Sammy's quest to fulfill a Caribbean dream
As Darren Sammy's pre-final press conference ended, a few journalists and camerapersons standing at the back of the Premadasa media room actually clapped. If you were looking for evidence of just what West Indies, even a decade-and-a-half after their decline, mean to cricket and its fans, here it was. No one clapped after Mahela Jayawardene had finished speaking to the media; not even the local media men. While there is no doubt Jayawardene and his men will have a packed Premadasa cheering for them tomorrow, there is also no doubting who most neutral fans want to win.
West Indies are the game's original, and only, gladiators. In their prime, their bowlers put the fear of death in opposition batsmen's minds, their batsmen fearlessly slaughtered opposition bowlers, and their team ruled the cricket world with sheer force. Everywhere, fans loved the raw skill and passion which West Indies brought to cricket. The skill and passion have dimmed over the years, but fans still keep waiting for some performances, or a performance, that will remind them that once, this was a side which forced you to sit down and watch it do its stuff.
In these difficult times, West Indies have invested their faith in a man who has divided opinion in a way a modern captain scarcely has. Whether he should be there in the side or not is a debate which will probably continue as long as he is captain, but Sammy is the man who will go down in history as the one who led West Indies to their first World Cup final - albeit in the Twenty20 form - since 1983. Yes, it has taken just two outright wins, over Australia and England in the Super Eights, to make the final, but West Indies won't mind that.
Sammy has been nearly invisible with bat and ball through the tournament while Chris Gayle has soaked in most of the attention. He has had to face difficult questions over Gayle's absence from the squad and his subsequent return. It was heartwarming to see Sammy jump around in the dugout with delight after every Gayle six in the semi-final. The captain has no pretensions to being a world-class player but has always maintained he's there to bring the squad together, to involve everyone, and make it easy for his players to perform without inhibition. Even when he was asked about what the final meant for him as a leader, as someone who had worked for a united squad, he only spoke about the Caribbean people.
"For me, it is going to be a memorable occasion," Sammy said. "I am more focussed on the team and the Caribbean people. I have just been playing cricket for a few years but the fans have been supporting for a number of years. To me it is all about them. They are who come and watch us play, wake early in the morning and stay up late at night."
What if West Indies went a step further, what if they beat Sri Lanka tomorrow? "It would be massive," Sammy said. "It's been over a decade and the fans are craving for bigger success. That is the goal we left the Caribbean with. We have been saying it in the dressing room, it is one team, one people, one mission. We are just one step away from the World Twenty20. When we do well people in the Caribbean are very happy, work stops for a few hours back home. It would mean everything to us as players, as coaching staff. It would give us a big boost."
Sammy said the last man who won a World Cup for West Indies, Clive Lloyd, had a message for the side ahead of the final. "I got an email from Mr. Lloyd saying we are very proud in the Caribbean of what the team is doing, people are very happy and just go out and win it. 'Success comes before work only in the dictionary. Continue to work hard so that you can reap success tomorrow,' he said. It means a lot to everybody. That in itself will be the biggest motivation for us."
Lloyd and the people of the Caribbean won't be the only ones rooting for West Indies tomorrow. There is a world title to be won, and probably the entire cricketing world, barring the Sri Lankans, will be behind Sammy and his men.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo