Darren Sammy on the team’s camaraderie: “We think it is us against the world.” © Associated Press
“Have you ever heard about Chris Gayle?” Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, asked the reporter with a snigger. The first question Sammy was asked at the media conference on Wednesday, on the eve of the semi-final against India, was whether he was worried about Virat Kohli’s form.
Sammy’s dismay is not without reason. West Indies’ openers average 42, the highest among all teams in the Super 10s stage, while India’s pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan average a mere 11, the lowest. No India bowler features among the top ten wicket-takers of the tournament so far, while West Indies’ Andre Russell, with seven wickets, is at No. 10. Among batsmen who have faced at least 25 deliveries in the World T20 2016, Chris Gayle has the highest batting strike rate of 208.
Yet everyone believes India are the favourites. Facing the odds is something Sammy and his men have become accustomed to. Even before the World T20 campaign began, Sammy had spoken of the victimisation the players suffered at the hands of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
Then West Indies were robbed of the services of Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine who opted out of the tournament for different, individual reasons. Lendl Simmons, who will play his first match tomorrow, decided to sit out to recover from an injury. Still, like New Zealand, West Indies won their first three matches in the Super 10s stage to book their semi-final spot before losing to Afghanistan.
Sammy was asked how the West Indies players manage to keep their chin up, play, dance and make merry despite facing several hurdles. He felt the “lack of respect” shown towards the team only brought the players “closer together”.
“We think it is us against the world. That 15 players and the support staff. It is just us, our own new circle against the world and that’s how we’ve gone out and played,” Sammy said. “And tomorrow is no bigger day to express that because I don’t think we have one Indian supporter so it’s going to be a massive game and it’s a challenge that we are ready for.”
Sammy knows a loss tomorrow could possibly bring an end to his international career. This could also be the case for a few of his team-mates. But, as an influencer in the side, Sammy wants to look ahead, instead of brooding.
“We came into the tournament as No. 1[India were ranked No. 1, West Indies were 2]. Nobody gave us a chance. A lot was said about us which we have not spoken about. We will have our moment. But, as I said, it is six steps to the Cup. We have taken four. We had little potholes in the road, but we have dusted ourselves off and we are going the step [up] tomorrow against India.”
Ahead of the quarter-final match against New Zealand in the World Cup last year in Wellington, Sammy was similarly pumped up. Back then, like now, the opponent was a host and a strong favourite. Sammy reminded the world of “some guy called Douglas beating Mike Tyson”. It was the 1990 fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas which the latter won. In Wellington, West Indies were silenced by New Zealand.
On Wednesday, Sammy was pumped up once again. India, Sammy was told, are 80-20 favorites going into the semi-final. That did not mean much to him. “It feels like David and Goliath, but people tend to forgot David won the fight,” Sammy said with a smile.
West Indies players have sparkled in the tournament. Gayle dazzled in his thunderous century assault on England at the Wankhede Stadium. Marlon Samuels played a mature knock to arrest a middle-order failure against South Africa. Andre Fletcher, opening in place of the injured Gayle in Bangalore, took West Indies home against Sri Lanka. The spinners, Samuel Badree and Sulieman Benn, have kept the opposition quiet while snaring victims with guile and accuracy.
Sammy pointed to these examples as the positive steps West Indies have taken to advance in the tournament. “The key word was responsibility. It was one of the main words we use in the dressing room. Someone taking the responsibility to bring the team home, not leaving it for anyone in the dressing room. The three games we won, the first game Chris batted throughout the innings, the second game it was Fletcher, the third one Marlon Samuels took us really close. We didn’t have that against Afghanistan chasing a low total. It’s about each person taking ownership of the job that is required out there, not leaving it for anybody else,” Sammy said.
Yet, he admitted West Indies have areas to work on, the most important being strike rotation and a reduction in dot balls. West Indies batsmen have played the highest percentage of dot balls (51.85), while no other team has played more than 50%. Their percentage of singles taken is also the lowest at 35.66. “We haven’t played the perfect game yet. We are stressing on rotation of strike and stuff. We are aware, it is clear that we are a boundary-hitting team. We look at the dot-ball percentage, probably it is 40-50%,” he said.
Sammy pointed out one area they can learn from India was seizing the momentum. “It is about continuing that way and it is going to be a 240-ball event. It is all about momentum,” he said. “And we are very aware India are a very good team at seizing momentum. Once we don’t let them win too many events in that 240 [balls] and seize the momentum in that period of the match, we back ourselves to do that.”
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo