The ICC World T20 clash at Eden Gardens in Kolkata today will be the third time England and the West Indies have faced each other in a major tournament final. Having won both previous encounters, West Indies are looking to complete a hat-trick. England will hope to be third time lucky. Eoin Morgan’s men will also hope that Dame Luck does not favour West Indies — for Lendl Simmons surely used up their full entitlement during the semi-final against India on Thursday.
It promises to be an enthralling encounter. Most fans at Eden Gardens, and probably all of India will be supporting the West Indies. Though they have knocked out the host nation, the Caribbean players remain as popular as ever.
Captain Darren Sammy has the rare chance to emulate current chairman of selectors, the great Clive Lloyd, in lifting an international trophy twice. Sammy was the victorious West Indies skipper in the 2012 World T20 final; Lloyd led his region to glory in the first two ODI World Cups of 1975 and 1979 which were then 60-over-a-side contests. Indian readers don’t need reminding what happened when his side appeared in a third successive final in 1983...
The successful defense of the Prudential Cup (as it then was) at Lord’s in June 1979 was the first big match my father ever took me to. England were the underdogs, yet I remember vividly my confidence as a passionate young English supporter when Collis King came in to bat at No. 6. His side was a precarious 99-4 with a long tail of only wicket-keeper Deryck Murray and the fast bowlers to come — who contributed, as it turned out, five runs between them.
I’d never heard of King before.
“We’ll get him out in no time,” I confidently asserted — as the Barbadian all-rounder then played the innings of his life; thrashing England to all parts, hammering 86 off 66 balls in 77 minutes. When King entered the fray, Viv Richards was 49 not out. When Collis departed, King Viv was on 95. The master-blaster ended with 138 not out — and was the Man-of-the-Match. It was one of his greatest innings. Yet he was first to admit that Collis King had been the man who’d taken the game by the scruff of the neck and turned its course.
In reply, England’s approach was to lay a solid foundation, built around a dour first-wicket stand between Geoff Boycott and captain Mike Brearley. But what they were building was a house of straw. The partnership was very solid, and very dull. So plodding was their progress that it is generally believed that skipper Lloyd deliberately dropped Boycott’s dolly catch at mid-on in an effort to keep these sedate gentlemen at the wicket and talented, quick run-scorers like Graham Gooch, David Gower, Derek Randall and Ian Botham in the pavilion. Lloyd strenuously denied the accusation — more strenuously than he moved in trying to catch the rebound of his thrice-juggled chance.
When the breakthrough eventually came, the opening pair had added 129, and used up almost 40 overs — two-thirds of their allotment. These days, an equation of 150 needed off 20 overs with 9 wickets in hand would be eminently doable. Back then, it was unthinkable — and any optimistic thoughts of overhauling the total were swept away by a rampant Joel Garner. ‘Big Bird’ was the Big Bad Wolf — and blew away the edifice with 5-38. It was a great win by a great side.
After 25 years, England again had home advantage as they once more took on the West Indies in a major event. The 2004 Champions Trophy final saw the sides clash at The Oval — and this time the hosts were the favourites. Michael Vaughan’s side had won every one of their seven Tests in that English summer, including four against West Indies; and in the semi-final had overcome the powerful reigning champions Australia.
In contrast, the intervening years since 1979 had seen the beginning of the great Caribbean side’s decline, with the retirements of Ambrose and Walsh, and a gradual lessening of available talent — if not a weakening of spirit.
And it was team spirit that the Windies’ management tapped into throughout their successful campaign, which the players drew upon in the match-winning partnership when all seemed lost.
The 50-over match was a scrappy affair, but England’s under-par 217 looked more than plenty when West Indies stuttered to 147-8 in the 34th over. Wicket-keeper Courtney Browne was joined at the crease by his fellow Barbadian, Ian Bradshaw.
Windies Manager Tony Howard still believed in his young players. He recounted to me how several English dignitaries began shaking his hand, consoling him with a ‘hard luck, old chap’ condescension. “These boys are Bajans,” he informed them. “We will win,” he insisted. After 15 overs and an undefeated 71-run stand, it was he who was offering handshakes and commiserations.
Howard trusted his youthful squad and they trusted him in return. One senior player, who’d perhaps not worked hard enough on his fitness, pressed for inclusion in the final when they overcame Pakistan in the semi-final. Howard kept faith with the guys who’d got them there. And his belief in them came to the fore when they were most tested.
Young members of that victorious side were Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo; and if they are on the winning side vs England on Sunday they will become the first West Indies to be victors in three ICC tournament finals.
But there is a third man who’d be a three-time winner: a member of that 2004 squad, who didn’t play in the final, but did appear earlier in the competition — the skipper himself, Darren Sammy.
Despite diminishing returns with bat and ball, Sammy has been the unifying force of West Indies cricket. He was committed to the collective Caribbean cause as Test and ODI captain; and continuing as T20 leader, has gelled an array of stellar talents into a powerful team.
Off the field, the West Indies have had well-documented challenges; and issues over contracts and payments will re-emerge after this final, win or lose. Sammy whole-heartedly did what he thought was best for the West Indies when he was captain in all three formats. Some within authority fear that he may now be game-keeper turned poacher.
What he has undeniably managed to do is tap into a similar team spirit that Tony Howard was able to foster in 2004, despite the restlessness behind the scenes before the tournament — perhaps even because of it.
This is as focused a West Indies side as there has been in years. The victors of 1979 were among the Caribbean’s most talented ever; the vintage of 2004 among the most spirited. The 2016 crop is an impressive mixture.
Back in 2004, the eventual match-winners were Bajans. On Sunday there’s a good chance they could be again — but that doesn’t necessarily mean West Indies will win. England have Barbados-born Chris Jordan, whose yorkers in the semi-final versus New Zealand helped to control the Kiwi scoring rate — and is one of the best fielders in the world.
Jordan appeared for the same club side on the island, Wanderers, as Jason Holder. Holder hasn’t featured in this tournament, the bowling all-rounder slot being given to Carlos Brathwaite. Carlos was at school with Jordan — and a fellow Combermere classmate was the international singing sensation Rihanna.
Perhaps it’s a missed opportunity that her old pals didn’t ask her to pop by to sing the anthems of both sides for this final.
The two teams, and the setting, are certainly worthy of her star-billing.