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Interviews

Ottis Gibson: 'When it comes to T20 World Cups, never discount West Indies'

"We knew West Indies possessed some of the best T20 players," former coach says on how they went about their business ten years ago

West Indies celebrate after beating Sri Lanka in the final of the 2012 World T20  •  AFP

West Indies celebrate after beating Sri Lanka in the final of the 2012 World T20  •  AFP

Ten years ago, under then-coach Ottis Gibson, West Indies lifted their first T20 World Cup when they beat hosts Sri Lanka in the final. Gibson spoke to ESPNcricinfo about how that triumph came about, and what West Indies can learn from it a decade on.
You took over what is now seen as a golden generation in West Indies' T20 cricket. Was that obvious to you at the time?
We had to recognise that we had probably the best T20 players in the world, even if they were individuals. Then we had to try to find a way to get them to play together to be successful. And between myself and Daren Sammy [then-captain], we managed to do that.
I had started in 2010 with the West Indies, and very early in 2010 we had a [T20] World Cup in the Caribbean where we got to the quarter-finals [Super Eights]. But when you look at what West Indian players were doing in franchise tournaments around the world, we knew West Indies possessed some of the best T20 players in the world. The greatest challenge for West Indies was always whether we could come together and play as a team; and that was our greatest success as well.
Can you talk about the tactics for that tournament, especially around spin in the powerplay?
We looked at the players we had, and right from the outset we had this strategy where we decided that when we're playing against western teams like England, Australia or South Africa, we were going to go spin-heavy. But we felt like the Asian teams would be able to [play] spin very well. Against them, we were going to use the likes of Fidel Edwards' extra pace.
Samuel Badree didn't start the tournament, but once he got into team and bowled up front even on a bad day, he would go for [only] 28 runs. We knew he bowled very accurately upfront, spun it in, and skidded it into the pads. So we put him to bowl at the top of the order once he got into the team in every situation. So whether he gets a wicket or not, he can take four overs out of a game for under 30 runs at the front part of the game. That was a massive plus for us.
Then we also had Sunil Narine, who at the time was probably along with Badree the best spinner in the world. So we had eight overs taken care of which we knew were not going to go for many runs. And then we just fit them around some other guys. Chris Gayle bowled, as did Marlon Samuels. We needed to put those guys in the best position and the best places in the team to be successful.
How did you get the best out of Samuels, who hit 78 in the final?
When you look at what Marlon's done in World Cups, you can understand the personality. He's been Man of the Match in two [T20] World Cup finals. We lost in the semi-final to Sri Lanka in the 2014 [T20] World Cup when the game was rained out. But Marlon was in at the time when the rain came. We strongly believe Marlon would have found a way to get West Indies over the line because that's what he thrives on; he thrives on being the man.
When we played in 2012, we had long conversations and team meetings about Lasith Malinga. Marlon would be the one person who would say, "If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best". That was always his attitude. The innings he played against Malinga in that game was absolutely outstanding. Just this signifies him as a person.
If you're the opposition's best player, he wants to go toe to toe with you because he wants to prove that he is also the best player in our team. He's the sort of character you just have to give free rein [to] because he's capable of changing the game, and he wants to be a game changer - especially in those big moments.
Is he someone who might lack motivation if the stage isn't big enough for his liking, and more likely to come to the fore for the bigger occasion?
100%. The bigger the opposition, the more he sticks his chest out and walks with confidence. He's ready to take on that challenge. In the lead up to that tournament, we played some practice games where there's probably no point playing them and he didn't really see any value to them. There's nothing to get his juices flowing, but then you see what he did against England in 2016 [by hitting 85*] on the grandest stage of all. That's where he thrives.
But squad harmony is important in general. We were very flexible with the team, but we were also very upfront and told the guys what the plans were. If you move a guy from No. 6 and put him in at No. 3, then you need to clue the guy at three in so he doesn't throw his toys out of the pram. For example, if we had the opportunity to move Andre Russell up for a quick injection, then everyone needs to be on the same page.
How did West Indies manage to turn around a horror start in that 2012 World Cup final?
We were under massive pressure. We only got 40 runs in the first ten overs, and Marlon was still in. Sri Lanka beat us in the first round [Super Eights] quite easily, but we had got 140 [129] on a good pitch. But the pitch that we played the final on was not the same pitch, and I said to Sammy, "If we can get up to 140 - if we get the same score we got in the first round - we'll win the game".
And then the bowlers executed their plan beautifully. The way that Ravi Rampaul got [Tillakaratne] Dilshan out, we had spoken about that ball going a little bit wider of the crease and angling in. One of the other key points in the game was that Sri Lanka might have cruised to the victory, but it started to drizzle a little bit and they realised they were behind the required rate. They tried to really go for it, and that's when the momentum shifted in our favour.
We had the likes of Narine, Sammy and Marlon to bowl overs, and once Sri Lanka lost those key guys, it became insurmountable. Once they lost Mahela and Sanga that was massive for us, and that was perhaps the turning point in the game and what helped us to get the victory.
When you think of West Indies' T20 game, you think of the big hitters. But West Indies had bowled Australia and Sri Lanka out in the semi-final and final for 131 and 101, respectively. Did the bowling win that World Cup?
Yeah, perhaps. One of the things we really focused on was helping the players to understand it's not going to be what we call in the Caribbean a one-man show. It's not going to be one person winning game after game. It's going to be a whole team or squad effort. Various people performed at various different times.
When the game was on the line, somebody stood up - whether it was in the batting with Marlon, or the way Chris and Kieron Pollard took on the Australian bowlers - or how Badree stood up against them with the ball. Different bowlers stood up at different times, and even Russell, who didn't really do a great lot in that tournament, made some contributions when the time came.
When I look back at that tournament, the greatest satisfaction was how the squad came together to really put in performances when they were needed to get the team over the line and win the T20 World Cup for the first time in our history. That was the first World Cup we won since 1979, so that was obviously massive for the whole nation.
Having won in both 2012 and 2016, what is it about Asia that made West Indies so successful in T20 World Cups?
You look at the conditions in the Caribbean - especially the wickets - and some of them are very similar to Asian wickets. West Indies were heavily reliant on spin. In that tournament in 2012, we had the two best spinners in the tournament in Narine and Badree. And in 2016 [by which time Phil Simmons was coach], Badree was still playing. West Indies still had quality spinners that could control the game.
But the other fundamental thing is that all the West Indies players are world stars in India. Chris and Bravo, everywhere they go in India [where the T20 World Cup was played in 2016], every venue, the crowd is singing their names even though they're playing against India. That's the extent of their popularity there.
So when West Indies play a tournament in India, it would feel like it's a home game to a lot of the West Indian players. They are very comfortable in those conditions nowadays. The guys feed off that, and that gives them an advantage when they walk onto cricket fields all over India.
West Indies got most of those stars back together for the 2021 World Cup, but it didn't quite work out. Why do you think that was?
T20 cricket is so fast-moving. You have to decide how you're going to win games. T20 games are also won in the field. If your squad is ageing, then that will catch up with you. That squad was an ageing squad. And while experience matters, the game changes very quickly, and you have to be able to keep moving your squad along with the game.
West Indies were once dominant in Tests and ODIs, and now that's no longer the case. They were also dominant in T20Is in the last decade, and now that's no longer the case. Is there a worry this decline could also be long-term?
No, I don't think so. I think what they did in recent World Cups can be done again. West Indies needed personnel changes - which have obviously happened - but then perhaps the strategy also needs to change. They need to look at whether they are getting the best out of the players they have, because in people like Nicholas Pooran and Jason Holder, we have world-class players.
I feel like West Indies is at that stage at the moment where they need to relook the strategy that they're using with the personnel that they have right now. I still feel like they have fantastic T20 players who can be world-class. And when it comes to T20 World Cups, you can never discount West Indies - I don't believe so.
Shimron Hetmyer was axed from this year's T20 World Cup squad for indiscipline. So was it challenging for you too to manage West Indies, and how difficult is it to keep international players happy in the age of T20s?
The way things are now in T20 cricket around the world right now is tricky. Not just for West Indies, but most sports where if a guy is playing in all the T20 tournaments around the world, he's making far more money than your home board can pay him. You have to manage that very carefully. You have to see the person's value to you and how that person can help you win.
So you have to be able to be flexible to let that person go and play certain tournaments, to make their money, and to give them the comfort of providing for their family. Hopefully that person then understands that when they come back to you, they're committed to what you're trying to do. That's always been the balance before for West Indies to strike.
It's always been said in the West Indies that people are not committed, but people have to provide for their families. We have to give and take in that situation so that we can get the best for each other. And ultimately when the person walks on to the field for West Indies and their mind is in the right place, they will give their all for West Indies. That's the balancing act you have to have not just in the West Indies, but all over the world.
According to you, what sort of shape are West Indies in for this World Cup?
They've got world-class players. Hopefully they can find a way to come together as a group and understand how each person needs to play their part. I feel like they've got a great chance. Like I said, you can you can never discount West Indies.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000