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Feature

Time for Johnson Charles to put on a show

He may split opinion among the fans but in a few weeks' time he may also be the most decorated man in T20 World Cup history

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
16-Jun-2024
Johnson Charles winds up to go big, West Indies vs Uganda, Men's T20 World Cup 2024, Guyana, June 8, 2024

Johnson Charles is part of an exclusive club of multiple T20 World Cup winners  •  ICC/Getty Images

There are eight men who have played in the winning side in multiple T20 World Cup finals and two of them are targeting a third in two weeks' time. Johnson Charles contributed a combined 1 off 12 balls in West Indies victories in the 2012 and 2016 finals, but now has the opportunity to become the most decorated player - alongside Andre Russell - in men's T20 World Cup history.
Charles' batting relies mainly on power but more broadly, his timing has been perfect. He has only played 54 T20Is in a 13-year West Indies career but 18 of them have come at World Cups, including 13 across two winning campaigns. He did not play any international cricket for almost six years between 2016 and 2022 but is back in the picture for a tournament on home soil.
At every World Cup, certain players have the rare opportunity to feature in a major event in front of a local crowd, but it is even more significant for West Indies in this tournament. They will play at five different venues and at each of them, at least one player will be representing their country as well as the region.
On Monday night, it is Charles' turn in St. Lucia when West Indies face Afghanistan - with coach Daren Sammy in the unprecedented position of coaching his team at a stadium named after him. Charles has had a quiet start to the World Cup, with a 42-ball 44 against Uganda bookended by ducks against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand; he also dropped a straightforward catch off Jimmy Neesham, which burst through his hands and went for six.
He will welcome the opportunity to play at home, especially at one of the best grounds for batting in the region. "That's the beauty of the Caribbean," Rovman Powell, West Indies' captain said on Sunday. "When we go to those islands, traditionally, we have someone in the team that is from those islands so the crowd generally come out and support West Indies. We're going to need the support not just of the St. Lucians here, but when we move on."
St. Lucia has a tiny population - around 180,000 - and its economy is geared around tourism. It is not a traditional cricketing hub and until 20 years ago, it had never produced a West Indies men's player. Mindoo Phillip was the island's most celebrated player of the 20th century but was never picked by West Indies: "It remains a raging debate even to this day why he was never, ever chosen," the St. Lucia Star reported in 2019.
In that context, it is truly extraordinary that St. Lucia has produced two of the eight men to have won multiple T20 World Cup finals, and even more so that they could combine to win a third this month. "It must be a surreal feeling for Daren," Powell said. "It's an opportunity for us to put on a show for the St. Lucians."
If Sammy is the local celebrity - he has a designated parking space at the stadium and was in the crowd for Australia's win over Scotland on Sunday night - then Charles is not too far behind. At the same time that the Beausejour Cricket Ground was rebranded in Sammy's honour, the main stand on the west side was named the Johnson Charles Stand.
Charles splits opinion among West Indies fans more generally and West Indies' unique position as a multi-national team means that whispers of cronyism and regional politics are never far away - no matter Charles' form in franchise cricket, or the fact that his recall predates Sammy's appointment as head coach. Some supporters are already calling for Shai Hope to replace him.
But West Indies' bet is that Charles will come off at least once in the World Cup and win them a game, as he did against South Africa in Jamaica last month.
"It's just a case of us telling him to be Johnson Charles, be his natural self," Powell said. "If he's an aggressive player, we expect him to play aggressive. We know with that aggression, at some point, he will fail and at some point, he will come good. We know that Johnson is definitely a match-winner for us."
He will continue to open alongside Brandon King, who is more of a touch player. "It's for us now to support him," Powell said. "It's for us to give him that additional backing that he needs and I think everyone is behind him to come good tomorrow, or when he gets the opportunity in future games."
Nobody has scored as many runs as Charles at the Daren Sammy Stadium in T20 cricket and after struggling on slow, low surfaces in Guyana and Trinidad, West Indies' batters are relishing the prospect of a flatter pitch. "When we looked at the schedule, all the batters were excited to come to St. Lucia," Powell said.
It is ominous for their Super Eight opponents - England, USA and South Africa - that West Indies have qualified without putting together a complete performance and with nothing riding on Monday's match, it is an opportunity for players to build confidence before the second phase. Powell wants them to make use of it: "Now it's time for Johnson Charles to put on a show for his fellow St. Lucians," he said.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98