Dancing to the Collapso
"I love the tag unpredictable, which means that no opposition, no matter how strong, can think that they're going to roll us over," Brian Lara, the West Indian captain, had said on the eve of the Champions Trophy final. But rolled over they were. After a rollicking start from Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle, losing ten wickets for only 89 and ending up all out for 138. Even rain, which stole more than a hundred minutes of playing time, could not halt Australia's victory march.
West Indies have played such good cricket in all their key matches before the final that talk of a resurgence has gained momentum. It would be harsh to overlook all the strides they have made on the basis of this one game - any team can be bowled out cheaply by Australia on the day - but it's also impossible to ignore the fact that West Indies are collapsing more often and more spectacularly than any other side.
It was a day when Chanderpaul and Gayle began like men on a mission, blasting every bowler that came at them. Brett Lee was carted for 36 off three overs and had to be taken off the attack, Glenn McGrath's first two overs went for 22, and it appeared as though a huge score was on the cards. The fifty of the innings came in only the sixth over, a little after Chanderpaul had fallen, dragging Nathan Bracken back onto his stumps.
Gayle, who has scored 474 runs in this tournament, hit some incredible shots - a pull over midwicket and a driven six over long-on against McGrath being the stand-out hits - but played inside the line of one from Bracken when on 37. From 80 for 2 in just the ninth over, West Indies then disintegrated, being shot out for 138. McGrath ending on 2 for 24 off his seven, including a stunning phase that read 5-3-2-2.
Supporting West Indies is tricky business, for they always find a way to strain the nerves. On occasion they're thrashing international bowlers with the freedom of young men just larking about, but even then you fear that a complete reversal is never far away. The large crowd that had gathered for the final were fully behind them, chanting the names of several batsmen regularly, but they were silenced by the collapse that followed.
And this wasn't the first time they'd capitulated. About two weeks ago, they'd suffered a rout in the qualifying stages of this tournament, being bowled out for only 80 by Sri Lanka. And it wasn't even Muttiah Muralitharan spinning a web that day; rather it was the industrious Farveez Maharoof who did the damage with a career-best 6 for 14. Later in the tournament West Indies were cruising to victory against India, chasing 224. At 212 for 3, with 12 needed from 14 balls, they were on their way. But, somehow, they managed to lose four wickets for seven runs, and scampered to the tape with just two balls to spare.
Look back a little further, to the tournament preceding this one, and the story is the same. In the DLF Cup in Malaysia, West Indies were 172 for 1 chasing 280 against Australia, with Gayle scoring a half-century, and Chanderpaul creaming a fine 92. Then they surrendered to Shane Watson, who grabbed 4 for 43, and, incredibly, lost their last nine wickets for 27. In the same tournament they needed 162 to win against India - a total that should not have posed any problems after an opening stand of 44 - but West Indies inexplicably lost their way, stumbling to 146 all out. In the final of that tournament, they needed 241 to win but, with Lee steaming in and picking up 4 for 24, were skittled out for 113.
That's at least five matches where the West Indies have either collapsed from good positions, or just collapsed period. It's one thing to put a positive spin on it and be called unpredictable. But it's another to be inconsistent to the point that your supporters' faith and belief is tested to the maximum. Lara has insisted there's a real self belief in this team. If that's true, then West Indian supporters - and there are many of these around the world - deserve better than to see their team fold so meekly, so often. West Indies would have been popular winners of this tournament, but in the end, it was the same old story again, Australia just too good, and West Indies dancing to the collapso rather than the calypso.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo