As eight teams engaged in a fierce tussle in England last June, one team that hadn't been welcomed to the party sulked, and then invited another team to play three ODIs and as many T20Is.
In Associate cricket, that is the norm. Thanks to ICC’s backward thinking policies, only a handful of teams take part in multi-nation tournaments like the World Cup or the Champions Trophy. The others (read Associates) arrange bilaterals and play their own version of cricket.
However, the aforementioned bilateral held much more significance for the simple fact that one team — the once mighty West Indian empire — was a two-time World Cup winning champion which boasted of a long list of stars in the bygone days of cricket.
The other team — Afghanistan — was a rapidly rising force in international cricket and the remaining eight teams were playing out the Champions Trophy in England. Windies, once a superpower in World cricket, was being bamboozled by an 18-year-old leg-spinner from the wilderness of Afghanistan in their very own backyard.
Likewise, they could very well have been left sulking back at home when the gala World Cup comes to England next year but for the intervention of the rain gods on Thursday at Harare. In what can only be described as a lucky break for Windies, rain halted Scotland's run chase in the knockout clash in the ICC World Cup Qualifier at Harare and DLS came to push the Scottish back into the abyss after they had nearly managed to climb out to reach the precipice.
Windies had plummeted to new lows over the past few years. That they had to play the Qualifier was in itself a disgrace to the Clive Lloyds and Brian Laras of the islands. The fact that they barely scraped through after the roulette worked in favour of them was even more embarrassing.
The land of Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh no longer bore anything close to an intimidating look. In fact, they appeared tired from all the internal battles.
Fans, who once flocked to the stadiums with drums, horns and reggae music to watch the great West Indian teams of the 1970s and 80s, lending a Caribbean flavour to the atmosphere, are now nowhere to be seen.
In between the egoistic battles between the administrators and the backpacking T20 cricketers, West Indies cricket lost its charm, and with it, a place amongst the elite nations in world cricket. The once “Cavaliers” are now a clueless bunch of cricketers who seem to be re-learning the real game while thriving in the demo version.
Their most experienced cricketers are all globe-trotters who seek better money and opportunities outside rather than cope with the adamant administrators who seem to have little idea of where they are headed to.
The chaos in the cricketing structure in West Indies is synonymous to how they dragged their way to the World Cup through the ongoing World Cup Qualifier — an enthralling tournament which further paints ICC's decision to reduce World Cups to 10 teams in bad light — in Zimbabwe.
Windies bossed UAE in their opening match with the “Universal Boss”, Chris Gayle, and youngster Shimron Hetmyer making light work of a pedestrian bowling attack. Jason Holder then made Papua New Guinea wilt with his prowess with the willow and Carlos ‘Remember the name' Brathwaite chipped in with the ball.
Rovman Powell and Kemar Roach saved them the blushes against Ireland in a game where the Windies were reduced to 83/5 at one point of time before they recovered well enough to bury the Irish.
A Duckworth-Lewis method win against Netherlands gave them a flawless entry into the Super Six where Afghanistan, especially 16-year-old Mujeeb Zadran, stunned them. They played out a thriller against hosts, Zimbabwe in the next game where Marlon Samuels woke up from a deep slumber to rekindle the Windies spirit and keep their World Cup hopes alive.
They still had to beat the determined Scottish, who had improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years, to go through to the World Cup. Scotland had lost to Ireland and tied a game against Zimbabwe but otherwise had as good a tournament as the Windies did. A win would have seen them through to the dreamy World Cup.
Windies would have made a pact with their globe-trotting T20 backpackers then and there if they could. But sadly, their time was up and the Caribbeans had to play for pride in a knockout game that would decide their 2019 fortunes. They began horribly, collapsed unashamedly, came back with the ball before gifting runs to the Scotland middle order and seemed set to surrender a World Cup berth when rain intervened.
It poured cats and dogs. Windies were ahead in the Duckworth-Lewis calculation by a meagre five runs. Despite the prayers of a nation deprived of a chance to compete with the best at the biggest stage several times, the torrential rain did not relent. Windies were through by five runs.
"We feel pretty rough right now," said Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer after his team's heart-breaking defeat. "There's a bit of emotion going around. The guys are absolutely gutted. They're sat upstairs right now, and finding it pretty tough at the moment. It's not the way we wanted to end the tournament but we look back and it's five runs it's just five runs. And it's something pretty important that could have happened there."
Five — the fine margin between shame and glory stood at exactly five runs for the Windies on Thursday. They would be part of the World Cup in England and Wales next year. The Caribbean calypso can sleep in peace for now with the sun shining bright after the thunderstorms.
But dark clouds continue to lurk. Does a team that once stood at the pinnacle of world cricket feel content after scratching their way to a World Cup? No, they feel relieved. "Definitely relieved," said Holder after the victory.
By 2019, Holder and Co will need to justify their qualification with resounding performances. Unless that materialises, their free pass to the World Cup remains a moot point. Could this qualification be the watershed moment in the recent history of West Indies cricket? Can they lift themselves up from the trash, conjure up the reggae spirit in them and be the force that Lloyd shaped them up to be once upon a time? Only time will tell. For now, like it or not, it's calypso time in the Caribbean islands.
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