When Darren Sammy was appointed West Indies captain two years ago there were plenty who doubted whether he was the right choice as the latest man to attempt to turn around Caribbean cricket.
Even those who swiftly began to appreciate the quiet but firm style of leadership Sammy brought to a young team were unconvinced about whether his unheralded skill-set merited an automatic place in the team.
On Sunday, Sammy celebrated West Indies’ biggest tournament success since the 1979 World Cup triumph after his team defeated hosts Sri Lanka in the final of the World Twenty20. But typically, the modest St. Lucian passed up the chance to take a shot at his critics.
“I never worry about the critics…Everybody will have an opinion but when I go out there on the field, I go on to play for this crest,” he said, tapping the West Indies badge on his shirt.
Badge-kissing has, of course, become viewed with some justified cynicism in professional sport but for once there was value in the gesture.
The symbol of Caribbean cricket has been associated more with what Bob Marley called “fussing and a-fighting” than with success but Sammy, together with coach Ottis Gibson, has been able to create a winning team spirit that has been absent for so long.
Contract rows, disputes over captaincy and selection, player strikes and allegations of mismanagement have hampered West Indies cricket through the past two decades of decline.
Talk in the cricket-obsessed Caribbean turned from the question of when the days of domination from the 1970s and 80s would return to simply whether West Indies would be capable of even being competitive again.
The question remains open-ended for test cricket but in the shortest format, Sammy’s team have shown that they are capable of getting back to the top – a huge psychological boost with a broader impact that should not be under-estimated.
“This is definitely a step forward. We believe we can win matches. We’re not trying just to compete any more,” said Sammy.
“We believe we can win against good opposition. We showed signs of that in the last year or so, but we were not winning. Hopefully, this can be the start of something good for the West Indies team and the people.”
Individual Twenty20 games can be won with some luck and one good innings but a tournament victory requires a broader range of talent that Sammy’s side showcased amply.
|The explosive hitting of Chris Gayle was key to the Windies’ success [GALLO/GETTY]|
West Indies came into the tournament with their explosive batting well noted – Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels in particular enjoyed outstanding tournaments – and with the spin of Sunil Narine justifiably respected.
But Gibson’s work was evident in the outstandingly athletic fielding – two brilliant run outs ripped the heart out of Sri Lanka’s reply on Sunday – as well as the disciplined bowling.
Gayle’s extraordinary hitting ability is famous but on Sunday it was Samuels, a man who still burns with a sense of injustice over his two-year ban from the game for alleged links with a bookmaker, that was the key man as he took apart Lasith Malinga to make a superb 78 off 56 balls.
“This is something be proud about. We are here today to say that West Indies cricket is back. This is T20, but it can bring a lot of fans to watch us around the world, people who still love West Indies cricket,” said the Jamaican.
The question now is whether West Indies can move on from this victory and become a winning team in test cricket as well.
There are some promising signs – Gayle and Samuels have proved they can make runs in test cricket too and while quality spinners have been the key to West Indies bowling success in Twenty20, they finally have a good line-up of pace bowlers to choose from with Kemar Roach and Fidel Edwards coming into their prime.
Sammy’s valuable two for six off two overs and 26 off 15 balls in the final showed his worth in the shortest format but neither his batting nor his bowling create much fear in the five-day game.
But the sight of Gayle, whose absence from the team not so long ago encapsulated the discord and dysfunction in West Indies cricket, wildly celebrating a team victory with Sammy was surely enough to answer the questions over leadership.
Ask any of the coaches who have worked with West Indies in the past decade and they will, at some stage, refer to the lack of self-belief that had infected the Caribbean collective.
After this win, West Indies finally believe again.