As a writer, when you sit down to write about a specific event, a victory or a defeat, it is natural to be slave to facts, numbers and trivia that might help you reach a conclusion to your piece. A certain degree of analysis, an airing of a few personal views disguised as general concerns, discarding any sort of pre-existing bias, is part and parcel of such efforts.
On Sunday night, as every sports journalist and writer watched the World T20 Final unfold before them, slowly but surely- they became an exception to these unsaid rules. For a while, nothing else mattered, and all we wanted, as fans of the game- was for the long suffering Kings to regain part of their crown.
Back in 2006, I was present on a misty evening at Brabourne (Mumbai), where a Lara-led Windies had reached their second consecutive Champions Trophy Final. They faced an Australian team that was yet to win the only trophy that eluded them. In so many ways, the structure of that match- diametrically opposite to the one we witnessed on Sunday- dictated where their next trophy would come from.
It couldn’t be a 50 over tournament, not after a Gayle-inspired storm lifted them to 60 off the first 6 overs, followed by a capitulation that saw them collapse inside 35 overs. They started like Kings, lost their way, and ended their innings like clueless paupers wondering what a big stage it was. But, for a total of 20 overs, they looked mighty competitive, and swayed with a style that was to appear in painful glimpses over the next 6 winless years.
Australia thrashed them that night. It was the last time an electric Windies side would reach an ICC Final, after a relatively successful 2 years that had seen them show signs of a minor revival. The revival never happened, and a format was established over the next few years, that had been designed to let this side climb back to the top. Surely, over 40 entertaining overs a game, the West Indies had to live again. A new generation of players were born, unmindful of Test Cricket, but very very focused on their strengths- the limited overs format.
In stark contrast to that night in 2006, this side began the final frozen in time. 32/2 in 10 overs. Their best batsman was back in the hut. Sri Lanka’s best bowlers were yet to bowl. I could almost hear the arrogant voice of a very cynical Indian gentleman from that Brabourne evening, ‘This side is a circus. They don’t deserve to be in this final, because they make it too one-sided.’ Back then, I walked up to the man and asked him if anyone else had beaten a Champion Australian side during the tournament. Only West Indies had beaten them, on the back of a Taylor hat-trick on the same pitch.
Last week, in Sri Lanka, defending Champions England were slaughtered by West Indies, and Australia were shown the meaning of mediocrity in a semi-final that defied form and belief. But 10 overs into the final, and there was already a winner. In Sri Lanka’s case, only they could beat themselves again. Though they were at the receiving end of quite simply the best T20 innings ever played by Marlon Samuels, not once was the match out of their grasp.
Marlon Samuels. The man I remember and hated back in 2007 for his role in running out Lara in his last official ODI innings against England. The man who’d blow hot and cold, and forget how to switch gears so often- to the extent that he was banned for violating the spirit of the game. When he walked up to the mic to speak in the post-match presentation, he carried the air of a man who had seen it all- a boy of great pride who had rediscovered the meaning of dreams. A man who wanted to so desperately express himself on his biggest night, but held back for fear of breaking character. For the 2 weeks, he was the boy who grew up on the beaches of the Carribbean- a player who had such immense potential that he was expected to implode every time he stepped onto the field.
His short answers, the determined look on his face. He wasn’t smiling, he was proud. He wanted us to look into his eyes and see that the pain he had seen over those two years was nothing compared to what he did on the field all week. There was strength bubbling on his brow, and one almost expected him to take off his shirt and beat his chest- wearing nothing but a whisper and a glint.
The word ‘comeback’ has been violated enough in the bang-bang world of Indian Cricket. If there was ever to be a journey that became more important for a man than his destination, this had to be it. In the end, nobody expected him to be here. That is precisely why that entire team, fooling around with the trophy, finding new ways to celebrate after Gangnaming their way to glory, was a sight for overflowing souls.
It was a sight that brought back one’s faith in the most basic aspect of humankind- Survival. And pure, unadulterated joy. Whether this might result in murmurs of another premature revival of a team that lives entirely on impulse and instinct- ceases to matter. For now, for this moment, this glimpse of glory and victory wasn’t to be so special if there was ever a revival 6 years ago.
If not for their continued failure for so long, this moment would have never been so sweet for all of us. It was almost as if they were building disappointment for so long, only to revel on the biggest stage in the world.
Another World Cup is headed back to the islands. Rejoice. Savour. And don’t write about it.