TWO DEFINING images summed up West Indies’ victorious World T20 campaign in India last month. The first was an iconic frame that showcased the sculpted torsos of 11 men, taking the lap of honour after winning the final against England at the famed Eden Gardens. The second, unfolded couple of nights earlier in Mumbai, after West Indies had defeated India in the semifinals. It had captain Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo swinging effervescently to the famous ‘Champion’ song.
As Darren Sammy’s men became the first team to win the World T20 title twice, it is a little difficult to fathom that far away in Barbados, a certain Dwayne Smith would pull off the “Champion” jig for his victorious team mates.
Smith is a bit of an oddity if you compare him to the likes of Chris Gayle, Andre Russell or Carlos Braithwaithe. The Barbadian is powerfully built, but it’s difficult to put him in the same frame as some of his brawnier team mates. He is not known for an extravagant life style or late night parties, like Gayle. Neither does he possess the swagger of a Marlon Samuels. Off the field, Smith appears to be mellow and surprisingly reticent for a West Indian cricketer. He is popularly known as ‘Doctor Smith’ — derived from his initials (Dwayne Romel Smith). By his own admission, Smith loves playing golf, a sport most cricketers fancy post retirement.
Despite the stark differences in personality traits, one thing that binds him with the rest of Calypso cricketers is his unflinching love for cricket’s shortest format.
Smith thrives on T20s, and over the years has made a name for himself in most leagues that have mushroomed around the world. As an opener, he loves to give the ball a mighty whack, and is also a useful medium pacer.
Much of these traits were on display barely two months ago, when he played a key role in Islamabad United winning the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). Scoring a belligerent 73 off just 51 deliveries, his stand with former Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin helped his side chase down 175 against the Quetta Gladiators. In the past, the 33-year-old has made a habit of notching up match-winning scores in the finals of such high profile T20 tournaments.
Much before the PSL, he had helped Sussex win the championship, and subsequently booked a place in Champions League T20 that year. He is also a regular in the CPL (Carribean Premier League) back home, in the Big Bash in Australia where he turns up for the New South Wales, and the Bangladesh Premier League.
A huge draw
It, therefore, does not come as a surprise that Smith has been a huge draw in the IPL, with franchises making all out efforts to have him in their side. In the 9 editions, he first began with the defunct Deccan Chargers of Hyderabad, before being snapped by the Mumbai Indians — a franchise with whom he served with a great amount of distinction till the 2013 season. Following that, he played under MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in 2014 and 2015, before the Gujarat Lions – IPL’s newly formed franchise picked him in this edition. Across nine seasons, Smith has played 68 matches, scoring 1,854 runs with a strike-rate of over 130. He has also picked 16 wickets with his handy medium pacers. These stats are not earth shattering. But at some levels, it shows that he has been consistent.
The doctor, however, has not managed to translate this consistency, when he dons the West Indian jersey. Smith has so far featured in 33 T20s at the international level, scoring 582 runs at an average of just 18. Even his strike rate drops to 122. He last played a T20 for the West Indies in 2015, against the Proteas. His ODI stats are less flattering. Despite playing over 100 ODIs, he only averages 18 with the bat. All this meant that Smith would eventually turning into a T20 mercenary, criss-crossing the globe to play for various T20 franchises.
Despite remaining on the fringes in international cricket, Smith would every now and then exhibit much of that brashness and brute force, which has gone to define the current West Indies squad. Both these traits were on ample display during Gujarat Lions’ last IPL game against Bangalore at home.
First the brute force: After sitting out for four games , the Barbadian finally got his opportunity. Needing 181 to win, he set up the chase by scoring a quickfire 32 off 21 deliveries. It was a typical knock filled with mighty heaves and extravagant sweeps, which has been the feature of his game for well over a decade. It’s not often that one gets to see Brendon McCullum playing the second fiddle. (The former Kiwi captain only opened up after Smith was dismissed). The start laid the platform for Gujarat’s middle-order. The home team won by six wickets, and registered their fourth win in five games. Smith was not done though.
At the post-match presser, he finally exuded a bit of that Carribean swagger, saying RCB’s bowling was “toothless”, and the Lions would have even chased 200. “(If) we would have been set 200, we could have made 200 as well. Having said that, we still have to bat properly, and (I am) glad that we did that to get over the line,” he had said.
His comments were a throwback to what the West Indies bowling coach Curtly Ambrose had said after they won the World T20.”We believe we can chase any target. If it’s 40 off the last over, we’d question it. But if it’s 30, we’d believe,” Ambrose had said. On Sunday, Smith displayed much of that self belief, which made West Indies such an irresistible opposition in cricket’s shortest format.