Darren Sammy is ready for Ireland. In fact, eager could be the right word. Barely a minute had passed after William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, finished with his pre-match press briefing. The ICC spokesperson was in the middle of his announcement that Sammy was scheduled to speak half hour later. Unknown to him Sammy was already there. Unprompted, he apologised to everyone about arriving early and without any notice. A gleaming smile and a few chuckles lit up the atmosphere.
In the last month the West Indies have been through some rough times right from the build-up phase. Adrian Barath and Carlton Baugh picked up injuries during the warm-up stage and had to go back home. Then came a bigger shock, one that Sammy calls the turning point, when Dwayne Bravo buckled his knee against South Africa in their first match and was out of the World Cup. The agony was exacerbated by the seven-wicket loss in the same match. But in the next two matches, it seemed West Indies had bounced back with consecutive wins, against the Netherlands followed by the decimation of Bangladesh. The victory in Dhaka was the fastest result in the tournament but even before the players could plan any celebrations, angry local fans transformed themselves into party poopers and hurled stones at the West Indies team bus. It was Chris Gayle who had made the news public through at tweet and summed up the nerves best, "kiss teeth". Next morning the drama intensified when the ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat suggested the incident was cursory. Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, reacted furiously once he landed in Mohali.
Suddenly cricket took a backseat. But today Sammy cleverly slid the attention back to the game. "Something happened there...." Sammy started with a smile, and left the sentence hanging briefly, asked if the furore following the stone-pelting in Bangladesh distracted his team. "It is behind us," he finished to sum up his thoughts on the matter.
If anything the mood in the West Indies camp was buoyant. Batsmen and bowlers teased each other while going through the drills while the wise pair of Gibson and Richie Richardson kept a close watch, making sure there was a purpose and the players did not lose focus on the eve of an important clash, against one the most spirited contestants in the tournament - Ireland. The Irish have progressed fast since the last time both teams clashed in an international competition - the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year - in a group match which West Indies won.
Sammy is wary of the team that shocked England in the most thrilling clash of the World Cup so far and gave a fright to India few days later. They now are in fray for a knockout berth, similar to the West Indies. "It is a team we never take for granted," the West Indies captain said. "We have a lot of respect for them. They are a team that is improving constantly which shows their cricket is moving forward. We are definitely not taking them lightly. We have seen what they are capable of doing."
If he had praise for the opponent, he also showed faith in his own men. "Last two games have shown that if we execute our plans anything is possible," Sammy said. According to him the West Indies remained confident about making the quarter-finals stage because all players were thinking as one. And that bonding would keep them positive and hungry. "The one thing is we have always had a good camaraderie. The past few weeks have been kind of up and down but we have stuck together as a team. We know what we are here for. All the guys have been managing the distractions quite well. The guys are really focussed and we know we have a job at hand," Sammy said.
Yet, West Indies are prone to be inconsistent. In the past their batsmen have failed to bring the required intensity to the contest, making it difficult for an already thin bowling attack. It was evident in the South Africa match, where after a good start the West Indies batting went into meltdown. A match that they should've won was lost. But against the Netherlands and then Bangladesh the West Indies flourished as they played joyously and won. "Against South Africa we knew where we went wrong. We were in a good position, we created opportunities where we could've taken a grip over the game but we did not. It is important that when we play against higher-ranked teams and we are in a position where we could affect a result in our favour. It is about maximising the chances presented in the game," Sammy pointed out.
After Ireland, the West Indies are slotted to face England and India. Hence tomorrow's match has assumed a bigger significance. "Consistency is very important going forward. So far we have managed two wins, convincing wins and we will be riding on them. We will remember all the things we did in those games, take the positives and carry them forward to the next game," Sammy said. Already Sammy is itching to have a go.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo