Criticism is frequently made of legitimately great batsmen from time to time that the one thing lacking in his game is that he hasn’t made/doesn’t make the really big scores – or words to that effect.
Ah, the calypso music, the partying people, the flair, talent and athleticism, there is a pure joy and undeniable entertainment that the West Indians bring to the game.
The coolest team on the planet always play with a smile on their face and truly enjoy themselves on the field, reminding us all of the true purpose of sport: to entertain and bring happiness in an otherwise challenging world.
They draw you in like moths to a flame. You can’t resist their charm and love how easy they make everything look. They can take your breath away in an instant and remind you why you fell in love with the game in the first place.
But make no mistake, behind all this lies a fierce competitive spirit and national pride that drives the men from the Caribbean.
This has resulted in two World Cup trophies and world domination of the sport from the 1970s all the way through the early ‘90s. Their victories in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups were utterly dominant and a hat trick of victories was theirs for the taking but for an inspired performance by Kapil Kev’s side in the 1983 final.
That defeat proved to be more than just a mere blip on the radar. It signalled the culmination of an era of domination for the once-mighty West Indies.
They have never made another final since and the team has been on a downward spiral after the retirements of legends Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. So astonishing has been their fall from grace that it is hard to imagine that the Islanders were once upon a time known as the Masters of the Universe.
To compound matters, a lack of success and money in the sport drove aspiring youngsters to take up other games like basketball and athletics to fulfill their sporting dreams. Continuous bickering between the team’s premier talents and their cricket board resulted in a serious loss of talent to the national team.
Every cricket lover wanted the West Indies to do well and re-emerge as a force in the game, but barring a semi-final appearance in 1996, they haven’t even come close to recapturing the heights they had once attained.
However, there was hope of a resurgence when West Indies won the 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cups and defeated England in a Test match away from home in 2017. But these were just to be a few flashes of light in an all too familiar dark tunnel.
The dawn finally began to appear on the tour of India in late 2018, when the Windies showed tremendous resilience and belief to stand up to the hosts in the ODI series after being absolutely demolished in the two-match Test series.
Even after being comprehensively beaten in the first one-dayer, the West Indies refused to let their heads drop. Instead they came roaring back into the series in the very next match. Set a challenging total of 321 on the back of an imperious innings of 157* by Indian skipper Virat Kohli, the tourists were well on their way to victory courtesy of a brilliant partnership between young guns Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer, the former scoring an elegant 123 and the latter a destructive 94, before collapsing in a heap and just about managing to come away with a tie.
But rather than rue a missed opportunity and dropping their shoulders, the Islanders took a lot of confidence from the match and stunned India by 43 runs in the next game.
The series was level at 1-1 after three matches with two to play. Despite going down tamely in the following matches to eventually lose the series 3-1, the Windies had displayed a lot of fight and belief – something that had been missing for the past several years – to make their fans believe that the sun was just on the horizon.
The turnaround in their fortunes was finally complete, and the resurgence well and truly on its way, when they emphatically defeated a higher-ranked England side in a Test series at home before going toe-to-toe with them in the ODI series and squaring it at 2-2.
So heading into the World Cup there is real optimism around the Calypso Kings. These are the reasons why they are definitely the dark horses of the event and stand a real chance of going all the way if they can consistently perform to their potential.
Belief and resilience
What has given the fans of the West Indies hope is the belief, resilience and passion the team has shown in recent times, despite unfavourable results.
This was not the case previously. The Islanders used to look like they were ready to roll over once they had lost a couple of matches. But the fight and pride they have been showing recently has given their supporters reason to believe that their team is on the up.
Return of star players
With the stand-off between the West Indies board and their star players coming to an end, the team now has the services of explosive talents like Chris Gayle and Andre Russell along with the calming influence of Darren Bravo to fall back on. They will provide the team with the much needed experience, firepower and pedigree needed to win the title.
After losing out to other sports over the past several years, the West Indies have finally managed to assemble a group of highly talented youngsters to support the seniors as the Windies embark on their quest for a first title since 1979.
Starting from their skipper – one of the world’s top all-rounders in Jason Holder – the team is brimming with talented individuals such as wicketkeeper-batsmen Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran, explosive hitters Shimron Hetmyer, left-arm spinner Fabian Allen and fast bowlers Oshane Thomas and Sheldon Cottrell.
The Windies had previously unearthed some precious talents in Marlon Samuels, Fidel Edwards, Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach but never before in the last 20 years have they had such a star-studded roster to choose from.
The last hurrah
Chris Gayle has announced that he would be retiring after the World Cup. The destructive opener has been one of the greatest entertainers the game has ever produced and also one of the sport’s most feared batsmen.
He is also one of the few West Indian cricketers in the last two decades to carve out a highly successful career.
A team man to the core, he is loved and adored by his team-mates and opponents alike. The ever-popular Jamaican could well prove to be the catalyst to spur the Caribbeans to the title, like Sachin Tendulkar in 2011.
A balanced unit
Probably the single biggest factor in the West Indians’ triumphs in the 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cups was that their team was tailor-made for success in the format.
Their batting line-up was studded with big hitters all the way until No.8, which meant that they could chase down any total, and the team also contained several all-rounders, which is pure gold in any format.
The Windies have that same quality running right through the team this time as well. The West Indians seem to have all the bases covered. It is indeed a perfectly balanced unit.
Can the West Indians – who bring so much joy to the game with their flair and flamboyance – upset the apple cart and regain their glory days by climbing the summit once again?
Can they rekindle their romance with the cricket world?
Can this be the start of another era of dominance?
These are answers that the entire cricketing world and their diehard fans will be waiting for.