Sunil Narine takes a Hat Trick for KKR, Pollard leaps deep into the Ozone layer to pluck a ball that was headed halfway down to Trincomalee to win MI a match that was out of their bounds, Gayle swats yet another white cherry into the orbit adding to the few that have been revolving around the sun already, Cooper strangles the opposition in the death to pull out a rabbit for RR, Bravo breaks into an impromptu Calypso tutorial for the CSK lions and Sammy & Russell sit awaiting their opportunity in the Sunrisers & DD dug outs respectively …. Except for KXIP, every team in the IPL6 boasts of a Caribbean quotient.
And they all like “Doing the Job” – Winning games. Fasten your seat belts, the Gangnam Gang is well and truly here.
This is a new crop of West Indian Cricketing Pirates, the ones who chose to be the ultimate mercenaries. A bunch that fiercely loyal (to the dollar).
As the Windies era (West Indies in the 80’s under Lloyd and later Richards – the most dreaded cricketing outfit in the history of the game) faded, a vaccum set in. In the 90’s, the world sighed at the pale shadow the WI cricket casted on the glorious days that had just gone by. While Brian Lara was the sole carrier of the Caribbean Juggernaut supported by the workmanship of Shivnarine Chadrpaul and some brilliance from the duo of Ambrose and Walsh, the usual Calypso thump was sorely missing. The steel bands had gone silent, and “Ya Maan”s weren’t landing with the authority they once used to. A decade went by with WI being just a statistic in World Cricket punctuated with some rare occasional brilliance.
The new Millennium brought with it some new crop of young players – Equipped with extraordinary skills, fitness and panache that got the Caribbean islands sit up and take notice. The only thing lacking was a vision/pupose. The islands were hungry for some desperate Cricketing revival. By 2000, Lara was the God for West Indian cricket, and his single handed persistence to motivate younger talents in the islands had resulted in unearthing some talents from the heartlands. It was in 2000, one such tall lanky, (slightly laid back) youngsters, whose claim to fame was a single yet powerful word that was often used to describe him – “Destructive” – Christopher Henry Gayle, arrived at the stage that God sent him for. But it wasn’t till 2002 that the world got to see what could do, when he became the third West Indian (After Richards and Lara) to score 1000 runs in a calendar year.
CG (as Gayle is popularly known amongst his Carib mates), went onto write plenty of brutal tales of annihilation or slaughter of the opposition as his career flourished further. 2005, saw him take small break to get his heart fixed (Congenial heart condition, that needed a small corrective surgery), and since then there was no looking back.
But why am I writing about CG? This isn’t his article, this is about the emerging might of the new crop of West Indian cricketers. Yes it is. And the genesis of this modern day renaissance has CG at the heart of it.
Gayle, emerged as an influential figure amongst the West Indian cricketers, post the exit of Lara. He was the obvious choice of being the leader, who was to take WI cricket mantle forward. Yet, it wasn’t that simple. His global popularity, his flamboyant cricket, his overall style got stadiums filled world over. He was the reason for people to come, pay and watch cricket. He was the toast of the sponsors. So when the establishment chose to sign a sponsorship with Digicel, and ordered some of the players (Gayle included) who had lucrative contracts going with Cable & Wireless (Digicel’s rival), the concerned players revolted (Gayle was the helm of it). WI Cricket Board cracked the whip and dropped CG and the others from the team. Gayle made the compromise and returned, but the seeds of disharmony were sown forever. There will always be the 2 stories of “who was right?”. Nevertheless, Gayle, carried forward a huge grudge against the establishment and that later erupted in some of his public comments and other incidents. This disharmony would later play a major role in shaping the way the players chose to think about the game.
In 2006, Allen Stanford and his Stanford 20/20 happened in the WI. From getting paid a meagre $350 dollars for a 4 days game, players teed up for a Million dollar prize money in the annual T20 event sponsored by “Sir” Allen Stanford (the Ponzi Scheme perpetrator and a rogue, who since then have fallen drastically, got arrested and convicted and presently is cooling his heels in an American prison after being sentenced to 100 years of imprisonment for fraud, embezzlement, and zillion other charges). Under the flood lights at the Stanford Cricket Ground, Coolidge, Antigua – West Indies cricket took a royal turn. Young strapping lads turned out for 20 island teams that constituted the West Indies. The unthinkable happened – What the preceding 15 years couldn’t do, was done by this competition. The crowds came in – big numbers. And the money got the players to perform like they never had before. Games were fought tooth and nail, Bowlers bowled as if their life depended on every ball, Batsmen struck with incredible savagery( as if to banish the frustrations and misery that life had thrown at them). Last ball finishes, towering sixes, raw pace, crafty spin, calypso thump…all of it was back. A new side was discovered, and a new bunch of Pirates were born. What many years of halfhearted systemic overhaul efforts couldn’t do, money did it, overnight.
Soon after, IPL happened. Money was no more a onetime matter of chance, it was a continuing certainty. And with a competition like Stanford 20/20, IPL franchises chose more openly in favor of the Caribbean talent for what they brought in as a package. However, the IPL naysayers (read, England Cricket Board), wanted to outshine the IPL, and they joined hands with Stanford for a one game “winner takes it all” $20 Mn Dollar prize money bombshell. It whacked the daylights of the entire cricketing fraternity. England was to play West Indies. And against all odds, West Indies pulled a rabbit out of the hat. The scene that erupted on the cricket field that day was way beyond cricket. The players, their families all in tears – one 40 over affair had changed their life. (The famous Gayle interview, where he, weeping uncontrollably, admitted, that he would now be able to get his brother the necessary medical attention – spoke how much the monetary liberation meant for them).
Life for a West Indian Cricketer, changed that day. They soeem to have got a purpose – To earn a living as a Cricketing pro, playing as a freelancer. It changed the way they thought about themselves as cricketers. While Stanford faded away, the Commercial Cricketing market opened up like never before. West Indians were at the forefront of being the most sought after overseas talent, attracting the top most bids. The IPL, the Big Bash league (Australia), the English County 20/20, SLPL (Sri Lanka), BPL (Bangladesh)… all of them rooted for West Indians cricketers. The Life out of a suitcase – that of a “Freelance Cricketer” was well and truly on.
Professional freelance cricket, had its own demands. Franchises investing in a player wanted the biggest bang of the buck and players had to work hard to bring in maximum value of the dollars invested in them. This is where the West Indians made huge difference, and were rewarded with some of the biggest contracts. What they brought to the table was:
Outrageous Talent (Gayle, Bravo, Pollard, Narine, Russell, Dwayne Smith, Sammy, Cooper, Rampaul, Samuels) – that is one helluva list of outrageous talent. Each of them on their day can pull off a Houdini act singlehanded
Supreme Fitness – One thing this bunch realizes is their potential to earn more is directly related to their fitness. All of them work hard, and have the construct of an Ox. They are fit, agile and strong. That is a potent and lethal combo
Box-office stuff – These players love the spotlight. They come alive when all the cameras and eyes are trained on them. It’s the big stage, the big moment that gets their adrenalin going, they thrive in making that moment theirs.
Multi- dimensional abilities – They can be masters in one discipline (Bowling or Batting), yet almost all of them can come in handy in the other disciplines. All of them have multiple dimensions to their games and are extraordinary fielders.
Starry characters: Modern day cricket needs characters who can liven up atmospheres, and bond teams. The Caribbean bunch truly know the art of enjoyment and they bring in that flair, that gets the team going
While the free lancing players made a name (a sizeable wealth) as hired mercenaries, the void still remained on the West Indies cricket front. A blow hot blow cold, relationship between the cricketers and the Cricketing Establishment of West Indies prevailed. The world pondered “What will be the consequence if these extraordinarily talented bunch come together?” and the larger questions was “When?”. Players kept appearing at the lucrative T20 competitions even when WI kept sending pedestrian sides to play test cricket. And, that had to change, the hatchet needed to be buried – from both sides.
And, finally to everyone’s delight it happened – ICC T20 World Cup, 2012. WI fielded a team that had all the stars playing together, and the world witnessed the grandest calypso spectacle. Against all odds, calculations, predictions, the Pirates of the Caribbean, chose to hijack the stage and make it their own. It was a show par excellence, a bunch of fearless men chose to express themselves with much aplomb, and the world rose to take a bow – mesmerized in the dazzle that erupted at the Premadasa.
The small flicker that had sparked in the early 2000s finally had gained the size of an inferno, towering on the world, playing great cricket, spreading joy and admiration. This should be the starting point of yet another glorious chapter in the ever so enthralling story of West Indian Cricket.
May this last long, as they teach the world how to do the Calypso – “Gangnam” Style!