By Tony Cozier
Whether or not their explosive batsmen fire in the final, the tight bowling by the spin duo will be fundamental to the outcome
It is a formula for T20 cricket ideally suited to their game. As they have done since 2007, when the ICC added the shortest version of the game to its list of world tournaments, West Indies again rely on today’s final of the sixth World T20 on audacious boundary-hitting batsmen supported, not so much by fast bowling on which their once-exceptional record in Tests and one-day internationals was built, but now by stingy spinners.
Their motivation is boosted by a few factors, quite apart from the $3.5 million winner’s cheque. It is almost certainly the last appearance in West Indies’ maroon of those who commit themselves to global domestic franchise leagues. Their captain, Darren Sammy, said his team had come to India “on a mission”. Referring to the habitual contracts dispute with the WICB leading into the tournament, he said the players are inspired by the feeling that it is them and the coaching staff “against everybody else”.
He spoke of the inspiration they took from the Under-19s in winning their World Cup for the first time, in Bangladesh in February, and the appearance of the women’s team in their first World T20 final, breaking the previous Australia-England-New Zealand axis.
It all “means a lot to Caribbean people”, whose previous passion for the game has faded as their once invincible team has plunged to lower rungs of the ICC rankings in the longer versions.
Incentive is a strong positive aspect in any sport; it alone does not guarantee success. The team that plays the best cricket on the day will be the World T20 champions by tonight.
As dangerous as the men’s raft of gung-ho ball beaters are, most with the telling experience of the Indian environment through their seasons in the IPL, their key men today are just as likely to be Samuel Badree, the 35-year-old unimposing Trinidadian, whose wicket-to-wicket control of fizzing, phantom legspin has made him the new No.1 T20 bowler, and his contrasting Bajan partner, Sulieman Benn, the fiercely competitive 6ft 7in beanpole left-arm spinner.
Their task is curbing England’s own belligerent attackers – the young brigade of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, the classy Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler – and building pressure with dot balls.
Badree’s is a curious case. He is cricket’s only authentic “T20 specialist”. His method has never been considered suited to Tests or ODIs, so he has played none; his last first-class match for Trinidad and Tobago was seven years ago.
Since then, he has had 27 T20Is, claiming 38 wickets at an average of 15.05 and an economy rate of 5.44, invariably opening the bowling.
They were figures similar to those in his three World T20s. In 2012, when West Indies prevailed over Sri Lanka in their first final, he had to wait until the last three matches for his chance. In the final, the spin of Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle and himself had five wickets for 62 in 13.4 overs between them, an overall economy rate of 4.80, as Sri Lanka floundered to 101 all out responding to 137 for 6.
Since then, he has widened his T20 skills with franchise teams in the IPL, BBL and the Pakistan Super League. In a significant reversal of traditional roles between the countries, he has been signed on as part of a Cricket Australia programme to mentor young spinners at a week-long camp in Brisbane in May, working alongside CA’s spin coach John Davison.
In the meantime, WICB director of cricket, Richard Pybus, was announcing plans for a series of camps and off-season training programmes for fast bowlers as “part of a plan to rekindle an area of the game that has been struggling in recent years”.
Benn, 35 in July, has been around far longer than Badree. He has played 26 Tests, 34 ODIs and 23 T20Is spread over eight years. He hasn’t attracted bids from any of the global franchises, yet has capably filled the crippling gap left by Narine’s withdrawal from the squad as the most effective T20 bowler on the eve of the tournament. In their five matches on the way to the final, Badree’s economy rate is 5.68 runs an over, Benn’s is 5.78. Pertinently, those with the lowest rations from more than ten overs are both legspinners, South Africa’s Imran Tahir (5.18) and Sri Lanka’s Jeffrey Vandersay.
The West Indies batting is the most feared, none more so than Gayle at the top of the order. Their method can be occasionally reckless, predictably leading to inconsistency.
The lead-up to their triumph over Sri Lanka in the final of the 2012 tournament included setbacks in the group stage to the Sri Lankans, by nine wickets, and Australia. There was also the necessity of overcoming New Zealand in the Super Over.
When it came down to the semi-final and final, they were unstoppable. In the semi, Australia were dismissed for 131 in response to 205 for 4, based principally on Gayle’s unbeaten 75 from 41 balls and with a collective 13 fours and 14 sixes. In the final, even after Samuels’ 78 off 56 balls that featured his astonishing six-hitting assault on Lasith Malinga, West Indies had to defend a modest 137 for 6; the spin of Narine, Badree and Samuels took five wickets from 11.4 overs between them.
The pattern was repeated over the past six weeks in India. In earlier matches, they laboured 19.4 overs to overhaul South Africa’s modest 122 for 8 and 18.2 overs to surpass Sri Lanka’s 122 for 9 for victory by seven wickets. The most spectacular meltdown was 117 for 8 against the feisty Afghanistan spinners, leading to a shocking defeat by six runs.
Such struggles were sandwiched between Gayle’s unbeaten 100 off 48 balls, with his record 11 sixes, which overhauled a target of 183 for victory by six wickets in Mumbai in the opener against England.
In the semi-final, Gayle lasted six balls for 5, to be quickly followed by Samuels as the innings stuttered at 19 for 2 in pursuit of India’s imposing 192 for 2 led by the classy Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 89 off 47 balls.
Now others showed up to revive the innings, validating Sammy’s statement that his was not a one-man team. Two days after returning from Trinidad to rejoin the team following treatment to his back injury to take Andre Fletcher’s place, whose participation was ended by a pulled hamstring, Lendl Simmons’ unbeaten 82 out-Kohlied Kohli.
He and the underestimated Johnson Charles’ 52 from 36 balls got things going; Andre Russell’s blistering 43 from 20 balls put the finishing touches to the result.
It repeated evidence of their ability to raise their game for the matches that count. Sammy described the Afghanistan defeat a few days earlier as “a blip”. So it proved.
Whether or not the belligerent batsmen amass a formidable challenge today, Badree and Benn, the odd couple, are crucial bowlers whose tight restraint should be fundamental to the outcome.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years