A game that proved Twenty20 matters
There was a celebration after this World Twenty20 final, but it was not on the streets of Colombo. The thousands of people who streamed into the centre of Sri Lanka's capital to dance the night away largely turned around and went back again. Instead, the carnival was in the Caribbean as West Indies kept their promise that their cricketing regeneration had begun. Rally Round the West Indies, Gangnam Style and a bit of Bob Marley, washed down by a dark rum or two, long into the night.
Even those traditional cricket supporters most resistant to the attractions of T20 must concede that if it helps to reawaken Caribbean cricket after two decades of decline then it will have had a positive impact on the world game. And while they are in conciliatory mood, they can concede, too, that there was no better man to spark the rebirth than Darren Sammy, West Indies' big-hearted, congenial captain, a man who has followed their slogan of "One Team, One People, One Goal" to the letter, and whose unbeaten 26 off 15 balls, to follow Marlon Samuels' 78, dragged West Indies out of inertia to what proved to be a matchwinning 137 for 6.
Never say again that Twenty20 does not matter. Never say again that it is such an entirely inferior game that is not worth your attention, that it demands no intellect, creates no tension, bares no souls. If it is not a worthy addition to Test cricket, how can you explain the despair tonight for Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, two players who have offered Sri Lankan cricket wise counsel and stirring deeds for the past decade and who have failed yet again to win a major one-day trophy? They will fear that they may now never leap the final hurdle.
Never say again that Twenty20 does not matter, that it is all a bit of fun, that it is a bad game best disguised by cheerleaders and loud music. If you think that, how do you explain why Chris Gayle, the most destructive batsman around, went into his shell to make 3 runs in 16 balls in the face of insistent Sri Lankan bowling on a mediocre surface when the time had come to fulfil his prediction that the final belonged to West Indies. The tension in the early overs of West Indies' innings was of Test match quality and there is no finer accolade than that.
And how do you suppress your recognition that Marlon Samuels, the Yohan Blake to Gayle's Usain Bolt, played an innings of substance by any definition, launching a spectacular assault on Lasith Malinga, in particular, to drag West Indies' angst-ridden innings out of the mire?
This World Twenty20 tournament, run with a professionalism beyond anything that Sri Lanka has ever produced, has emphasised that T20 cricket must have a future in the international game and that those who have suggested it should be left only to domestic franchise leagues have been entirely misguided.
Properly played, this is a game that carries many of Test cricket's tensions, a game that also possesses its own strategy, its own quick-wittedness, its own moments of immense skill, the only difference being that they reveal themselves only seconds rather than hours.
A West Indies win had not seemed likely earlier in the evening. There was a man dressed as a ghost in the crowd at Premadasa, shown briefly on TV, and on a night when, as it turned out, Sri Lanka were unable to revive the ghosts of their 1996 World Cup win, it seemed appropriate to this onlooker to watch the game from the Cricket Club Café, which to the travelling cricket supporter at least has become the spiritual home of cricket in Colombo.
Months after Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup win, James and Gabby Whight sold up in Australia, opened a cricket-themed bar in Colombo and hoped for the best. They partly funded it on the proceeds of a good wine collection and they were down to their last couple of cases when people finally began to come through the door. Two decades of civil war struck Sri Lanka cruelly, the 2004 tsunami brought further tragedy, but the café, like Sri Lanka cricket itself, withstood the hard times. They will find it hard to believe tonight, but the future is brighter.
As Samuels recovered West Indies' innings in brilliant fashion, his innings developing with an assault upon Lasith Malinga, and as Sammy biffed West Indies out of range, the walls of the café carried memories of a bygone era. Yellowing newspaper cuttings told of some of Don Bradman's great knocks, of how the crowd at the Trent Bridge Test booed Keith Miller for bowling a bumper and hitting Len Hutton on the shoulder, and how Sri Lanka - in the words of the Colombo Daily News - "climbed Everest" the day Arjuna Ranatunga's team changed the nature of cricket in Sri Lanka by winning the World Cup.
That cutting, too, is history now - and there will be no cutting to replace it. Sixteen years of Sobers Stir- Frys and Ganguly Grills have been served to cricket supporters while Sri Lanka have waited in vain to follow up their greatest moment. Gabby promised to seek out some new cuttings if Sri Lanka overcame West Indies; she will have no need to search out the scissors.
Keith Miller, had he been born in the modern age, would have loved T20; Bradman might have privately thought it beneath him but pride would have probably persuaded him to adapt and become masterful at it. Both, though, would have had to be weaned off their lightweight bats. One of the framed displays on the café's wall shows The History Of The Cricket Bat and it has to be said the Early Curved Bat of the 1730s might not have been much use for clearing the ropes. Memories of another age.
Sri Lanka, who coming into the final had struck 17 sixes to West Indies' 42, seemed at times to be using the Early Curved Bat as they forgot the skills that had brought them to the final and tried to go big with disastrous effect. As for Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's top scorer with 33, he felt a spot of drizzle, sensed the advent of the October monsoon and promptly got out trying to get ahead of Duckworth/Lewis. It never drizzled again. "You can't see the skies, only feel the drops," Jayawardene said.
As Sri Lanka squeezed West Indies, and West Indies squeezed back in return, a new generation of cricket fans, unable to get tickets for the game, watched in expectation at the café, oblivious to the faded photos around them. As they came into the bar, one of them glanced at the TV screen, spotted Gayle, and shouted "six, six, six", but it was not that kind of night and the ball dribbled no more than a few yards. The X-man was having a few z's, but his understudy was wide awake. "It was a slow wicket, but I knew if I hung in there it would be okay," Samuels said. "Today was a different mindset - I decided to attack their best bowler." No international player has come to fruition so markedly this year.
With one over left of West Indies' innings, it was time to grab a trishaw to Galle Face Green, in search of a celebration that never took place. Sixteen years ago, as Ranatunga's team made history, it was a happier place. This must have been the only tuk tuk in Colombo with an in-built TV, the driver certainly claimed it to be so. Long before the end of the night, though, he had probably reached for the power-off button.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo