By Wasim Akram
Cricket has an amazing link with the West Indies. When we were growing up as cricketers, the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts et al held us in awe. There was magic in their game. They ruled world cricket with startling authority. The Caribbeans had universal appeal and that is showing in Sri Lanka again.
While Sri Lanka’s entry in the final of the ICC World T20 has surprised me, West Indies’ performance was not unexpected. When you have someone called Chris Gayle in your side, you better respect that team. Gayle has embodied true Carribean flair. He has injected a great deal of camaraderie and it is great to see a cricket team enjoying themselves in a pressure cooker atmosphere. This rejuvenation is a great sign for cricket. The world always wants to see the mystic West Indies of the Eighties!
The Lankans never figured in my calculations when the World T20 started. With a fragile middle-order and with just two-three men capable of big performances, expecting the hosts to go all the way to the final would have been silly. But Sri Lanka have proved me wrong and I think if there is one team that deserves to be playing Sunday’s final, it is Mahela Jayawardene’s diehards.
Mahela has led from the front and has been supported extremely well by his entire team. I have always admired his skills as a leader and Lanka’s bowling department has yorked and spun the best of batsmen out of business! Sri Lanka are in great position and sitting in the cusp of history to become the first team to win the ICC World T20 as hosts. With their convincing show match after match, I am backing them to win the crown.
Winning a low-scoring contest against Pakistan will really boost Sri Lanka’s confidence. Pakistan have always been horrible chasers and their batsmen let them down again. The howls against the captain and the coach have started back home, but if Pakistan cricket has to win the big games, their batting needs to flourish at the right times. PCB must immediately look for a batting coach who can inject some confidence and application.
I think the final will be well contested. Both teams have explosive batsmen, capable all-rounders and mystery spinners. I am extremely impressed by the Trinidadian leg-spinner Samuel Badree. So from a man-to-man standpoint, both Lanka and West Indies are equally matched. Gayle, of course, remains the X-factor for West Indies and if you go by the way he paced his innings against Australia, Sri Lanka will never be able to breathe easy as long as he is around.
There has been quite a bit of talk on the pitches Sri Lanka have prepared for the tournament. Colombo’s wicket at Premadasa has been disappointing. Only Pallekele had good batting wickets, but Colombo pitches have not been good for T20 cricket. I am hoping that the wicket for the final won’t be a dry and spinning track. A flat track that is fair to batsmen and bowlers must be on offer. If the toss and the wicket become a factor, then T20 is not fun anymore. Under the circumstances, West Indies scoring 200-plus against Australia on Friday was a phenomenal effort.
I understand the Indians have criticised the tournament format after failing to make the semi-finals. India can surely feel bad after exiting the tournament with four wins from five matches, but I think the format was just fine. Everyone knew the rules and the importance of the run-rate. And India were in a tough group too. In all fairness, the best two teams have made the final and we should expect a great contest between bat and ball on Sunday night.
(Wasim Akram is an ESPN-STAR Sports expert analyst)