I dabbed my eye around two hours before the World T20 final between England and West Indies. It was difficult not to feel emotional. The West Indies’ women had just beaten three-time Champions Australia in their final. Widely considered as the best women’s team on earth, the Australians had no answer to the West Indian top order, who chased down 148 with eight wickets to spare. For the first time ever, a team other than Australia, England and New Zealand had won the ICC event.
More importantly, West Indies – which is not even a real country, by the way (just a name to represent the Caribbean islands) – had now won two of the three ICC World events already in 2016. The West Indies U-19 team had won its first ever trophy in February, and the women made in two in two. It was now up to the men to make it three in three in their World T20 – a true sign of the resurrection of a cricketing nation. T20 is made for them, and they have been the best team in this format for years now, therefore it was no surprise that they were people favorites after home nation India crashed out to them in the semis. Darren Sammy and his men now had a chance to become the only team to win the T20 World Cup twice – and to complete a historic treble for West Indies in perhaps their most troubled phase off-field in a troubling decade that has seen them not being eligible to even play in next year’s Champions’ Trophy.
In 1996, when I watched Richie Richardson, their then-captain, single-handedly almost dragged them to the final of the World Cup, I had become a fan for life. I cried when Courtney Walsh saw his stumps uprooted by Damien Fleming in that final over, and I wept for the West Indians and for cricket in general. There would have been no better final than the West Indians on the brink of exiting their glory years facing the Sri Lankans, who were on the cusp of theirs.
It was ironic that I had discovered my soul team right when they were about to descend on a listless 20 years. I cheered thirstily, with the grace of a man who doesn’t know if there would ever be such a moment, when they defeated England in the 2004 Champions’ Trophy. I cheered without restraint in 2012 when they won the World T20, knowing that this format would afford me many opportunities to do so – knowing that Darren Sammy and his men will be back, and will make a statement when nobody expected them to.
I ran a fever of 101 all day, but I dragged myself to a sports pub to watch West Indies take on England. I knew the day could be special, and I wanted to be with friends to experience it. Everyone knew about “my” team, and there was no way I’d have watched them make history all alone. I almost lost my voice and consciousness during those last few overs – and expended more energy than I could afford during the last over when Carlos Brathwaite ruined Ben Stokes’ life. I could barely hold back my tears when Darren Sammy spoke about how disappointed he is with the WICB, and how their new manager Rawl Lewis had to work tooth and nail to just get them printed jerseys to compete in this tournament.
I fist-pumped weakly when Marlon Samuels taunted Shane Warne in his acceptance speech – and fantasized about a universe where every award-winner and athlete would taunt their bullies when they finally achieve glory. It is hard to imagine in the politically correct world of Indian cricket, which is why it was even more exciting to watch. Here were a bunch of men – assembled like superheroes from different T20 leagues across the globe – men who had barely played together since the last event, who used the “We against the world” philosophy to the hilt. They fought and hit back and played with determination reserved for miraculous runs. Down the ages, people will remember their 2016 victory with more fondness than the 2012 victory – ask Clive Lloyd, the captain who won them their first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, who did the Champions’ Dance with them only moments later.
Marlon Samuels will be difficult to like even now, and Darren Sammy could never play again either, but the memories they have given us will endure. Perhaps it was their destiny to shine like the brightest stars, disband and ply their trades across the universe – waiting for the next time the world needs saving.
It’s only appropriate that the team that won the tournament is to cricket what Brazil it to football. Most of them still play the game – even within the confines of an Eden Gardens or MCG – like they’re playing on a beach, and like they’re trying to send the ball as far as possible. They bring the joy – the reason many of us call cricket a ‘game’ – back to the sport. Their off-field celebrations are testament to the see-ball-hit-ball on-field exploits.
I barely reached home after watching my favorite team win the cup. And it was all so utterly worth it.