They come from far-flung lands across the vast expanse of the Caribbean Sea, from the shadows of the majestic Blue Mountains of Jamaica to Guyana, the jewel atop the crown of the continent of South America and all of the disparate lands in between, but somehow for lo these many decades since 1928 under the aegis of a geo-political designation called West Indies under which umbrella they have come together – men and women with a unique characteristic flair, finesse and flamboyance to play a game called cricket as no other nation in the world can. They have played cricket with skilled abandon at times mischaracterized as cavalier, from Sir Learie Constantine of Trinidad and Tobago, George Headley of Jamaica, to Rohan Kanhai of Guyana, to Carlos Brathwaite of Barbados.
It is men playing a boy’s game, and now young women playing a girl’s game with their field of dreams stretching from the DCC to Dhaka in Bangladesh, from Sabina Park to the Sydney Cricket Ground and from Kensington to Kolkata, with aspirations that sometimes culminate in a journey to a place called Nirvana, or frustration born of narcissism and invidiousness by those in control or who seek to control cricket in the region. April 3rd, 2016 will be remembered for the former.
It will be recalled as the day that the administrators and the politicians and their governments stayed away and the players played as only they could and indeed took their faithful, sometimes frustrated fans in the Caribbean and in the diaspora to a place called Nirvana, to a time reminiscent of the good old days when Clive Lloyd, and Viv Richards, and Michael Holding and Gordon Greenidge and company ruled the roost and virtually rendered cricket no longer a game of glorious uncertainties.
This was for all intents and purposes an Eden Garden party in Kolkata sponsored by the ICC labelled the 2016 T20 finals to which the administrators and the politicians were not invited but the fans were welcome and in fact came some 36,000 of them filling the stadium in this teeming Indian city to capacity along with millions more around the globe. It was a party that started in the day when the women of the Caribbean led by a prolific 18 year old named Hayley Matthews and the intrepid captain Stephanie Taylor along with the diminutive dynamo Deandra Dottin, would not be denied the coveted 2016 ICC Women’s World Cup as they sent the highly favored Australians packing. In reply to Australia’s 148 for 9, Matthews and Taylor posted a World T20 record opening stand of 120 with the teenager getting 66 and the experienced Taylor falling near the end for 59. Dottin for her part was miserly at the death, yielding just one run in the Aussies final over as they lost two wickets in the process.
And let it be known that this West Indies women’s team is a gifted, admirable group of young ladies that wear the burgundy colors with distinction. They interview extremely well and are confident without being cocky. These world champions are a distinguished group of whom not only the region should be proud but their parents and coaches as well. Cricket West Indies would do well to reward this team with lucrative contracts while maintaining the squad as a professional unit.
The party went on into the night when the big boys came out to play led by the inspirational captain Darren Sammy, confident but cautious of the young England team whom they had beaten handily early in the tournament. The West Indies skipper continued his lucky streak of calling correctly and promptly gave England first strike which paid immediate dividends as the guileful right arm leg-spinner Samuel Badree opening the attack twirled his way to 2 for 16 from his four overs, to set the English back. Except for the profligate left arm spinner Sulieman Benn who went none for 40 from just 3 overs, the Windies attack with all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite 3 for 23 and Dwayne Bravo 3 for 37 performed admirably as England managed a respectable if below par 155 for 9 with the ever dependable Joe Root with a typically pugnacious 54.
Once again in pursuit of a modest total the West Indies stumbled at the starting gate losing power hitters first Johnson Charles who for some reason nurtures a porous proclivity for pouncing on a new bowler, and often perishing in the process. Chris Gayle departed in similar fashion – both in the same over to part-time off-spinner Joe Root, briefly starring as ‘the man with the golden arm’. Suddenly with wickets falling at regular intervals as West Indies slumped to 107 for 6 in the 16th over the party at Eden Gardens became heart-stopping theatre with the mercurial Marlon Samuels playing the lead role with another gem of a World T20 final innings – a reprise of his 76 against Sri Lanka in the 2012 final.
The Jamaican whose 85 not out from 66 balls earned him man-of-the-match, as wickets fell all around him, seemed a bit out of sorts until cool, calm Barbadian behemoth Carlos Brathwaite joined him at center stage and delivered a command performance. With the West Indies needing 19 runs from the last over with their understandably nervous dug out biting their nails and wondering if their magical run in the 2016 ICC T20 was at an end, the burly Barbadian turned pressure into adrenalin and delivered a ‘beat down’ never before seen in an ICC limited overs final, clobbering four consecutive sixes deep into the Kolkata night off a crest-fallen pacer Ben Stokes as the West Indies with two balls to spare lifted the coveted trophy. In the lore of West Indies cricket, 27 year old Carlos Ricardo Brathwaite in my view is a legend.
And while Cricket West Indies and Caricom leaders including Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, who wished bankruptcy on the WICB, squabble over who should be in control of West Indies cricket, three ICC World Cups stand proudly in the Windies trophy case.