'It was destined for us': The victories that founded West Indies' growing T20WC legacy
“We get the opportunity to express ourselves in a short period of time,” ICC Live the Game ambassador and West Indies captain Kieron Pollard said of his team’s fondness and acumen in T20 cricket. “That’s something we like to do."
But make no mistake, expressing themselves is just one part of the West Indies’ brand of T20I cricket and their status as a powerhouse in the format.
Pollard was 22 when West Indies won the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup for the first time in Sri Lanka. Already an established member of the team, he had stamped his mark on the tournament with a rapid 38 off 15 in the semi-final against Australia – the kind of innings he was and continues to be known for.
They blasted 205/4 in that semi-final and took out the match by 74 runs. They had a much tougher time of it in the decider, where they were held to 137/6 by Sri Lanka before bouncing back with the ball. As Pollard sees it, "it was destined for us to win that World Cup."
It wasn’t the start of an era of West Indian T20I dominance, but those two matches were indicative of the type of cricket they can play and have continued to play. That monster total of 205/4, a glimpse of the heights they could and continue reach when all the pieces fall in the right place; a ceiling few teams can reliably match, and the “expression” Pollard is referencing.
The victory against Sri Lanka however is evidence of something much bigger: a team that knows how to win when their backs are against the wall. A team blessed with gumption and know-how.
“We are an exciting bunch of cricketers. Having said that over the years we have gained a lot of knowledge of how to play T20 and the different changes and what is needed at different times in order to be successful.
"All those things come into play and our attributes of being strong and athletic and things like that – we have really enjoyed that format and we’re looking forward to this T20 World Cup again. Hopefully, we can show our worth and continue to prove, especially when it comes to T20 cricket, that we are a step above the rest.”
That knowledge Pollard references will be front and centre in October-November when West Indies look to become the first men’s team to defend their T20 World Cup crown, and in doing so become the first to win the trophy three times. As things stand, they are the only side to have won it twice across the six editions.
The team boasts the two highest run-scorers in T20 cricket history in Chris Gayle (14,276) and Pollard (11,217) and the format’s top wicket-taker in Dwayne Bravo (546). Respectively, Pollard, Bravo and Gayle, sit first, second and third for the most T20 matches with 1,515 games between the three of them.
That trio don’t sit quite as high on the parallel T20I records, but what those numbers point to is the wealth of experience West Indies are bringing into this tournament. That’s without mentioning Andre Russell, he of nearly 400 T20s and more than 6000 runs and 300 wickets.
Earlier this year, Pollard won his 15th T20 title, drawing level as the most decorated player in T20 history. The player he sits alongside is Bravo.
This is a squad packed full of not just match-winners, but tournament winners. In a 15-man group featuring many yet to compete in a T20 World Cup, that’s knowledge that could prove invaluable.
“It’s great to have all these guys and myself playing together again," Pollard said. "This hasn’t happened in a very long time.
“No matter which way you look at it you can’t beat experience because we have seen different scenarios time and time again.
“We react (to those scenarios) and we get the other players to react and understand the magnitude of what we are in and what we are about to do.
“Having guys like that to lean on is great, and guys that can get you out of situations where people might think, or you might think as well, that you can’t get out of.
“The younger guys get to learn and get to understand some of the things that are needed to be successful, especially from a T20 aspect. As I’ve said before, we would have seen it time and time again all over the world, different situations, different conditions, different bowlers – having guys like that to help the younger guys, I think you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
A great of the format in the making when he won the T20 World Cup in 2012, Pollard missed West Indies’ famous victory in 2016 through injury. He still rates watching Carlos Brathwaite hit those four sixes as one of his three favourite moments from the tournament’s history, sandwiched in between Yuvraj Singh’s famous 36-run over and the 2012 victory.
“That tournament in itself for us was a bit up and down,” he said of 2012. “We played some good cricket. We lost a couple of games and then we had the crunch moment. We had a big semi-final against Australia at that time, Mitchell Starc, Shane Watson, George Bailey, all these guys – the way that we came out and we played that match, I knew we were in for something special. Chris Gayle getting 75-plus in that game, being able to finish off the innings alongside him.
“And then getting to the final, a bit of a nervy start, making 130-odd I believe, but having the belief. Sunil Narine, Ravi Rampaul, Samuel Badree to name a few, these guys coming and bowling their hearts out and the way that we fielded, I think it was destined for us to win that World Cup and the rest was history.”
While 2012 was a low-scorer and 2016 a nail-biter, what both had in common was the captaincy of Daren Sammy. Sammy won’t be around this time, having long ago farewelled international cricket. In his place, Pollard is in charge and he knows that comes with expectations. He also knows it’s a blessing.
“There’s going to be pressure. No way you look at it that you’re going to hide from that. Leading your nation into a World Cup is one of the biggest things you can do as an individual. I’m looking forward to that."
Alongside the absence of Sammy, the biggest difference for the West Indies is they don’t go in as the underdogs. Curiously, in hindsight, the Windies weren’t among the frontrunners in 2016. This year, no one is writing them off and they’ll have to deal with the pressures of being the hunted rather than the hunters.
“It’s going to be special. To win it twice in itself was great. To do that for a third time is going to be magnificent. I’m sure the guys are looking forward to that.
“Sometimes it is difficult to defend a championship because persons always sort of mention it and they start to talk a lot of things before to maybe try and get you off guard.
“As a group we look forward to focusing and zooming in and having that tunnel vision of the prize at the end of the tournament.”
It was against England that West Indies started their last T20 World Cup campaign and against the same opponents that they out the Final.
Fittingly, they start their title defence against the same opposition on 23 October in Dubai.