THIS COULD well be the last time that we see a serious West Indies team in a world event, for some time anyway. The men from the Caribbean are already set to miss next year’s Champions Trophy in England, owing to their failure to be ranked among the top-8 ODI teams in the world. And if they continue to languish where they are presently, 9th on the table, till September 30, 2017 — the cut-off date for direct qualification — the former two-time world champions might have to face the ignominy of playing the qualifiers a year later to make sure they’re part of the next 50-over World Cup in 2019. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
The next World T20, meanwhile, isn’t till four years later, and it’s unlikely that a majority of the global superstars that the squad now boasts of will be around. You also wonder, considering their history and the incessant tug-of-war between the board and their players, where West Indies cricket will be in 2020, especially with the big-names out of the picture.
So the semi-final clash against India at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday is a perform-or-fade away match in more ways than one for the team that entered this tournament with a No.1 ranking. It’s like the final concert tour of an aging rock band, most of whom have already achieved tremendous success as solo artists, but still continue to produce magic and mayhem when they share a stage.
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But you wouldn’t have thought of this being a last-chance saloon scenario seeing Darren Sammy on the Marine Drive promenade on Tuesday evening. Or it’s safe to say the seriousness of what lay ahead didn’t come through anyway. The West Indies team had just returned to their hotel after a practice-session, and much to the shock of the evening revellers near the sea, the captains of the West Indies men and women’s teams suddenly were in their midst. It was an impromptu photo-shoot with the setting Mumbai sun in the background, and Sammy was on his usual charm offensive. One minute he was showcasing his lofted shots off an imaginary ball — refusing to indulge requests for a switch-hit because as he said “I won’t even look good while attempting it man” — and the next he was taking over the interviewer’s role asking his female counterpart, Stafanie Taylor, whether her team could break the semi-final jinx this time around. And the crowd that had gathered around, lapped up every bit of this unexpected opportunity of getting up-close to one of the more popular West Indian cricketers among the many that make India their second-home for two summer months annually. An elderly gentleman even broke away from his helper, in an attempt to shake hands with Sammy, only to be stopped by security at the final step. It was just another example of the unprecedented celebrity status that Sammy & Co enjoy in this part of the world.
But the gravitas came through loud and clear as Sammy addressed the media on the eve of the high-profile clash. Not only did he cite the ‘lack of respect’ shown towards the T20 team, that he’s captained for close to six years and the one that lifted the 2012 World T20 trophy, Sammy also insisted on his band of merry men finding themselves in a ‘us and them’ position.
“A lot has been said about this team and we as a group, it has just brought us closer together. That 15 players and the support staff it’s just us, our own new circle against the world and that’s how we’ve gone out and played,” he said.
‘We against the world’
While putting yourself in a ‘we against the world’ position can be used as a catalyst to lift your performance, it can also make a team desperate to succeed, and often that desperation can lead to undue pressure — if the pressure of playing a semi-final against India at home wasn’t enough. But somehow it’s difficult to fathom this West Indies team letting the situation get to them. And it doesn’t have anything to do with their caricatured reputation around the world of being carefree, fun-loving and living-for-the-moment sportsmen who play their cricket without a care in the world. It’s more to do with the fact that T20 is one format that most of them specialize in through the year, and are more than used to being in this situation over and over again. And there’s a good chance that even the partisan Mumbai crowd will grudgingly and subconsciously cheer — if only through gritted teeth and while throwing nervous glances around them — if Chris Gayle were to orchestrate an encore of his breath-taking century here against England two weeks ago. But if the West Indies were to lose, Sammy is pragmatic enough to accept that this could be the endgame for this lot.
“Yeah I would think so if certain things don’t change I can’t see us in the setup,” he said when asked about it, adding, “Looking at the calendar year after this World Cup I don’t see any T20 scheduled in the international calendar so yeah it might be a while. The next World T20 is in four years, I’ll be 36, so yes we really putting our all into this tournament and the guys in the dressing room are aware what’s at stake,” explained Sammy. But that could well be the case even if they overcome MS Dhoni & Co. and then become the first team to win the World T20 for a second time — just like Clive Lloyd’s team had done in 1979 with the other World Cup.
As it turned out, as Sammy and Taylor finished their little tete-a-tete on Marine Drive the previous evening, the elated locals suddenly had something else to cheer about, and this time it was a crescendo. Gayle had just turned up at the pool level of the Trident hotel as if giving darshan to his fans, who roared in acknowledgment.
It will be a scene recreated in just over a week’s time across the country, when Gayle and his fellow T20 luminaries from the Caribbean turn up for the IPL. And even though it well be a last hurrah for many of them in West Indian colours, you can expect Sammy & Co. to keep on rocking in the free world.
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