It’s an early morning start for the ICC World T20 2016 at the plush Taj Bengal hotel in Kolkata on Tuesday (March 8). The pre-tournament International Cricket Council (ICC) activities for players and officials are underway in one room. There are souvenir bats to be signed, player head shots to be captured and media commitments to be fulfilled. A long day awaits the organisers. The silent clatter of the chores is in stark contrast to the hubbub on the streets outside the hotel.
The sleepy monotony of the chores is suddenly broken by the presence of Darren Sammy, whose towering entrance brings with it an instant energy into the room. The West Indian skipper completes his procedures in a jiffy and is quickly ushered to the press conference room. The shutter bugs get clicking madly and Sammy obliges with a quirky pose. Two soft drink bottles, strategically placed on the table, block this visual delight and are asked to be removed for a clearer shot.
“You want to remove the sponsors, you cannot remove the sponsors?,” Sammy exclaims. A chorus of laughter ensues.
The South Africans are not here yet but it is certain that West Indies will be right up there with them in terms of being most people’s ‘second favourite team’. The Twenty20 (T20) format, in particular, allows them to bring forth their strut and their swagger, something the fans love watching and one in which the players feel at home in. Their Test team may have entered a rut, the ODI team may have missed out on Champions Trophy qualification but T20 brings belief. Belief that they can give any team in the competition an almighty run for their money. The last two times West Indies were in the sub-continent to play this biennial multi-team event, they ended as champions (in 2012) and made the semis in Bangladesh (in 2014), only to be undone by the draconian Duckworth Lewis rule.
Off the field there are issues – Contractual disputes, an overbearing cricket board, a feuding management, injury concerns and withdrawals have all jolted the West Indies in the build up to the event. But on it, the team couldn’t be more united. Their players – the Gayles, the Bravos and the Russells – are the most sought after by franchises across the T20 league spectrum. The only fear, if any, entering the tournament, is that this bunch of players has played more against each other and very little together. The skipper acknowledges the situation but puts a positive spin to it.
“Yes, ideally we want to be playing more international cricket but I take a look at my dressing room and I see guys who are highly experienced,” Sammy says. “These are players playing around the world. When I see all these qualities in the dressing room, as a captain my job becomes very easy. Ideally we want to be playing more together, but the fact that we have guys have been playing T20 cricket, it is not difficult to adjust. The group that is there, we have been playing for a while. So we know the ins and outs of how we want to play T20. It won’t be difficult to gel all.
“The good thing for us also is that we have so many guys in the team who are familiar with the conditions. Whether playing against India in India or in the IPL. We are no strangers to conditions. We had a week in Dubai (in preparation for the World Cup) playing in conditions similar to India. We have given ourselves the best chance of preparing. We are here now, believing we could win the World Cup.”
It would be imprudent to be in denial and act all hunky dory especially on an international platform where there is a desire to paint a pretty picture. Sammy, for one, doesn’t attempt to paper over the cracks that exist between the board and the players with respect to the protracted contract saga that has seen the West Indies lose several of its experienced cricketers to lucrative T20 leagues around the world. In his capacity as captain of a side ahead of an important tournament, he can only impress upon his players what a solid showing can do for cricket back home.
“The message is cricket. Once you step out on the field, you can’t be worrying about contracts and other stuff,” he says. “You focus on what you could do to help your team and make your country proud. Yes, ideally we would like everything to have a smooth sailing. But that’s not the case for us. We will just do what we can on the field and put all our energy and focus on how we go out and play cricket.
“This event means a lot to us as a group. I think the next World T20 is in 2020. Our most experienced guys will certainly not be part of that edition. Which is why this event is very important for us. Everybody is focussed on winning. It would mean a lot to us and the people at home… in the current situation our cricket is in….”
Success is not an option anymore, it is the sole focus. Sammy’s men have seen what it can do for the Caribbean. The success of the Under-19 boys in the recently concluded World Cup in Bangladesh united the islands like never before. Amidst the doom and gloom, Shimron Hetmyer and his teenage bunch showed that all hope wasn’t lost, something the senior side hopes to replicate at the World T20.
“Cricket is the glue that unites Caribbean – whichever Caribbean side does well, it’s a massive plus for all the people,” Sammy says stoically. “It’s been a massive motivation for us to see our youngsters doing well in Bangladesh. Any time a Caribbean side is represented in a major event…once you win, it elevates your country, your region. We needed a win there and now we’ve landed here and all our focus is solely on doing whatever we can – whether it’s practising, whether it’s planning or playing – to win. We would love to emulate them by lifting this World T20 trophy.”
“The message of T20 is excitement and entertainment. The West Indies sides have always brought that to the field. Now if all of us come to the party and play the way we know how to, we will be a big force to be reckoned with,” Sammy signs off with a cheeky grin.
Start the party already!