VVS Laxman

West Indies have always been one of my favourite cricket sides, though it was not entirely for that reason that in my last column, I made them the favourites ahead of World T20 final 2016 against England. I felt they had the all-round ability and an instinctive understanding of the demands of the 20-over game, and while the final threw up several heart-stopping moments, I believe the more deserving team came up trumps, though my heart did go out to Ben Stokes after that last over which will be difficult for him to forget. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: England vs West Indies , Live Score, Final Match, ICC T20 World Cup 2016

For once, we had a final befitting of the occasion, and an ending that is something that even the best of script-writers can only dream of. Despite ending up at least 15-20 runs short on what was a very good batting surface at the Eden Gardens, England kept themselves in the hunt all the way through, right from the time Joe Root dismissed Johnson Charles and Chris Gayle after surprisingly being given the ball in the second over of the chase. At 11 for 3, West Indies had a mountain to climb, but fortunately for them, they had the luxury of turning to the experience of Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Bravo.

Samuels has been a bit of an enigma, an extremely talented batsman who has not always done justice to his skills, but he could not have chosen a more opportune time to showcase his very best. But what took my breath away was the manner in which Carlos Brathwaite batted in that final over. Before last Sunday, Brathwaite would not have been in many peoples’ top-10 list of heavy hitters, but he changed that perception with those four mighty blows.

Four sixes in a row in any game is a huge accomplishment. To do it under immense pressure, in the final of the World Cup with 19 needed off the last over, is something else. Agreed, Stokes missed his length by a whisker on each occasion and the execution of the yorker was less than perfect, but the clean manner in which Brathwaite struck each of those balls was a reiteration of not just his skill but also his composure and talent.

Throughout the tournament, West Indies had shown that there was more to their batting than just Chris Gayle. While Gayle did announce himself with a hundred against England in the opening match, he had a pretty ordinary tournament after that. However, West Indies could bank on other match-winners with the bat, a long and explosive list that is the envy of every cricket team in the world.

The bowling was, however, heavily reliant on Samuel Badree and Dwayne Bravo. The leg-spinner was not only among the leading wicket-takers of the tournament but his economy of 5.39 was out of the world, especially considering that he bowled a majority of his overs in the Powerplay. His control and command over his craft was wonderful to see, and while he may not be the biggest turner of the cricket ball, the fact that he was relentless in his accuracy made life extremely difficult for the batsmen.

In the final, there was support for him from Bravo and Brathwaite, which meant that even though Root, Jos Buttler and David Willey tried their best, England ended up well short of par on a very good batting deck. However even that score almost proved to be enough, until Brathwaite deigned otherwise.

After the victory, it was great to see the West Indians celebrate with characteristic flair and gusto. Nothing brings a smile to the onlookers’ face than a joyous Caribbean side, but I was particularly moved and touched by Darren Sammy’s speech at the post-match presentation ceremony. I could sense his pain and sorrow at the manner in which the team had been treated by the West Indies Cricket Board. This was a moment to reflect on after their wonderful run in the tournament. In their moment of glory, Sammy chose to talk about the hardships in the lead-up to the tournament which was indicative of the travails of the team before and during the tournament.

It was clear even before the tournament began that things were not hunky-dory, but what was astonishing was that when the team was out in the middle, there were no signs of the happenings off the field. The Calypso brand of cricket is carefree and uninhibited, with an equal mix of flamboyance and delightful exuberance. All that was very much on offer during the World T20. Despite what must have been a lot of anger and heartburn within the ranks, their commitment and the desire to prove a point was of the highest order, but at no point did they forget to enjoy their cricket.

Speaking with Kieron Pollard during our interactions at the studio, I understood a lot about the problems the team has been facing vis-à-vis the cricket board since they abandoned their tour of India halfway through in 2014. The cricket board is there for a reason — it is to look after the players and the sport, to make sure that the reasonable and basic demands of the players are met, that there is enough security for them to go out and express themselves without having to worry about other things. The administrators are there to govern the game with the best interests of the players at heart, because the players are the ambassadors of the game for their respective countries and therefore need to be in the right frame of mind when they go out to represent their nation and the fans.

Unfortunately, far from being a family, West Indies cricket is a house divided, and that is not good news for either the players or the fans. I remember being part of the Red Stripe competition as captain of the India A team in 2003, and I was extremely surprised and a little disappointed at the infrastructure, or the lack of it thereof. The more time we spent there, the more I realised that it was extremely difficult for players to make a living out of playing cricket in the West Indies — either as an international player, or playing domestic cricket. While it is tempting to paint the players as mercenaries because they play in T20 leagues around the world, the fact of the matter is that the board has left the players to fend for themselves. And, it is the players that make the game, not the administrators, of course.

On my last trip to the Caribbean with the Indian team in 2011, we played in some of the newer venues that were constructed for the 2007 World Cup. It was shocking to see that before the first Test, there was not even a proper practice pitch at the hallowed and celebrated Sabina Park. To me, that was a huge shock in the system. Here we are on the eve of a Test match, and not even the basic facilities were in place. It was disgraceful, to say the least.

It also helped some of us appreciate what BCCI has done for Indian players and Indian cricket. There are things that we take for granted, but only when you see the situation elsewhere that you realise how fortunate you are in more ways than you could have imagined.

I have been a huge fan of West Indies cricket from my early days, and among my role models were Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge. The rich Caribbean heritage has struck a chord in every cricket lover, and world cricket needs a vibrant, successful West Indian team.

In many ways, the T20 success is a victory despite the system and not because of it. Naturally talented cricketers who have gained experience by playing around the world and who have been united by a common purpose have shown what they are capable of, but that does not mean that these results will translate into the Test arena. International cricket needs a strong West Indian Test team, but I cannot see that happening anytime soon, sadly. As it is, several potential West Indian cricketers have been weaned away to the United States; hopefully, if Darren Sammy and his men can inspire youngsters into taking cricket more seriously, taking it up as a profession and as a livelihood, the World T20 triumph will have a more meaningful long term outcome. But for that, the board will have to climb down from its rigid stance and engage with the players in a mutually beneficial dialogue.

I can now imagine and understand the state of the West Indian players every time they played a match at the World T20. But seeing the way they played the game, you would never have guessed the inner turmoil. After all, when you are doing battle, no one can take the bat away from you, no one can control how you bowl. No one can tame your inner spirit. That was the lesson Sammy’s team sent out to the rest of the world for three glorious weeks. Bravo, champions!

(VVS Laxman, CricketCountry’s Chief Cricket Mentor, remains one of the finest and most elegant batsmen in history. He was part of the iconic Indian middle-order for over a decade and a half and played 134 Tests and 86 ODIs. He tweets at @vvslaxman281)