When Sri Lanka’s third wicket fell in Sunday’s World Twenty20 final, Mahela Jayawardene turned his eyes upwards. With 51 runs on the board at the halfway stage and chasing 138, it could have been a plea for divine intervention. It could have been simple exasperation. To all the rest of us watching, it signalled the tantalising – and momentous – possibility that the West Indies’ long, turbulent years in the international cricket doldrums might finally be coming to an end.
It was a notable reversal of fortune from the previous time the two sides had met in this tournament: in their Super Eight game Sri Lanka had won by 9 wickets, with only a 65-run partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels saving the Windies’ blushes. In the final, it was Marlon Samuels again who stepped up when everyone else – including the big-hitting Chris Gayle – fell around him. From 32-2 after ten overs – an uncharacteristically slow start for the West Indies if ever there was one – he managed to drag his team to a total not only respectable but, as it turned out, defendable. Sri Lanka were all out for 101 in 18.4 overs and the riotous celebrations began. A harsher critic might say that the Lankans bottled it, but it was tough not to feel for Jayawardene when he resigned his captaincy soon afterward; rarely do cricketers come classier than him and, up until Sunday, his team were arguably the best allround side on display throughout the competition.
But nowhere is the spirit of carpe diem more important than in T20, and in a game where moments prove decisive and a well-timed runout or booming six into the stands can turn the game, the Windies seized every opportunity as the Sri Lankans faltered.
While it’s premature to talk about a new dynasty in West Indies cricket, boy was this victory great to see. Marlon Samuels’ continued rise in stature and maturity will come as no surprise to those who saw him in England earlier this year, and Darren Sammy may be a cricketer of limited talent but has proved an inspirational captain, truly the raising-agent in the West Indies’ recipe for success. Both men spoke from the heart in the post-match presentation about how much the victory meant to them, Samuels almost defiant in his jubilation. “We will celebrate as long as possible and enjoy the moment. This is a moment to cherish, and cherish forever. The entire Caribbean embraces it. The sky is the limit and words can’t really explain it. It means the world to us.” Perhaps most encouragingly, he added, “We want to be on top, even in Test cricket, as Test cricket is the best.” While that will take some leap, and considerable domestic and administrative reorganization for that to happen, what is most important is that this is a team that now knows it can win. It has started to believe.
I have to say I enjoyed this year’s World Twenty20. Reservations about the format remain, and while the concerns of the administrators of Associate nations who want their sides to face Full Member opposition more often remain valid – how else are they to improve? – the fact the “minnows” failed to punch above their weight will, sadly, have provided ammunition to those who are against an expanded format. But set against the interminable 50-over version, this was a short, sharp, enjoyable tournament with cricket of high quality. The likes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Ajantha Mendis and Virat Kohli displayed superlative skill and gave us great entertainment.
England, on the other hand, failed to get the pulse racing, with a campaign that, with the exception of their victories over Afghanistan and New Zealand, careened from the merely lacklustre to the downright clueless. Over the last few months, team England has started to resemble a punctured tyre with the air slowly leaking from it; with the absence of Kevin Pietersen their stumbling route to the exit proved a flat affair indeed. Andy Flower tried a few different patches to slow the bleeding, but it all smacked of desperation. Samit Patel, dropped for the New Zealand game because he’d been tonked round the park by Chris Gayle in the previous match and gone for 38 runs, was replaced by slow left-armer Danny Briggs, who ended up being tonked around the park by James Franklin to the tune of 36 runs; Patel, brought back for the match against Sri Lanka, ironically proved to be England’s standout batsman with a fine knock of 67. Equally baffling was the selection of Ravi Bopara who, chronically down on confidence and runs, couldn’t get back to the pavilion fast enough when he was bowled by Jeevan Mendis. Sadly, that ill-timed call-up may have torpedoed his international career for good.
Lasith Malinga was magnificent in that match, putting paid to criticisms that he’s lost his nip, but it was England’s woefulness against spin that had fans tearing their hair out in despair, especially looking ahead to the winter tour to India. The matches against Sri Lanka and India showed England at their very worst: an inexperienced batting lineup unsure whether to defend or hit out in a display akin to a headless chicken running erratically around a farmyard while its executioner calmly waits for it to exsanguinate.
Pietersen impressed as a pundit in the ESPN studios when he should have been playing. It’s hoped he’ll be added to the squad for India, but this is dependent on the results of a “process of reintegration” he must complete before he is welcomed back into the fold. After boggling at the bizarre nature of the press conference in which ECB chairman Giles Clarke compared Pietersen to a criminal being reintroduced back into society – this from an organization all too quick to jump into bed with a crooked Texan billionaire – I was wondering exactly what this process might entail. My eyebrows having been further raised by David Collier’s comment that South Africa “provoked” Pietersen into sending the texts that saw him dropped for the Lord’s Test, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say they fair leapt off my forehead when I read in this week’s edition of The Cricket Paper that Pietersen, currently in South Africa for the Champions League T20, “is set to remain with the Delhi Daredevils for as long as they continue in the tournament, but he is also expected to undertake a potentially exhausting series of long-haul flights to and from the UK, in order to try and make peace with players on an individual basis, possibly with the aid of a ‘trained disputes mediator’.”
One of Pietersen’s supporters through all of this has been Chris Gayle, back destroying bowlers on the world stage after a bitter rift between himself and the West Indies Cricket Board. The Windies are a better side with Gayle in it. England, similarly, are a better side when Kevin Pietersen goes out to bat for them. Surely, it’s time now to move on from all this nonsense.