One of the many wonderful things that 20-20 Cricket has done – and there are indeed MANY wonderful things this colourful and vibrant format has done to this game we all love – is to make Cricket relevant in the Caribbean. Over the better part of the last 2 decades, Cricket has taken backseat as the athletically gifted people, that call this delightful region home, had their eye on more athletic sports with greater monetary rewards or global reach or both. This included sports like basketball, track and field and that sport that has the love of one and all across the world – Football.
There is a joke among many T-20 fans that the IPL is actually WIPL – West Indian Premier League – with the Calypso cricketers being some of the biggest recruits by the various franchises. The World took notice of this reincarnation of Calypso Cricket in the 2009 Champions League where Trinidad and Tobago – the capital of Calypso Cricket presently – took the tournament by storm and demanded the attention of sports fans. They fell short in the final, that year and a Caribbean team is yet to get their hands on this big prize, but boy, did they send a serious message to the cricket community. Cricket was back in reckoning in the land of Calypso – a region many people in the world will attest to as Paradise on Earth. Over the next 5 years, it is fair to say that West Indies has emerged as a serious force to reckon with, in this action-packed format that continues to capture the imagination of new shores and seems promising on making Cricket a truly global sport.
The proverbial icing on the cake was delivered by these gifted athletes from Caribbean at the last edition of the T-20 World Cup in 2012 where West Indies took home the title – and as they always did in our sport – these athletically gifted players won the hearts of millions of fans across the world. Personally speaking, that 2012 edition was my favorite of the 4 World Cups we have witnessed in the shortest format of Cricket. As they won this coveted trophy, West Indies turned back the clock, for most fans, to those memorable times when Calypso Cricketers lorded it over one and all – often in the most dominant of ways and always with tonnes of flair. The swagger and strut that West Indians bring to a Cricket field can just not be mimicked. When West Indians are – to borrow a term from the T-20 generation, grooving – everything seems well with the world. They are the Cricketing equivalent of Brazil in Football or Roger Federer in Tennis – universally loved for the flair and chutzpah with which they dominate and play the game.
In Bangladesh, the Calypso Cricketers will try to continue their resurgence in Cricket by becoming the first team to defend the World Cup in T-20 Cricket – a distinction they hold in ODI cricket. Their path to the title will take them through the tougher of the two groups – a group that has India, Pakistan and Australia and the team that emerged from the qualifiers isn’t an easy draw either – Bangladesh, the hosts. Just in case you have any doubts about the pedigree of this group – the teams in this group have 9 ODI World Cups and 3 T-20 World cups between them. The other group, you ask? One ODI World Cup and One T-20 World Cup!
Looking at the individual players, West Indies is stacked with the very best players in the business – Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels to name a few. Kieron Pollard not being in the team is definitely a big loss, but if any team can handle this, it is the West Indies. On paper, the West Indies have the team to pull off another memorable run and with the new brand of Cricket in the Caribbean, they are well equipped to deal with the slower and lower conditions that Bangladesh pitches seem to offer. The big question then is – Can the West Indies keep their eyes on the prize and make sure the sum of the parts is better than the whole?
I am going to answer that in the negative. Of course you can never write off a team that has Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Andre Russel to back up those other gifted players I mentioned earlier, but their performance of late has been up and down. While that is not a concern for T-20 Cricket – a sport that is very much about the present and any team on their day can pull off the big W – I think West Indies lack the hunger and sense of purpose that united them to great effect 2 years ago. As we all know, winning a tournament once is tough but backing it up and defending it is even tougher. To put it gently, the West Indies are now the hunted and teams will be going after them with the focus and determination of a darts player going after the bull’s eye.
Sportz Cosmos prediction: West Indies have the team to defend their title, but may not survive their own group.