High-risk and handsome
"Stop us from hitting sixes," was Darren Sammy's challenge before West Indies began their World T20 campaign. It came in reply to Suresh Raina's statement that West Indies relied too much on sixes and did not rotate the strike much. While West Indies' self-confessed preference for the big shots did not help them against the Indians, it bailed them out in two must-win matches against Australia and Pakistan.
Both times, the sixes came out when nothing else would have worked. West Indies needed 31 off the last two overs against Australia. The sixes arrived. They were 84 for 5 in 15 overs against Pakistan. The sixes arrived in such a flood that West Indies nearly doubled that score in the last five overs for the loss of just one more wicket.
Everyone knows, including West Indies themselves, that it is not an ideal way to operate. It can take them down, and often necessitates one or two batsmen playing a blinder. As the tournament has gone along, Sammy has spoken about the need to take more singles and twos, especially against the spinners.
It is difficult to change what comes naturally to you, though. And when it comes to the crunch, you will subconsciously rely on what comes naturally to you. Somehow, by a mix of habit and good bowling by the opposition, West Indies have found themselves in situations where that instinct to deliver sixes has had to kick in.
Hitting sixes is a high-risk business, more so when you rely so much on them. There are plenty of ways in which you can make yourself look foolish. But when they come off, they make you look grand. And West Indies' late sixes against Australia and Pakistan were anything but mishits. They were mighty, chunky blows that soared far beyond the boundary. They were the sort of blows that demoralise the opposition, particularly in a format where margins can be so thin and that one over that goes for 20 can be the difference. West Indies had two such overs against Pakistan, which earned 24 and 21, against two of the most experienced T20 bowlers in Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul.
How much those strikes deflated Pakistan was clear in their chase, which blew whatever steam it had too soon and then stalled. It is not only the six runs that a six earns. It is also the psychological impact on the bowling side. There is something awe-inspiring about the way players such as Sammy and Dwayne Bravo hit sixes: unrestrained, intimidating backswings, big heaves, clean connections and unfettered follow-throughs.
Such hits reduce cricket to its most basic element. "See the ball, hit the ball," Sammy says. It is often a cliché these days in cricket, but Sammy means it in the original sense of the term. Pure, instinctive reaction to an object hurled at you. It is coming to get me, I'll whack it out of sight.
That six-hitting prowess came to West Indies' rescue in the 2012 World T20 final, after they had made 38 in 11 overs. Out of nowhere, Marlon Samuels smashed three sixes in one Lasith Malinga over, and the first 11 overs became immaterial after that.
Each time you watch them, you feel this is the one time they will have to pay for this one-track approach. But so frequently, they find a Samuels or a Bravo or a Sammy who ensures it works one more time. They are such different personalities, but that ability to produce the big stroke when needed unites them.
The first semi-final of the 2014 edition brings together the teams that lined up for the World T20 final two years ago. Will it again come down to a shower of sixes from a West Indian batsman, as it did on that Colombo night?
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo