|(Courtesy of thesun.co.uk)|
Chris Gayle’s mighty slab of willow may have been silenced on Sunday but he had wielded it like a Viking for three weeks. His impact on a buoyant Windies outfit was undeniable. The Calypso cricketers played the game we love like a sporting party – and they won! On sub-continent decks where one of the local sides looked set to take home the gong, a burgeoning Windies side extinguished their flame.
The “reintegration” (that term seems in vogue at the minute, though this one has a happier ending) of Chris Gayle after a two year hiatus has brought the very best of his teammates to the fore – he is the missing link that helped them to step up as they haven’t done for many seasons. The Gayle who has re-emerged in maroon is not the one that raised a middle finger to a WICB establishment that had wronged him and left his countrymen to sell his wares to the highest bidder around the cricketing world.
Gone is the perception of self-absorption, the show which often lacked substance, and the attitude that stood apart from the fun. The new Gayle has introduced a culture that makes cricket enjoyable, an evident love for his cricketing nation and a maturity that many felt he would never find. His unbeaten innings in the Windies semi-final demolition of Australia evidenced the change. Gayle chose which bowlers to attack, and those to see off. Gayle was the dominant force yet only faced one-third of the deliveries - a powerful endorsement of a winning knock. That Gayle continues to grow as a T20 cricketer must send fear through his opponents, who calm themselves with the belief that if he is dismissed early, victory is theirs – Marlon Samuels disproved that theory.
How many of us knew what Gangnam Style was before the World T20? The music video by South Korean rapper Psy was embraced by Gayle and his teammates – an embodiment of the fun they brought to our often staid game. No eye was focussed on the redundant dancing girls in Sri Lanka’s stadia when the Caribbean lads were in the middle – they were transfixed on cricket’s entertainers. That Gangnam Style was September’s fifth most prolific Google search in New Zealand provides a small insight into the marketing phenomenon that is Chris Gayle – there are few cricketing personalities with such wide-ranging appeal.
I may risk the wrath of pure cricketing traditionalists, but watching cricketers enjoy their work like it’s a backyard knock-about is a one of life’s delight – a fantastic shop front for the game we all love. If T20 is the format that draws kids and non-traditional followers to the king of sports then the Windies provided them with three weeks’ worth of reasons to return.
Gayle may be the talisman the Windies have been searching for but their success is no longer about just one man. Throughout the tournament, others stepped up where once they would have slipped away from the limelight centred on their superstar. Otis Gibson and Darren Sammy have asked a lot of their players – they have worked to build a side that has grown its cricketing discipline and who play for the collective. Many players whose talent has gone unfulfilled for so long have started to loosen the stranglehold of the “potential noose”.
Marlon Samuels, so recently a cricketing pariah, has undergone a metamorphosis – no longer the brash child but a quietly spoken craftsman who lets his deeds with the willow speak loudest. His aggregate of 230 runs sat him eight above his showman mate, ranking him third in the World tournament. But it was his innings against Sri Lanka that secured the West Indies their first piece of ICC silverware after eight years of poor returns. His masterful 78 off 56 balls as those around him crumbled drew plaudits that were once reserved for others. Samuels’ counter attack on Lasith Malinga was majestic – cricket’s equivalent of a demolition site. He has continued a vein of sublime form from the tour to England – long may it continue.
Punters and pundits continue to cast stones at the captaincy ability of Darren Sammy but no one can hide the fact his team won – victory supersedes any perceived tactical weakness. He is only the third Windies captain to claim an ICC title after Clive Lloyd led a powerful West Indian team to the first two Cricket World Cups in 1975 and 1979, and Brian Lara was in charge for an unlikely victory at the Champions Trophy in 2004. Sammy may never reach Lloyd’s heights but history will show he led his charges to victory nonetheless. He has taken a side of strong personalities down a different path, team now trumps individual ambition. The West Indies have some fantastic cricketers – bring them together and on their day they can dismantle even the strongest of sides.
Narine, Badree, Charles, Pollard and Bravo all made contributions that strengthened the team and propelled them forward. The West Indies have begun building the basis of a powerful limited overs unit – how much of that growth can be translated into the test arena?
Will an unlikely victory in Colombo be the first step down the road to revisiting the glory days of West Indies cricket? Never again will the Calypso Kings sit atop cricket’s mountain as they did during the Fire in Babylon era, but our great game longs for their gentle rebirth, as does a Caribbean cricketing public starved of success.
Can the WICB capitalise on the World T20 title, bringing more youngsters back to the game, drawing back the vast numbers that leave for athletics, football and basketball scholarships with US colleges? Many of the greatest Caribbean athletes are taken out of cricket’s diminishing reach by the promise of riches across the sea.
But it needs to be more than that, more than just growing cricket’s grass roots. For West Indies cricket to flourish they need to grow broadcast rights deals, sponsorship dollars and spectator numbers - success on the field is fleeting without financial strength in the boardroom.
The players too need to look at the bigger picture. They mustn’t forget the delight of victory or the adulation from home – domestic T20 competitions build a healthy bank account but there needs to be more to cricket than just dollars and cents. The nucleus of the current side needs to be retained on a regular basis, not simply between pop-up T20 leagues or when ICC tournaments offer the opportunity to increase their value in subsequent auctions. A balance needs to be found between T20’s vast riches and individuals playing a part in building a new cricketing legacy in their homeland, though it’s hard to criticise young men for securing their financial future. If players choose the route of a mercenary, West Indian cricket will continue to wallow in mediocrity - such victories will be little more than fairy tales, not just at T20 level but across the board.
Like the players, the WICB needs to find some middle ground, as New Zealand Cricket has done in creating an IPL window for its players – success requires compromise on both sides. Similarly, the ICC has a responsibility to reflect on the current money grab and look towards the game’s greater good as opposed to lining the pockets of the chosen few – cricket needs to grow a wider base, a depth that will sustain our great game. An international schedule that is routinely interrupted by the domestic T20 merry-go round won’t do that and shining lights such as the Windies’ success will be dimmed.
The West Indies are no longer a one man team led by dancing King Henry, but he, like many of his T20 comrades who journey the cricketing globe touting their wares, are imperative to its success. The WICB, Gibson and Sammy must persuade them to put country above coin, at least on occasion. Time will tell - the fingers of a collection of Caribbean island nations are firmly crossed (and at least one pair in New Zealand).
Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Post a comment or tweet me @aotearoaxi.
If you question my pessimism about what the win might mean for West Indies cricket in the longer term, have a read of an older piece I wrote about their dealings with Gayle during his international hiatus - Wherefore art thou, Chris?