World T20: Don’t get fooled by ‘entertainers’ mask; West Indies are assassins underneath

Before the ICC World T20 got under way, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo were pictured with Bollywood star Sneha Ullal, underlining their Box Office billing and profile.

Since then, Bravo has been promoting his latest musical video -- stressing that while he isn’t the greatest singer (even in his own team) he is a genuine ‘entertainer’.

 World T20: Don’t get fooled by ‘entertainers’ mask; West Indies are assassins underneath

Dwayne Bravo celebrates the fall of Thisara Perera's wicket in Bengaluru on Sunday. Solaris Images

Gayle, meanwhile, has mentioned that former teammate Ronnie Sarwan reckoned the Jamaican should have his own comedy TV show; and told how Sulieman Benn entreated him to ‘entertain him’ before going out to bat versus England.

Both Gayle and Bravo have also utilised their fame for charitable ends: Chris donated to the fund of a young girl fighting leukaemia; while Dwayne is said to be preparing to pass on his earnings from this competition to good causes.

The ‘World Boss’ and ‘New Big Dog’ are A-listers in the cricket world’s entertainment firmament.

But don’t be fooled.

They, and the West Indies, have not come to India to entertain. They’ve come to win.

‘Bravado’, ‘Gayle storms’ and other divertissements are secondary to the desire for victory.

That was the loud and clear message from West Indies’s win over Sri Lanka in Bangalore on Sunday.

In his media conference ahead of the match, captain Darren Sammy made it plain that outright success at the World T20 title, nothing less, is their target.

If they entertain us on the way, both on the field and off, then that’s a bonus. But these guys, most of all, want to be remembered as winners. And they are warming up to their task.

This is probably the last stroll on the international stage for many in this squad and it’s silverware and legacy that matter most.

T20 cricket is THE entertainment format of cricket, so naturally the great crowd at the Chinnaswamy stadium were desperate to see the ultimate showman, Chris Gayle perform.

They were to be disappointed.

Some fans went home unhappy to be denied the opportunity to see the latest ‘storm’ from hurricane Gayle, but the West Indies camp will delight in the outcome: played two, won two.

Only the unfancied New Zealand can match that 100 per cent record thus far in the group stages, and the Calypso kings are realistically only one more victory away from securing their semi-final berth.

Consistency has not been a Caribbean trait in cricket for some time; not since the heady days of the all-conquering stars led by Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards -- so to get such a tremendous headwind in this competition is a huge fillip.

Four years ago in 2012 -- when in the final the West Indies also overcame Sri Lanka -- they won just one of their first four games; and only triumphed in the fifth in a super-over to scrape into the semi-finals.

To start so positively this time, and with such apparent self-assurance and belief, will strike fear into the upcoming oppositions -- a feeling few sides have experienced when approaching games with West Indies in international cricket for ages.

And their opponents’ trepidation will only feed their own self-confidence.

West Indies cricket teams have always been exuberant -- but they took a long time to add the killer instinct to their own flair. It was a bugbear of the great Sir Frank Worrell, who fought hard as captain to steer his teammates away from playing-up-to the tag of ‘Calypso Cricket’, when attempting to toughen them from gifted cricketers into winners.

By 1965 they’d achieved that goal -- and were acclaimed unofficial world champions after a Test series defeat of Australia.

That crown was reclaimed under Lloyd in the 1970s, and only reluctantly given up in 1995 -- since when they’ve slipped further and further, with only the occasional glimmer of champion form.

Chris Gayle is a champion. And now not just ‘World Boss’ apparently after his knock against England, but of the Universe as well.

In this match he didn’t even bat. He tried to, but fourth umpire Ian Gould ushered him away, comically wrestling him back down the tunnel -- his time off the field for an injured hamstring not yet sufficiently repaid with equal time in the dug-out.

But as we’ve said before, this is no one-man team.

Today’s match-winners were a crafty leg-spinning T20 specialist who turned 35 earlier this month; and a bit-part Grenadian, more-often-than-not picked for Windies as a ‘keeper/batsman than as a specialist opener.

Samuel Badree’s 3/12 from four overs reminded everyone why he was previously the world’s No.1 T20 bowler. His subtle, thrifty spell choked the Lankans, and his was probably the man-of-the-match performance.

Even without Sunil Narine, the West Indies in Badree (and the almost-as-impressive Sulieman Benn) demonstrated that in a tournament of potent spin-bowling, nothing has been more effective than these two.

Windies may yet consider including Ashley Nurse as a third tweaker, especially as they appear to have deemed Jerome Taylor surplus to requirements after only one outing. They are effectively now without a pace-bowling cutting edge; but the teams that read the prevailing conditions most accurately are most likely to succeed.

The actual Man-of-the-Match was Andre Fletcher. Less than 12 months ago the keen amateur marksman was arrested at Dominica airport for unwittingly carrying live ammo. He was the Windies’ sharpest shooter with the bat tonight, and for some time stood as a lone gunman, as Johnson Charles, Marlon Samuels and Denesh Ramdin made tortured, torrid contributions.

Fletcher’s innings enjoyed its good fortune -- a dropped catch or two here; a helpful umpiring decision or two there -- but he hit with freedom, and targeted his bowlers and gaps in the field with intelligence. When Gayle is properly fit and back at the top of the order, expect Fletcher to remain opening, with Charles making way.

Yet West Indies haven’t yet worked out their best side, and still show some confused thinking.

They seem afraid to put ‘hitters’ (of which they have many) in the traditional top-four batting slots -- hence the nonsense of Ramdin entering the fray again ahead of Andre Russell, Carlos Brathwaite and Sammy. They need to bite on that particular bullet and bat Dwayne Bravo at four, with those three following.

Curiously, skipper Sammy is yet to feature with either bat or ball yet in this tournament, although it was a worry that he might have to today with the omission of Taylor -- but mercifully the captain resisted that particular temptation.

Sammy himself knows his bowling has deserted him -- but this team is now a bowler light. Charles must therefore lose out to either Nurse or Jason Holder.

Finalising what is their best XI is next on the agenda as they face South Africa next.

It should be an entertaining game.

But make no mistake, entertainment is not West Indies’ priority.

They primary aim is glory.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2016 12:25:21 IST