It's unlikely that South Korean rapper PSY would have envisioned that his smash hit Gangnam Style would have such global appeal that in cricket grounds across Sri Lanka a merry band of West Indians would be gyrating to his viral video's wacky dance steps while winning the hearts of a cricket-mad nation and filling fellow Caribbeans around the globe with an unbridled sense of joy. Before the ICC World Twenty20 final in Colombo on Sunday the video for Gangnam Style had over 394 million YouTube hits. After West Indies’ players did their own endearing version of it upon defeating Sri Lanka by 36 runs there’s a fair chance that people will flock online to view replays of that eye-moistening spectacle.
Only the harshest of critics will point to West Indies' win at the Premadasa and say its just Twenty20 cricket, but this is a win that cannot be understated. Twenty20 has always been the format that gives West Indian cricket teams the longest shot, and after reaching the semi-finals of this tournament in 2009 they went one better and made the summit. What played out was an unforgettable win that could unite the Caribbean and give West Indies the spark it so badly needs. If it does, October 7, 2012 could become a landmark day.
For too long West Indies have been mired by a lack of confidence and capability. The list of lost series in Test and ODIs over the past decade is exhaustive. Not since 2004 when they beat England by two wickets in the Champions Trophy final had West Indies lifted a major tournament. In 2006 they reached the final of the same tournament as defending champions but lost to Australia. Between 1983 and 2004 they reached the finals of major ICC events just one more time – against South Africa in the Wills International Cup – and lost.
Coming after a Test and limited-overs series win over New Zealand, this was a big triumph for Darren Sammy's men. They did not do it piggybacking their two big stars in Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine, but through inspirational bowling bursts and clutch innings from key members of the squad. They had a dream and, deriving inspiration from the London Olympics and their fellow Caribbean athletes and countrymen, did not let that dream be clouded by nerves or under-confidence.
Sammy may not be the finest of cricketers but he has managed to inspire his team since being given the captaincy in 2010. Throughout the World Twenty20 he spoke of unity and hope and achievements, and at the end of the tournament could proudly stand with the team flag on his shoulders. Sammy has had his share of detractors but none can deny the man his time in the sun after Sunday’s success. He's got something, does Sammy.
This appears a close-knit team and Sammy's acknowledgement of several names at the post-match presentation was starkly indicative of how well the 28-year-old knows his success owes to his players' contributions. There were no one-man wins in Sri Lanka, and they had luck to thank for progression into the Super Eights (after a Duckworth-Lewis defeat to Australia, a wash-out against Ireland sealed their passage forward). There was also a Super-Over win against New Zealand after the scores were tied, with Gayle and Marlon Samuels hitting enough in the eliminator to secure victory after defeat to Sri Lanka.
The Super Eights win over England owed to Johnson Charles' only notable performance in the tournament and a brisk 58 from Gayle, backed by a sharp start from Ravi Rampaul. In the semi-finals, West Indies smashed an in-form Australia by 74 runs. Gayle took the Man-of-the-Match award for his unbeaten 75 off 41 balls, but victory would have been impossible without Kieron Pollard's 15-ball 38 and more good bowling from Rampaul and Samuel Badree. Narine was expected to feature heavily in helpful conditions but turned out to be steady, not spectacular, with his nine wickets at 15.44 playing a big role in the overall prize. The other player to leave a mark was Marlon Samuels, with a team-high 230 runs that included a match-winning 78 in the final. Rampaul, Samuels and Charles are unlikely to feature in a list of all-time West Indian greats when their respective careers come to a close, but they have played their role in one of West Indian cricket's most famous wins. It was that kind of performance that took West Indies to glory.
To watch the team go berserk after the final wicket fell was to fall in love with them. It was unabashed joy, a collective release of emotions that only the players and management can understand. Sri Lanka is one of the most cricket-crazy countries but there was no denying the public support for West Indies. When they won, fans across the world went wild. It was a triumph of determination and belief more than on-field performances.
This was nowhere near as big as 1975 and 1979 but considering the drought in silverware for West Indies since, fans in the Caribbean can be excused for celebrating like it is. West Indies deserved to win, and now we can only hope that winning the World Twenty20 inspires them to dream bigger and better. And also keep that Gangnam Style flowing.