Sport only works if you have a team that wins and a team that loses. The ecstasy versus despair dynamic is what elevates the whole thing above some men or women running around on some grass chasing after a ball. But sometimes the need for a loser to be there just seems so unfair. On Sunday night at Eden Gardens we had exactly that. Neither side deserved to lose the World T20 final; such was the entertainment that they gave us.
Throughout the 2016 ICC World T20, the two teams that were the most thrilling to watch were the two teams that competed in the final. Both England and the West Indies are full of players that are great to watch — sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.
West Indies and England put on a great show in Kolkata in a game that put paid to the myth that Twenty20 cricket cannot have the ebbs and flows that longer formats of the sport are famed for. England looked to be out of it after a poor start with the bat that saw them lose three wickets inside the power play. But England did not ease up and partnerships between Joe Root and Jos Buttler and then between Root and Ben Stokes looked to be taking the game away from the West Indies.
England lost three wickets for one run in the space of four balls and looked to have thrown their recovery away. At 111-7 in the 15th over England looked to be heading for an uncompetitive total, and even after they recovered to 155-9 it looked to be far too few. The all-star West Indies batting line-up that had chased 192 against India in the semi-final should have made light work of a score that was at least 10 runs short.
But not in this game, a match that kept on switching from one team to another. England pulled a big surprise by giving Root the ball in the second over of the match. His two wickets, including that of Chris Gayle made it something close to a masterstroke from Eoin Morgan. The West Indies found themselves 11 for three in the third over, off to the worst possible start.
That could have become 37 for four when Marlon Samuels escaped being dismissed on 27. He edged a ball from Liam Plunkett and appeared to have been caught behind. As ever with low catches when they are close they are given not out and that was enough to change the course of this game. Samuels went on to score a match winning 85 not out in an innings that was all class. It is the second time in Samuels' career that he has played an innings in a World T20 final that has won the title for his team. There are very few players that find pressure as alluring as him.
Even with that brilliant innings from Samuels, there was still only really one winner going into the last over, and that was England. West Indies needed 19 to win off six balls. England should be defending that nine times out of 10. Probably more. Ben Stokes has been brilliant at the death this tournament and he will do well again. But here he got it wrong. Very wrong.
His first ball to Carlos Brathwaite was on a length and on the leg stump. Brathwaite belted it for six over mid-wicket. The next ball was an attempted yorker, but Stokes wasn’t full enough and the result was the same, another towering six. When the third ball brought the same result the scores were level and the Kolkata crowd, who were almost all supporting West Indies, went wild. Stokes on the other hand was on his haunches, distraught.
Stokes had not executed that last over well, but it wasn’t terrible. He missed his lengths and Brathwaite was good enough to hit three sixes to draw the scores level. In fact, he was good enough to blast another ball into the stand to make it four maximums in a row to win the game in the most emphatic of fashions. That is top-level sport. It wasn’t Stokes’ fault; he just came off second best. Given that over again the result may well have been different, but just like someone needs lose for sport to work, you don’t get a Mulligan in a World Cup final. It was a brutal end for Stokes, and one he won’t easily forget, but he had played his part in a remarkable night.
England came so close to going from World Cup horror show to World T20 winners. That didn't happen but the turnaround in the cricket they have been playing has been beyond remarkable. This really is the first time that England have played Twenty20 cricket in the way that it was intended, and that is despite them inventing the format.
Unlike England, almost more than any other cricketing nation, the West Indies have long understood T20 cricket. Even before the Indian Premier League was created the West Indies had a private venture cricket tournament looking to make the most of T20. The Allen Stanford circus may have ended in controversy but it did create the connection between T20 and the Caribbean culture of partying, music and cricket that exists today. The West Indies and T20 go together perfectly. They are worthy champions in every possible regard.
England have lost to some of the masters of this format in the final of its biggest tournament, but if this young side can continue to grow between now and the next World T20 in 2020 as they have over the last 12 months, they will be among the favourites to go deep in that tournament as well. West Indies are a better T20 team than England but not by much and the speed with which they have closed that gap has been remarkable. That is very much to their credit.