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If West Indies can build on this win, the home support can give them an edge. Then we could be in for a really special tournament.
April 30, 2010
Midway through their batting effort West Indies looked like slipping up in this banana-skin fixture even if the final scoreline doesn't suggest it. The captain, Chris Gayle, had pulled out moments before the toss due to a buttock strain and then a rash of ill-judged heaves ended in the hands of safe Ireland fielders. It could all have gone horribly wrong in front of a passionate full house who would have found it difficult to forgive defeat this time.
But they got away with it thanks to a fine all-round performance from Darren Sammy, impressive new-ball bursts from Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, who extracted more life out of this pitch than previously seen, and a slick fielding display. For the sake of the tournament - and with all due respect to Ireland - it is vital West Indies at least progress to the Super Eights and defeat here would have put that seriously in doubt with the next match against England. Although pre-tournament ticket sales have been strong something will be lost from the latter stages if West Indies aren't involved on home soil.
The victory will be a huge relief to Gayle, who handed over the captaincy duties to Dwayne Bravo after failing a fitness test before the match. He tweaked a muscle at the top of his leg while hitting a six against New Zealand in Wednesday's warm-up match and, although he hadn't let on about the problem in his pre-match press conference, he felt he couldn't risk it.
In situations like this there is always a thought that the decision not to play is based on the opposition. It brought back memories of when England tinkered with their side against Netherlands last year by leaving out Graeme Swann and resting Kevin Pietersen who was being troubled by his Achilles injury. England, famously, lost off the last ball and Andy Flower, the coach, has since admitted they erred in selection.
Such a move here would also have been foolhardy in the extreme given Ireland's abilities to beat the major teams and West Indies officials insisted Gayle would have withdrawn from the match regardless of their opponents. Still, it left the home side without their leader and a batsman who so often sets the tone of an innings. He still holds the record for the highest individual score in a World Twenty20 with the 117 he carved in first game of the inaugural event in 2007. Just to reinforce how important Gayle is, when he was dismissed against New Zealand in the warm-up game the side fell apart. Here they didn't have him from the start.
At 77 for 2 in the 11th over it appeared they had overcome his absence, but then the innings went into a nosedive. George Dockrell, the 17-year-old left-arm spinner, induced a collection of slogs from Andre Fletcher, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Narsingh Deonarine as the score slumped to 93 for 6. That West Indies eventually had enough runs to play with was down to Sammy's 17-ball 30 as 32 runs came from the 17th and 18th overs bowled by Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnston. Ireland's attack did so much right during the innings, but the two quicks couldn't quite find their length at that crucial stage.
Sammy is creating a positive impression for himself within Caribbean cricket circles. He led a West Indies XI at the recent Jamaica Cricket Festival and he has strung together consistent performances with the ball of late. Now he showed the other side of his game, just when his team most needed it. Like Bravo, he plays the game with an undiluted passion - something that was evident from the start of his international career when he took 7 for 66 on his Test debut at Old Trafford - and likes nothing more than being at the centre of the action. He was never far from it in the field, either, pouching four catches and claiming 3 for 8 to ensure there was no way back for Ireland.
When West Indies wickets were tumbling the crowd, while not silent, were certainly fearing the worst but each Sammy boundary brought cacophonous noise from the stands. It is a testament to the fans' spirit that they still retain such enthusiasm after so many barren years, but there remains a loyal following desperate for success to return. If West Indies can build on avoiding embarrassment here - even though it was in less-than-convincing style at times - the home support can give them an edge. Then we could be in for a really special tournament.