The journey from being world beaters in the 1970s to underdogs in every tournament played in the ensuing years has been a painful one for followers of West Indian cricket and enthusiasts around the world. The team which once terrified and intimidated players all over the world, fell into an unusually deep slumber in the last couple of decades. However, the T20 triumph in Sri-Lanka recently has put the spotlight back on the Caribbean side and hopes of its redemption and return to past glory are being talked about all over the world.
Although internal politics, selection and contractual issues contributed heavily towards their slump, what cannot be ignored is that the Windies never produced suitable and long term replacements for players of the caliber of Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding. The remarkable part about the team of the 1970s was not only their individual brilliance but how they combined as a team to create a golden era for West Indian cricket.
Lack of potential has really not been so much of a concern for the Caribbean side. Brian Lara, Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh were extremely gifted players but they never clicked as a unit to revive West Indies cricket to its glorious past. The fact that the West Indies did not play in a World Cup final for more than 30 years is a testimony of the slump that Caribbean cricket experienced.
The world beaters of the 1970s led by the charismatic Clive Lloyd had not only fearless batsmen but also a bunch of fear inducing fast bowlers. The West Indian pace battery comprising of Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding devastated batting line-ups throughout the world in the seventies and early eighties. The batting line-up led by Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd and perhaps the greatest all-rounder of all times Sir Gary Sobers tormented bowlers across the globe.
The Darren Sammy-led squad, which triumphed in the T20 World Cup recently, cannot be compared to the side led by Clive Lloyd in any respect. However what we need to consider is the immediate history and circumstances that the team overcame to emerge champions. The team, plagued by selection and contractual issues, went without a Test series win at home against any formidable Test nation for four years. It is only when the West Indies selected and fielded the best players available that they achieved a Test series victory over New Zealand earlier this year.
The T20 World Cup provided a perfect opportunity for the beleaguered side to re-establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The inclusion of big-hitters like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo among others meant that they went into the series not as minnows but as the dark horses capable of pulling off a victory. The bowling led by mystery spinner Sunil Narine and ably supported by Samuel Badree, Ravi Rampaul and skipper Darren Sammy also clicked in crucial situations. However, the game changer in the final against Sri Lanka was Marlon Samuels, who had shown a lot of promise in the past but had somehow failed to perform consistently. The best part about their victory was perhaps the fact that their World Cup campaign was not a one man show but a complete team effort.
Darren Sammy, whose place in the side, let alone his captaincy, has always been questioned by critics on numerous occasions, proved his worth as an all-rounder by playing a crucial innings with the bat and backed it up with an impressive bowling spell in the final. Now with the T20 title under his belt, fans expect him to be a lot more assertive and aggressive in his decision making which should reflect in the overall performance of the team.
Also Coach Ottis Gibson needs to play a crucial role in making sure that the players do not get carried away with this victory. The T20 triumph is at best a revival of sorts for the Windies and the larger goal of transforming this bunch of talented and positive players into a formidable Test side is still to be achieved. Only time will tell if the big hitting Windies batsmen have enough patience and grit to compete in the longest and the most challenging format of the game. The cricketing world is very optimistic of a revival in the fortunes of West Indies cricket and a possible return to the golden era of fiery quick bowlers and destructive and charismatic batsmen ripping teams apart with their aggressive style of play.