There is something inherently beautiful about the West Indies cricket team. No other set of players, it seems, derives so much joy from things so simple. Darren Sammy exemplifies this eternal happiness on the field; the rest are not unlike their captain. When the Caribbeans win, it is hard not to be swept up in the euphoria of it all.
Most cricket supporters know that feeling well from two years ago, when Sammy and his merry bunch overcame Sri Lanka to take the ICC World Twenty20 title. They return now as champions, bold and utterly delighted to be here. This is a format that suits West Indies to the hilt, its assembly of hard hitters, medium-pace operators and complex spinners a perfect fit.
The first hurdle on its path to the defence of the trophy is India, a side buzzing from victory over Pakistan. The win will have pleased India, not just for the comfort with which it was achieved, but the individual successes that underlay it. Suresh Raina, captain last time India played the West Indies in a T20 match, batted with a freedom surprising for someone dropped and recalled. There was little hesitation or anxiety in his shots, though not all of them may have been struck perfectly. Amit Mishra vindicated M.S. Dhoni’s decision to field a third spinner, landing critical blows on Pakistan with his attractive leg-spin. Ravindra Jadeja rushed through his overs, safe and without fuss.
R. Ashwin opened the bowling, a move that may be expected again at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium on Sunday evening, given his personal triumph over Chris Gayle previously. Stopping the big man will occupy Dhoni’s thoughts again.Gayle factor
West Indies had stuttered through the group stages in the last edition, only sneaking into the semifinals, until Gayle happened. He trampled over Australia that evening in Colombo; his is a threat that hangs over all opponents. The Jamaican has recovered from back and hamstring complaints, warming up with a couple of breezy knocks over England at home before belting a half-century against the same opponent in a practice game here.
Dwayne Smith and he form a potent opening partnership; with Marlon Samuels at one-drop and lower-order muscle in Andre Russell and Darren Sammy, clearing the boundary will not be a concern. Kieron Pollard’s absence, though, will be felt, in a side with 12 members of the champion squad intact.
India’s batting was not heavily tested on Friday. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan added fifty runs for the opening wicket; they didn’t go about it in emphatic fashion but to complain about it would be to nitpick. West Indies, however, will offer a stiffer challenge. The leg-spinner Samuel Badree, who opens the bowling, has looked in good form recently. He bowls quick and flat and is hard to score off.
With Sunil Narine, the world’s leading T20 bowler according to the ICC, and Krishmar Santokie – a clever, slinging medium-pacer who bowls a variety of cutters, breakers and slower ones – also on hand, run-making will not be simple.
“He could have a great impact in this tournament,” Sammy said of Santokie. “Most of his wickets are clean bowled and lbw. He has a lot of variations; not quick but you will see. You have to see him to know exactly what I mean.”
Accommodating him could mean dropping Ravi Rampaul; it remains to be seen what Sammy will do. India has played here already and will be the better for it.
But seeing as how prominent West Indian involvement is in the IPL, pitches in the subcontinent don’t seem forbidding anymore. Besides, on current form, spin-bowling is as much its strength as it is India’s. When it comes to the twenty-over game, the West Indies is, after all, champion of the world.