West Indies’ triumph of imagination and spirit


An apology to Darren Sammy’s men, whose intoxicating win in the final was driven by organisation and smarts



The first thing is to loudly applaud West Indies cricket on a golden day. The women were magnificent. The men more than matched them. The finish was a miracle: a thing of devastating power, of a certain beauty, and of destiny.

The second thing is to say that the West Indies cricketers who beat England in Kolkata yesterday and triumphantly lifted the World T20 play smart cricket that is both entertaining and hard to resist. There were scatty, improbable turning points that swung the match this way and that – so many of them that it was hard to keep track. In the end, the very fact that West Indies pulled it off was the most epic thing about it.

Sammy and Co: long may they rejoice Ryan Pierse / © Getty Images
Sammy and Co: long may they rejoice Ryan Pierse /© Getty Images

The third is to offer an unreserved apology to Darren Sammy, a man I hold in the highest regard, to his team and to the coaches around them for the throwaway phrase I used in a recent column on these pages. I would have made the same apology whatever the results of the day, but I do so now in the knowledge that the people of the Caribbean will have celebrated long into the night and well into today. The spirit of the romantics will be with them and from thousands of miles away the rest of us can almost taste the rum, feel its punch and dream of the day when we return to the lapping shores of those incomparable islands.

Clearly, the West Indies team is not “short of brains”. I wrote this in a piece that was mainly about India and MS Dhoni and, partly tongue in cheek, exaggerated a likely “triumph” – as in the ancient history of the Roman Empire. In picking a winner, I could see no further than the hosts.

I suggested England were a threat and maybe Australia and South Africa too. In three short and ill-conceived sentences I paid lip service to the other teams, casually remarking that West Indies were “short of brains but have IPL history in their ranks”. I did not say West Indies were “brainless” or had “no brains”, as has been misquoted elsewhere, but I did say something unworthy of the game and disrespectful to a great cricketing legacy.

My thought was based a) on what I had seen in Australia, first during the World Cup and then during the recent Test matches against the Australians, when the admirable Jason Holder received scant support from influential players around him, and then b) on the fact that many West Indians know their way around the IPL, which must be useful. But it was a throwaway, not a considered judgement, and frankly, pretty damn lazy because it did not take account of the different personnel.

I regret it and apologise for it.

At Hampshire I played with two of the most intelligent cricketers of all time. Andy Roberts led the thinking of a truly great collection of West Indian fast bowlers. I caught my first first-class catch off him at first slip and I swelled with pride at having my name associated with his on a scorecard. Then I had 13 years with Malcolm Marshall, my best friend in cricket. I also had the privilege of giving the eulogy at his funeral in Barbados – the saddest occasion. I grew up as a disciple of Sir Garry Sobers and, as a kid, played the game with my collar turned to the sky and as much adventure as my limited talent allowed. When I was taken to Lord’s in 1973, Sobers made 150 and Rohan Kanhai much the same. It was intoxicating stuff.

The same must be said of the performance yesterday by Sammy’s team – it was intoxicating stuff. Samuel Badree’s legspin was delivered with commitment and revs: the overspin did for Jason Roy and the disguise did for Eoin Morgan. Sammy handled his attack with imagination and moved his fielders as if they were chess pieces closing in on a hapless opponent’s board. In the field, West Indies looked organised and driven.

His heart bled at the injustice and at the misjudgement of his men, so he looked to repair these wrongs. Those of us who have let him down took a hammering

The West Indies Cricket Board were harsh when they took the Test match and one-day international captaincy away from Sammy. He has the ability to unite. Without sounding like I am running for cover, I wrote that at the time. I also wrote in favour of Dwayne Bravo’s team that walked out on their tour of India. I advocated the BCCI bailing out the WICB to keep the tour alive. Sammy’s interview with ESPNcricinfo just a short while back is required reading. He has given much to the cause of West Indies cricket and thankfully has two T20 World Cups in return. This is a man long on brains.

Alongside him are others. First among equals is Bravo, the craftiest bowler in the tournament and the best at the death. He has a fast arm for a bowler of little more than medium-pace, and this arm never appears to change its speed of rotation or release. He uses his fingers and wrists to vary pace and impart entirely different revolutions on the ball. The wicket of Ben Stokes was a masterpiece of this modern art, the art of confusion. Stokes was left in the dark by a delivery that was perfectly well floodlit.

Another cricketer who seems a step ahead is Carlos Brathwaite, both with bat and ball. He has the happy knack of making his own luck, primarily because he appears to play the game without an iota of fear. He is a strong man, of mind and matter, and an ideal role model to set before the young cricketers of the Caribbean. Some of his interviews bely his age and experience; it is like he is an old soul. His calm, his range and his extraordinary hitting in the final over are born of sporting passion, never say die, and a rare and priceless ability to find these attributes when they most matter.

Finally to Marlon Samuels, who has been on the wrong end of many an observer’s written and spoken word. There is something about Samuels that gets under the skin of opponents and audiences alike. But he played an immense, unarguable hand yesterday: an innings of courage and intelligence that kept his team in the game. He is lovely batsman to watch, a player given flow and fabulous timing by the person who hands out these gifts.

In his interview at the end of the match a deeply emotional Sammy let it pour out. His heart bled at the injustice and at the misjudgement of his men, so he looked to repair these wrongs. Those of us who have let him down took a hammering. Fair enough too. But for all of that, what really matters is that West Indies won. Of late, the game has been bereft of West Indian style and celebration. It is the most missed story in sport.

A future can be built around the professional thinkers and performers we saw yesterday. But they need to be engaged. They need to be on the park. It would be terrific if the WICB responded in a way that helped mobilise the momentum, enthusiasm and brilliance we saw yesterday in other formats of the game. For lots of reasons, I shall never forget the World T20 final of 2016. Neither will Sammy. I wish him and his men nothing but joy.

(Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK  © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)


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