It wasn’t supposed to end like this. A victory flag was pounded into the ground and Sunday was supposed to be the day on which the Indian team was supposed to lift the World T20 in the Eden Gardens and the whole of India would dance, celebrate and burst crackers into the night.
Neither was it supposed to end the way it did.
Did you notice how quiet Sunday was? Stacked up somewhere in homes across the country were crackers that were saved up for an Indian victory. None of them were burst. That plan went bust when the Lendl Simmons, Andre Russell and Johnson Charles silenced a country with power hitting like no other. In the semi-final, Virat Kohli, who seemingly walked on water throughout the tournament, played a knock that seemed to be enough to get the home team home. And when the much awaited top draw contest between him and Chris Gayle fizzled out in the first over when Jasprit Bumrah bowled a beautiful delivery that thundered onto Chris Gayle’s stumps, the result seemed all but sealed.
Chance. It’s a word that can be dissected and given many forms. In cricketing parlance, chance can either work for you or against you. This is a small case study in chance:
Lendl Simmons wasn’t supposed to be in the playing XI.
He was called as a replacement for the injured Andre Fletcher.
In the 7th over, he got an edge and Bumrah took a fantastic catch at short third man.
The replays showed that R Ashwin had overstepped.
In the 14th over, Lendl Simmons was caught at cover by R Ashwin.
The replays showed Hardik Pandya’s foot was way beyond the line. Big no-ball.
In the 18th over, Simmons hit a low full toss toward the long on boundary and two of India’s best fielders, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja came together to complete what seemed to be the catch of the tournament. Ravindra Jadeja caught the ball in his left hand and just as he was about to go over the boundary, passed the ball to Kohli who held onto it.
The replays showed that his feet had just caressed the boundary when the ball was in his hand.
So this is chance in a nutshell: Lendl Simmons, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the World Cup was called to replace an injured Andre Fletcher and in his first match of the tournament which happened to be the semi-final, got 3 lives.
Some would call it luck. Some would call the two no-balls unpardonable sins.
All sins aren’t forgiven and the Indian team paid heavily for their missed chances. The end came at the hands of the star of the tournament Virat Kohli who was struck for a boundary and six in the last over.
David had beat Goliath. They silenced a billion cheers.
Heck, they even silenced the crackers.
It’s 1976. England were to take on the West Indies in a test series. Tony Greig, the English captain said “I intend to make them grovel.” It wasn’t the best of times for racial harmony and the comment was seen as a racial taunt and would serve as the springboard for the West Indian team. Like a lamb who was taken to the slaughterhouse, Tony Grieg was forced to his knees by the pounding he received in the hands of the West Indians.
6 words that set off a fire. Those would go on to become the hardest words he would be forced to swallow when the West Indies would go onto beat the English 3-0 in the 5 match test series.
It’s 2016. England took on the West Indies in the final of the T20 World Cup. Mark Nicholas, a former county player and currently a broadcaster called the West Indies “short of brains.” Maybe he had forgotten that the West Indies don’t take to jibes too kindly. The crowds that had anticipated an Indian final came largely to support the men from the Caribbean.
England lost the hero of the semi-final, Jason Roy, in the second ball of the innings to Samuel Badree. Alex Hales holed out to Russell in the second over and in came the answer to all of England’s problems, Joe Root. In the 4th over, Root struck 3 boundaries to pull England back from their free fall.
In the very next over, Eoin Morgan edged a delivery and gave Chris Gayle at first slip some catching practice. England were 23/3 and Samuel Badree had already cast a spell over the final. Jos Buttler and Joe Root rebuilt from the ruins before Buttler was caught at the mid-wicket boundary. The recovery was short lived.
They again dug themselves into a hole after Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali fell in the same over. The burden of expectancy again fell on Joe Root. The very next over, he attempted to scoop the ball over the keeper and Braithwathe was a fraction quicker in reading him and altering his delivery, causing Root to give an easy catch to Benn at short fine leg. England were 111/7. Who knows, if Root had stood on one leg to avoid the curse of the nelson, maybe he would have batted longer.
England managed to reach 155 for the loss of nine wickets on the back of some power hitting by David Willey who scored 21 off 14 with a couple of hits over the fence. They would have taken that after their factitious start.
The West Indies began no better than England. Chris Gayle, the man who brings with him weather forecasts that predict thunder and hail, had failed to deliver in the semi-finals. In the second over of the match, Morgan gave the ball to Joe Root. First ball of the over, Johnson Charles was caught at mid-on by Stokes. 3rd ball of the over, Chris Gayle tried to smash it over long-off and was caught by Stokes again. 5/2. 155 seemed to be more than enough.
Lendl Simmons, who seemed to have an army of angels watching over him in the previous match, came to the crease to restore the innings and give it a semblance of normalcy. First ball, struck on the pads. It looked high but the umpire had no doubt in his mind. Lendl Simmons had finally run out of luck,, second chances and lives. West Indies 11/3.
Marlon Samuels is an angry man. Way back in 2007, he was banned for 2 years for giving information to a bookie. After his return, he seems to be carrying a ton of misspent anger with him wherever he goes. He carried his team over the finish line in the 2012 T20 finals against the Sri Lankans in their home. 4 years later, he has been assigned the same task. There is a time for anger, a time for calm. He has to bridge both of those discordant notes if the West Indies were to strum out a victory.
The West Indies had to do what the English did. Rebuild. Samuels and Dwayne Bravo steered the innings and in the sixth over, Samuels plummeled 3 boundaries off Chris Jordan. In the first ball of the 7th over, he nicked one to Jos Buttler who claimed the catch. Having walked nearly all the way back to the dugout, replays showed that the ball had bounced before landing inside Buttler’s gloves.
Chance. Luck. At work again.
With the required run rate crossing over 10 sometime in the 11th over, something had to give. Dwayne Bravo pocketed 25 runs off 27 deliveries before he top edged a delivery off Rashid to Root but the innings needed someone to explode like dynamite.
It seemed like he had waited for the moment. The fire had been fed. Marlon Samuels and Andre Russell were at the crease. If there was to be a rapture, this was it.
Disaster struck in the 16th over.
Andre Russell pulled and was caught by Ben Stokes on the midwicket boundary. Darren Sammy, who hadn’t had much of a bat the whole series, came to support angry Marlon at the crease. Third ball of the over, he hit one to deep cover and was caught. The West Indies needed 48 runs off 4 overs with 4 wickets in hand. Marlon Samuels had Carlos Braithwaite for support.
Overs 17, 18 and 19 went for 26 runs. 18 balls. 26 runs. Gold. Almost.
19 required off 6.
What happened in the 20th over has been recounted, reprinted, choked highlight packages and will be told and retold for generations to come.
Carlos Braithwaite struck the first six over backward square leg.
Carlos Braithwaite struck the second six over long-on.
Carlos Braithwaite struck the third six over long off. It didn’t look like he had quite struck it hard enough but it crossed over the long off boundary.
Gold had turned to lead in a span of two deliveries. 19 off 6 became 1 off 3.
Carlos Braithwaite struck the fourth six over deep midwicket.
It happened. The rapture. Somewhere, Yuvraj Singh would have been beaming and Stuart Broad wincing.
Can tragedy strike the same team twice?
But Marlon Samuels wasn’t smiling. When Ben Stokes was bowling an over in his life that will continue to haunt him, Samuels got into a needless confrontation. Very unbecoming of him. In the press conference that followed, he sat with his pads on with his legs on the table. Very un-champion like.
Rage as fuel can work wonders. When it spills over, it looks ugly.
The post match conference saw Darren Sammy speak of how the West Indies Cricket Board hadn’t even bothered to congratulate them. Players from the land that once ruled cricket are now playing in any T20 league they can find to make a good living off the game. Back home, their board forced them to take pay cuts and sign the dotted line. They chose the platform no one can close their ears and eyes to speak up.
Words can build bridges. Or they can build walls that become too big to scale. The West Indies have been subject to words that can leave scabs on the psyche. Their rage is held in a cauldron that is threatening to explode and overflow. Think of all that the West Indies had to grovel through before the World T20. They were involved in a bitter pay dispute with the West Indian Cricket Board before the T20 World Cup. The players and the board are constantly at odds over their payment structure, the same reason they abandoned their tour of India in 2014. The result was the Indian cricket board, the richest in World Cricket, sued the West Indian Cricket Board for a sum of 60 million dollars, not a situation a cash-strapped board would like to find itself in. The pay dispute again erupted before the World Cup before some sort of temporary truce was signed between the players and the board.
The decline of the West Indies as a cricketing super-power is sad. But they seem to have channelized all of their anger and frustration into the shortest format of the game. And to think, it all began as a battle for survival. Indian cricketers don’t wake up thinking about money. They deal with unreal expectations, fame and fanatics who stone their houses when they lose, but not with trivial stuff like salaries. Imagine playing for your country and not being sure if you’re going to be paid. Or being underpaid. The constant dispute between players and a board that is stuck in a time warp has meant that more West Indian players are signing up for leagues and choosing club over country. Chris Gayle has made no bones about the shortest format being closer to his heart than test cricket. So when his team is falling like nine pins in a test match, he is swatting bowlers like flies in a T20 league somewhere.
It’s been 3 days. It looks like they’re listening. The WICB has called the players to talk. Darren Sammy will have a stadium named after him at St. Lucia. Mark Nicholas has apologised for his thoughtless ‘short of brains’ statement. Their woes are far from over but it took so much anger to find a place on the table. In just 4 months, they have brought home the U-19 World Cup and their men and women are the T20 champions.
Their rage was fed, drip by drip, word by word, humiliation by humiliation. It finally found a cauldron in the Eden Gardens. Like a Volcano, they exploded and silenced all those that didn’t want to hear them out.
But did you notice how quiet it was that night?
There were no crackers at all. None.