West Indies call on passionate Caribbean support to usher in new era of success

No team has ever won the T20 World Cup on home soil before, and Rovman Powell's men are determined to end that jinx

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Rovman Powell couldn't help but chuckle. "Step up their cricket?" he repeated back to a journalist, who suggested to him that West Indies fans were expecting a gear-change against New Zealand and Afghanistan. He smirked, then laughed off the suggestion: "If you should look at the last year, the last 12 to 14 months, West Indies have played very good T20 cricket."
Powell is right: since March last year, they have a record that rivals the best teams in the world. They have won series against South Africa (away), India, England and South Africa again (at home); in their only series defeat, against Australia, their batters racked up 202, 207 and 220. Forget their failures at the last two T20 World Cups: this is a side to be reckoned with.
They have the chance to prove as much on Wednesday night. They were not at all convincing in their opening match against Papua New Guinea, sneaking over the line with an over to spare, but thrashed Uganda on Saturday. It means that victory over New Zealand in Trinidad would ensure them a spot in the Super Eight with a game to spare.
At the IPL this year, Nicholas Pooran spoke to Matt Henry, his Lucknow Super Giants team-mate, about the experience of playing in a home World Cup - as Henry did in 2015. "What happens," Pooran relaid to his international team-mates before their warm-up fixture against Australia, "is that everyone supports West Indies; even people who don't play cricket, they support West Indies."
In Trinidad, at least, everyone knows that the World Cup is happening - even if the support comes in many different forms. In Monday's edition of the T&T Guardian, the main editorial implored West Indies to "lift their game significantly". It singled out "the mercurial Nicholas Pooran", accusing him of becoming "over-confident and a bit arrogant" before "giving away his wicket" too often.
It just goes to show that expectations are high. "Those expectations are on the back of us playing good T20 cricket, which has resulted in us being ranked No. 4 in the world now," Powell said. "It's for us to continue to manage those expectations… We are at home, so obviously expectations and pressure is always there. It's just for us to keep on playing good cricket and keep on entertaining the fans."
But Powell's players are aware of the rare opportunity they have. There has not been a men's World Cup in the Caribbean - in either format - since 2010, when most of this squad were schoolboys. On Wednesday night, Pooran and Akeal Hosein will become the first Trinidadians to play in their own home country at a men's World Cup.
"That's the beauty of West Indies," Powell said. "It's the only sport that we play collectively, so therefore there are different guys from different islands. And the support for those guys - and by extension, the team - is enormous." It is unfortunate for him that the government in Jamaica, his home country, did not bid to host games.
"When we were in Guyana, the way they supported the five Guyanese who are a part of the team was very, very good, and by extension the team," Powell said. "Now we are in Trinidad, Nicholas Pooran, Akeal Hosein and all the lovers of cricket will be here tomorrow to support us."
It is a curious fact that no team has won a men's T20 World Cup on home soil, but if there is ever a tournament where home advantage should play a part, it is this one. Conditions in the Caribbean vary significantly from one venue to another, and even the handful of teams who have recently played T20Is there will come across new grounds at some stage.
"It's an enormous benefit," Powell said. "If we should go on and win the World Cup, it's the first team to have won a T20 World Cup at home. And if you look at it from a financial standpoint, the boost to the West Indies cricket economy and how beneficial it is for so much different islands to be getting international cricket and international cricket of such good standards, that in itself is a beneficial factor for us."
They also have the opportunity to regain their status as front-runners when it comes to the most T20 world titles of any men's team, after England drew level with them on two at the last edition. "For us as players, it's an opportunity for us to cement our space in West Indies cricket folklore," Powell said. "Winning a World Cup on home soil: not just myself as captain, but all the guys I think will be remembered for such achievement."
Pooran summed it up even more simply: "For me personally, I want to win," he said. "I want to win so bad, not only for myself but for the people of the Caribbean and my team-mates, most importantly. So that when I have grandchildren, I can talk about what I achieved with my team-mates."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98