Defeated, but far from discouraged
Trinidad & Tobago should not be disheartened at having lost the final, their only defeat of the tournament. Instead, the tiny nation of 1.3 million should be proud of its men, who not only won Indian hearts with their distinctive brand of cricket but also brought alive the tournament which at its halfway stage was flickering once the hopes of the IPL teams had been extinguished.
But the Trini-Tobagonians - as they are called back home - brought the crowds to their feet with the flair that was once a hallmark of Caribbean cricket. They rose to the occasion when not many gave them a chance. Daren Ganga brought an inexperienced team to the tournament and there were few expectations, but they dazzled everyone with some endearing performances - natural, fearless, open and vulnerable. That last characteristic, so human, was completely opposite to their Australian opponents this evening.
Both sides had a measure of each other, having already clashed once at the same venue last week, a tense affair that was clinched single-handedly by Kieron Pollard. His powerful 54 off 18 balls reverberated around the cricketing globe, bringing desperate IPL millionaires knocking on his door.
Ironically, Pollard walked in today to bat under similar testing circumstances. Dwayne Bravo, whose brilliant half-century against the Cobras had put T&T into the final, had just played on to Doug Bollinger. As Bravo and later Ganga departed after making starts, Pollard walked out to loud applause. If he could win the game when the equation was 55 from the last five overs, surely he could pull off another trick today when 92 were needed from the last ten.
But today the pressure and the situation were of a different kind, something virtually unknown to most of the T&T players, who were playing on the international stage for the first time. It didn't help that the crowds expected a six off every ball. William Perkins, Adrian Barath and Lendl Simmons, all fine young men with nerves of steel, had played some terrific knocks in previous games but this was the summit and they slipped even before they got a grip. To face men like Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Doug Bollinger in a final of the most expensive cricket tournament was no doubt an exciting prospect; but there's always a method in the madness. Sadly, that was absent in T&T's chase.
T&T were also hurt by the absence of a second specialist fast bowler. Bravo is a good foil to the consistent Ravi Rampaul, but he has found it hard to stick to a tight line. Yesterday his three overs cost 46 and today he again expensive, going for 28 in three.
"We set ourselves goals with regards to getting the runs but we lost our head in certain situations," Ganga said later. He admitted that the pressure of playing in a big occasion was too much for his players. "I just don't think we understood how to go about getting that 160. When you lose wickets very early in a Twenty20 final it puts a lot of our players under pressure and I don't think we handled that pressure well."
Ganga was in no way being harsh on his young team-mates. It's just that in this format, players needed to think on their feet and adapt to conditions. That did not happen today. "It was the one game we faltered a bit," Ganga said.
Still, with their successful run in the Champions League, T&T have managed to get the cricketing world talking of the talent in the Caribbean. More importantly, the ability of the youngsters to believe in themselves and carry themselves in a mature fashion in victory and defeat has shown that there is still hope for the revival of West Indian cricket.
"For both West Indies and T&T, this performance has put our cricket back on the horizon," said Ganga. "There's been a lot of things that people don't want to hear about our cricket. But this is something that has turned that around. It is just going to ensure we grow as a cricketing nation, not just T&T but the rest of the West Indies too."
In the end T&T should go back happy for all the smiles they put on the faces of the Indian public. Every game they played, the Indians turned up in huge numbers; today the stadium was brimming with support for T&T. There is no doubt that Ganga's men were the entertainers of the Champions League.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo