In March, an Englishman made an ill-judged comment about the West Indies cricket team. It was by no means the focus of his discourse - a throwaway remark, indeed - but it was nevertheless a careless statement. It comes back to haunt him as West Indies use it to motivate themselves for an unexpected triumph.
The man, of course, was Colin Graves, the year was 2015, and the offending word was "mediocre". A West Indies rearguard to save the first Test against England, followed by victory in the third, ensured that the series was shared 1-1 - an impressive achievement, almost as sweet as an outright victory for a weakened squad.
Move on to another incident. Again, it's March; again, a notable figure makes some unwise comments about West Indies; again, West Indies, gripped by a remarkable rage, clinch an emphatic victory, with two balls to spare in a high-stakes World T20 clash.
The man was, of course, James Faulkner, the year was 2014, and the foolish statement was that he did not "particularly like" the West Indies players. His strategy backfired spectacularly as a visibly angry West Indies Gangnamed their way to a six-wicket win, all but slamming Australia out of the tournament. "If you can do something to upset somebody and upset their team, it goes a long way towards doing well as a group," claimed Faulkner. He was right. Unfortunately for him, the group that it went a long way towards helping was the team he upset.
Roll forward to March 2016, and it's not hard to see the similarities. At the same time, the differences are worth noting. It's hard to see Faulkner's remarks as anything other than a deliberate attempt to "upset" the opposition. By contrast, Graves and Mark Nicholas were guilty of using "lazy" and "ill-conceived" words, to use Nicholas' own phrasing, but showed no apparent intent to offend.
Yet West Indies in 2015 and 2016 latched on to the negative, with coach Phil Simmons going so far as to stick "mediocre" on the dressing-room door. Perhaps this approach did not stretch to a deliberate attempt to seek out negativity, but it would seem that there was at least a refusal to let anything slide, a determination to transmute every minus into a plus. It would appear that Andre Fletcher, West Indies' in-team pastor, did not encourage his fellow men to turn the other cheek, or if he did, little regard was taken of such counsel.
In a sense, what Graves and Nicholas actually meant, or did not mean, became irrelevant: their words had been given a life of their own, till they became almost detached from the original author. Indeed, Nicholas' words had, along the way, been unjustly altered from the dismissive "short of brains" to the offensive "no brains". Indeed, Darren Sammy used the fact that "even animals have brains" to criticise what Nicholas clearly hadn't been implying.
Thoughtless and clumsy as it was, it was hardly a gaffe of Tony Grieg proportions. Nonetheless, to take a line from Nicholas' beloved Bruce Springsteen, you "can't start a fire without a spark", and Nicholas unwittingly provided that spark, leading to the West Indies dancing in the Kolkata dark.
As Vic Marks observes, what was almost more insulting was the lack of space devoted to West Indies' chances: one sentence in a 1000-word column did not reflect the high regard that most observers had for the team. No one was taking West Indies lightly. Yet West Indies were able to seize underdog status. Simmons' merry men may have convinced themselves for the second time in 12 months that they were being underrated, but it was far from the truth.
"Perhaps West Indies' approach did not stretch to a deliberate attempt to seek out negativity, but it would seem that there was at least a refusal to let anything slide, a determination to transmute every minus into a plus"
Reflecting this, Sammy and his band of brothers made repeated reference to feeling that it was "us against the world". Whether that's even possible when you have the Universe Boss in your team is debatable; nevertheless, one can sympathise with both Simmons and Sammy. The latter has spoken powerfully on the reasons his men have to feel beleaguered. The recurring conflicts of players, boards, and player association, all of whom are notionally working towards the same goal - the betterment of West Indies cricket - is wearisome and painful for observers, so one can only imagine the impact on the mental state of the players. It may not be as simple as Sammy may make it appear - though some are more culpable than others, none of the parties in the long-running troubles of West Indies cricket deserve painting as outright heroes or villains - but out of the adversity was forged resilience. The sense of shared adversity bound the players, united them, and ignited the latent energy that is never too far away from Caribbean cricket. When faced with the plutonium of negative comment, lesser (mediocre?) teams would have sealed it in concrete and moved on. West Indies, by contrast, saw reactor fuel and went nuclear.
Going nuclear has its own risks, though. In the long term, maintaining an artificial "us v the world" mentality is not advisable - first and foremost, because it's based on a statement as incorrect as Nicholas' was: it is not West Indies v the world; on the contrary, virtually every cricket lover delights to see the West Indies thrive. Sammy himself said in 2014, after Faulkner's faux pas, that the latter was probably "the only cricketer that does not love West Indians", correctly stating that "West Indies are the second favourite team for the fans."
They are far from unloved. Yet the danger is that if they embrace this besieged state of mind as a matter of course, those placed in the "world" box, or the opponents camp, may start to find their love for West Indies wane. In its place may appear not antipathy but the indifference that is the real enemy of West Indies cricket.
In view of that, having successfully put scraps of negativity to good use, the next task is to turn the post-win positivity to the same. It's time for conversation, for reconciliation, and for bold action. Nicholas has already extended his apologies. Sammy, being the big-hearted leader that he is, will no doubt forgive Nicholas his debt. We can be sure that two of the most generous and good-natured figures in cricket will let their fundamentally positive natures shine through.
Cricket lovers in every country will hope that West Indies cricket can use this as a springboard into a new era of resurgence. If the rebuilding is of sufficient solidity, providing a stable and secure platform for future West Indies teams to excel without needing to employ a siege mentality, the whole world will all the more respect, applaud and celebrate their joyful triumphs.