of insularity would affect West Indies cricket as well.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.