Jubilant juniors hope to revive West Indies cricket
As West Indies drew closer to winning their first Under-19 World Cup, Gidron Pope came rushing out of the dressing room towards the team dugout and saw all his team-mates sitting down. They needed nine from the last two overs and he knew they were going to win. Pope got everyone on his feet. The players, the head coach, the physio, the bowling coach, the team manager - all of them formed a line with arms around each other just beyond the boundary line, ready to burst on to the field as soon as the winning runs were struck. They cheered when Keacy Carty reached his half-century in the penultimate over, and took off when Keemo Paul sent a top-edge flying over the wicketkeeper.
"I feel good, words can't explain how good," captain Shimron Hetmyer said right after the match. "We weren't supposed to be champions but we came up top. I will revere this very big win from now till the next World Cup. I would like to see a change in West Indies cricket and from this, there will be a change. Some of the younger guys coming up will play the next World Cup. They will look at some of the games that we've played and look at the knocks some of the guys have played - [Shamar] Springer, and Keacy today - and just aim to do better, get into the West Indies team. Help get them back on top."
Carty, the top-scorer with an unbeaten 52 off 125 balls, dug deep for over two hours after the bowlers had done all the hard work in the morning. He made sure he was there till the winning run was scored, and threw his bat and helmet up in jubilation before his team-mates swarmed around him, taking over the field of play.
"It was very enjoyable," Carty said. "We performed very well, it is a very good feeling. I told myself that I can't leave the Under-19 World Cup without a landmark. We work together, we hope to take West Indies back on top where we were.
"It feels very good, but as our coaches say, it's just another day at work. This is our career. This is our job. We need to do it well and be consistent going forward."
West Indies were neither the favourites on the first day of the tournament nor on the last day when they faced an unbeaten India side, the best side of the World Cup till that point. From losing their first match against England to arriving in Dhaka with no crowd to support them, West Indies had pulled everything their way against the odds. Not a single flag of the West Indies or its constituent nations was spotted in the stands, and they came up against more than 10,000 fans in the semi-final against hosts Bangladesh. And even the start time of their matches - 9am local time in Mirpur - was close to midnight back home and unlikely to draw too many TV viewers.
"Didn't really make that much of a difference," Hetmyer said. "The guys played against Bangladesh with most, if not all, the crowd hating us. We didn't really take that too much into consideration because we don't worry too much about the crowd. We just come to play cricket and that's what we did. If we do have support, that's a bonus for us. Today, we just stuck to our stuff and we did well."
Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler, was in the commentary box when the winning runs were struck and later said the team had exceeded his expectations. He noted how they had improved through the tournament, and the presence of mind shown by wicketkeeper Tevin Imlach when he stumped Rishabh Pant off fast bowler Alzarri Joseph in the first over.
"They exceeded my expectations, to be honest," Bishop said. "The last week has to be one of the best [of my commentary career. I have seen the 2004 Champions Trophy win and the 2012 World T20 win, and this is right really up there. But there is something different in this. You have seen young kids mature, you have seen young kids show a great deal of awareness. It makes me optimistic about the future of West Indies cricket. I am really happy to be honest.
"They played three games against Bangladesh before the World Cup and lost all of them. They learnt from game to game and showed versatility. Springer, Keemo Paul, Keacy Carty coming good. They showed a sense of awareness in different game situations. Imlach, this morning, to [stump] Pant set the tone and showed how aware these guys were. It's a great shot in the arm for West Indies cricket."
West Indies were buoyed by the combination of their pace attack comprising Joseph and Chemar Holder, who came together only for the knockout stage. While Joseph was among the wickets from their first match, Holder joined the squad later to replace the injured Obed McCoy. Even though McCoy had not been in the XI, Holder was drafted in straight away.
"I don't know if West Indies would have won the tournament without the acquisition of Chemar Holder to partner Joseph," Bishop said. "If it is Joseph alone, you feel a sense of release at the other end. But once they realised that Holder was offering nothing for release, it became that difficult in the first 10-12 overs. And the other guys fed off from that. It was one of the key points."
Even as the senior team tries to sort out one issue after another with the West Indies Cricket Board, the junior team has shown the Caribbean is brimming with talent and a pool of players who are ready to be honed and nurtured for the senior level. The team has also ensured that West Indies now have every ICC trophy in their cabinet. They came close to clinching the Under-19 World Cup in 2004 and lost the final to Pakistan, but today Hetmyer and his boys proved there remains much to celebrate in West Indies cricket.
Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo