Will Windies return to the party?
From The Sports Desk
WIN or lose against hosts Sri Lanka today in the final of the ICC World Twenty/20 Championships, the West Indies have already made a statement — that if they select anywhere near their best team, they can beat anybody in the world.
Of course, they would have archieved this 'Eureka moment' a tad late as regional fans and the rest of the world have been preaching this gospel for some time, especially in light of the infamous spats between the administrators and of its top players over the past few years.
Further, one recalls ill-advised statements from board executives and other officials to the effect that the team can do without, and even perform better, when players deemed disruptive are not part of the setup.
However, rather than re-trace this sordid history, we return to the current tournament in Sri Lanka and savour for a moment the sweet victory against old foes Australia in the semi-final on Friday.
It has been years since I've seen the Aussies so embarrassed in the sport, whatever the format. Perhaps the closest would have been the Ashes defeat against Andrew Strauss' side a few years ago when Allistair Cook, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and company made of them minced meat in their backyard on the way to a stunning series win.
On this occasion, the West Indies turned up in droves to the semi-final party, and did they deliver! It was almost humorous watching the shell-shocked faces of the men from 'Down Under' as they withstood an old time shellacking from the most eminent proponents of this explosive form of the game.
And it was not as if the Aussies bowled badly. In fact, they tried to put the balls in the right areas and even managed to restrict danger man Chris Gayle to a modest 41 deliveries for the entire innings.
What they never factored in, however, was the support cast of Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard who all shared crucial partnerships with Gayle on the way to a tournament-high score of over 200.
In hindsight, the strategy of keeping the prolific Gayle at the non-striker's end probably backfired as not only did he carry his heavy bat for the 20 overs, but he also had time to mull his innings from the other end while guiding teammates with the sheer menace of his presence.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that's exactly what happened when the Aussies made their reply, to the extent that with a daunting required rate of over 10 runs per over, they panicked and lost the game in the first few overs.
In so doing, they proved what many had long suspected — that their top three batsmen apart, they are vulnerable henceforth, with too many of their players getting a knock for the first time in the tournament.
And so we're onto the big dance between the hosts and pre-tournament favourites West Indies. Interestingly, this will be Sri Lanka's second time in a T20 final, but they are yet to win the coveted silverware. They are at home on this occasion and anything other than a win will send this cricket-mad nation into mourning.
A Lankan plus is they've been the most consistent of the teams on show and arguably, also possess the most balanced outfit, led by the wily Mahela Jayawardene. A big occasion side which, unfortunately, has made many more World Cup finals than they've won, Sri Lanka have the ammunition and fervour to go all the way, emerging as they are from a civil war that necessitates a national re-branding.
Conversely, while their unquestionable strength is their batting, where they boast a variety of options, the Windies have struggled to put together a bowling unit to complement Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree and Ravi Rampaul all tournament long. As such, they're are still playing musical chairs with their next eight overs.
By the way, I would expect Dwayne Smith to replace the out-of-sorts Johnson Charles at the top of the order today, thus providing another option for the Caribbean team.
Sri Lanka have no such worries and have the luxury of five match-winning bowlers at their disposal. They appear in the form of seamers Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, along with mystery spinners Rangana Herath, Akila Dananjaya and Ajantha Mendis.
Their batting, which includes Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews, is also from the top drawer and is as lethal as they come in the modern game. This all-round combination, along with the 35,000 delirious fans expected at the venue, could be the litmus test for Darren Sammy's side.
Interestingly, both finalists have not won a World Cup for some time, with the Windies being without a trophy since 1979 and the Sri Lankans last tasting success in 1996.
For the former, however, this will be a serious grudge match as they were whipped by nine wickets in the Super Eight phase this year and were eliminated by their opponents at the last two staging of the T20 competition.
Can the West Indies, like they did in the ICC Champions Trophy back in 2004 in England, mend broken hearts and pull off a coup against the home team?
Will Gayle's reputation as the most feared batsman in the game again be validated, or will he be constrained by that niggling side strain? Will the support cast again show up, or is one asking too much of an outfit renowned for its mercurial talent? Again, the consistent hosts will definitely turn up for the humdinger, but will the Windies?
We wait with bated breaths.