Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Feel bad for Virat Kohli. Feel bad for the Wankhede fans. Feel bad for the thousands who’ve bought tickets for the final expecting India to cruise through. It’s only fair. I feel bad, too. But think about it: the home team, as good as they were leading up to the World T20, barely defeated Australia, almost lost to Bangladesh, lost to New Zealand and only defeated Pakistan convincingly – sort of. They had reach the semis on the bat of one man, and an entire legion of worshippers hoped that his bat would take them all the way.
But cricket is a team game. And T20 cricket is an unforgiving reminder of how technique and strokeplay and smarts can all mean nothing when faced when monstrous power and brainless slogging. And brave, spirited athletes – which is what the West Indians were.
But don’t rub your eyes. That’s right. The much beloved Indian team will not be figuring in the final of the World Cup at home. In fact, all those predictions of an obvious India v/s New Zealand final (including mine) come off as a bit disrespectful to the two teams that find themselves heading to Eden Gardens. This is a repeat of the 2004 Champions Trophy final – one that West Indies pulled off after their tailenders stitched together a miraculous partnership to chase down 60 more runs.
In the end, nobody can deny that two of the best teams in this competition are heading to Kolkata. They’ve already faced each other once in India’s “heartbreak hotel” (Wankhede stadium), and the monstrous Gayle unleashed the only century of the tournament so far.
BREAKING THE HOSTS
When Virat Kohli watched a rank full-toss sail into the stands after being hit by Andre Russell’s bat, it was tough not to notice the sheer shock on his face. What was he thinking: Where’s the rest of my team? Why is Jadeja still in this team? What is Pandya’s roleexactly? Why can’t Dhoni clear this small ground anymore? Why is Rohit’s wife cheering for me more than him? Why am I dragging them like dead weight? Did Jadeja actually touch the rope when he caught that ball? How can a spinner bowl a no-ball?
It didn’t come down to just a moment or two – not those two infamous wickets on no-balls, not Lendl Simmons’ mishits and not MS Dhoni’s mistakes. It was in the making throughout the last two weeks. Many will say they were fortunate enough to be in Mumbai, facing off with a team suited perfectly to the shortest format. On the night, all the skill and timing and technique would mean nothing if they did the basics wrong. And that’s what happened. They played like they were playing Bangladesh again, and there’s no shame in losing, especially to a team full of giant match winners. The West Indians had beat a near-invincible Sri Lankan T20 team in Colombo in 2012 to win the title. Here, they defeated a vulnerable but tough Indian team in Mumbai to move closer to the title. They deserved to go through – if only to remind us that the game can still be enjoyed, and the game can still rely on instincts, raw power and talent. Kohli can’t begrudge them their victorious moment. Nobody in India can. This was evident from the way the fans cheered for them when they got off the team bus and danced (to DJ Bravo’s “Champion” anthem) all the way to the elevators of their hotel. No fan booed them. Nobody whistled or jeered. The West Indians belonged to West India.
ENGLAND FROM THE ASHES
A year ago, the English ODI team had been humiliated and dumped out of the World Cup down under in the group stages. A major revamp was needed, and incoming chief Andrew Strauss changed things drastically in two months. They began with a home ODI series victory over the mighty Brendon McCullum-led Kiwis. Things looked different, and more exciting. Domestic recruits like Jason Roy and Alex Hales and James Taylor and Chris Jordan replaced the weathered faces of Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara. Eoin Morgan remained, but sucked more out of the destructive Joss Buttler, Moeen Ali and Joe Root. Suddenly, it felt like an all-new team, a far cry from the lame spirits that walked away from Australia.
Today, they stand on the verge of winning their first major trophy since their 2010 T20 World Cup Victory in West Indies. Poetically, they face West Indies in the sub-continent, after choosing not to participate in the IPL repeatedly over the years, instead choosing to concentrate on their own domestic tournaments. The West Indians began their renegade existence with the IPL, and moved on to many nations to ply their trade, which is why it’s no surprise they made it to the final again. But even the Barmy Army can’t believe that their team is on the cusp of sudden glory. Their turnaround has been spirited and extraordinary.
It is also a surprise that two of the shakiest bowling line-ups in the competition have made it to the final. But then again, this is India. England’s batting has prospered despite playing on low-bouncing Delhi pitches, and the West Indians have just swung and connected.
Lendl Simmons, the hero from the semifinal, lends an experienced presence to a shaky middle order. There is life after Gayle – as they proved in Mumbai. But if Gayle, Johnson Charles as well as Simmons and Dwayne Bravo fire, England can go home early. Likewise, if Morgan somehow discovers that he can still bat, and if Buttler and Hales do their thing, with Roy and Root lending the stability, perhaps England can compete their great coup.
Whatever the outcome is, one of the teams will become the first-ever nation to win the T20 World Cup twice. There will be no new winner. New Zealand has fallen. India couldn’t make it to the last match, and are fast becoming the knockout chokers in ICC events.
Can’t see past the West Indian hitters. But it’s Eden Gardens, and a pitch that offers something to the bowlers. Only, where are the English spinners? The team that defeats the hosts usually deserves to win the whole thing. Darren Sammy could become the only double World Cup-winning T20 captain. And he hasn’t contributed a run or wicket all tournament. His smiling face has been enough.