In recent times it has been always Australia that has called the shots in their wonderful historic rivalry against West Indies, but history will not count when the two meet in the second semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20 at the R Premadasa International Stadium today.
Instead of their storied rivalry, it was the prospect of the explosive Chris Gayle being pitted against the in-form Shane Watson that took centre-stage in discussions before the high-voltage battle which will start at 7.30pm Bangladesh Standard Time. Adding a bit of intrigue to an already enticing prospect, Gayle was the point of discussion not just for his murderous batting on the field but also for some off-field issues. Gayle and teammates Andre Russell, Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Smith attracted the attention of police bodyguards during a late-night party in their hotel rooms, an incident that saw three British women being escorted from the players’ rooms and briefly arrested.
The relaxed West Indian skipper Darren Sammy however was not willing to talk about the issue, which was resolved with no charges made and the women released on bail; he was instead looking forward to a team effort while talking at the pre-match press conference at the P Sara Stadium yesterday.
“Next question please,” was the answer from the smiling Sammy when he was asked about the mood in the camp following the incident before a crucial knockout battle.
“It’s not only Chris (Gayle). Obviously he sets the momentum for us at the top of the order, but it’s about everybody. To win this game it will take a total team effort. In any cricket match you will have one individual winning the man-of-the-match for doing something brilliant, but it will take a collective effort, like you saw in the games before, to win the semi final,” he opined.
The West Indies captain was excited to renew their rivalry against Australia and expressed his optimism that they will come out on top to take a giant step forward towards their dream of winning their first global tournament since the Champions Trophy in England in 2004.
“We have always had good games against Australia. We have always scored heavy against them. We back our guys; their attack seems to favour us. Our game against Australia (in the first round) was shaping up to be a very exciting one. It’s fair to be playing them in the semifinals, hopefully we will have another exciting game and we will come out on top,” said Sammy, referring to their rain-interrupted first-round game which Australia won by 17 runs through the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Australia skipper George Bailey however was very much wary of the Gayle factor but was also confident about his team’s chances of reaching the final and clinching their first trophy in the game’s shortest version’s mega event.
“If he (Gayle) has an outstanding game, then he will make it difficult for us but we can come back through (Shane) Watson, (David) Warner and (Michael) Hussey,” said Bailey. Middle-order batsman David Hussey may also come back into the side, having missed out on the early stages of the tournament.
“In Twenty20, we have these games within games. The West Indies’ strength is their batting but we have the confidence that we can chase down anything they set or we can put up a good score. Confidence is a huge thing. Once you get to these knockout games you know there are no weak teams or weak players left. It’s all about winning on that day. India got knocked out after winning four out of five and the West Indies have sneaked in with a few less (victories). That’s the format of the game. Once you get to the knockout stages, you have to play the best you can,” he added.
The Australian skipper was also very much conscious of the West Indian spin attack as Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree and Marlon Samuels can be a vital force for Sammy on the Premadasa surface.
West Indies were named favourites by many prior to the tournament and while they haven’t always played like the team to beat, the Caribbean cricketers have done enough to justify expectations while the brand of cricket Australia, who are no longer the unstoppable force it used to be across all formats, have played for most of the tournament — their big loss to Pakistan in their last Super Eights match being the exception –clearly showed that they are here to add another feather to their cap.
While Australia have not yet translated their erstwhile dominance in Tests and ODIs to the newest format, West Indies have not won a world event, save for the 2004 Champions Trophy triumph, since 1979 when they won the second of their ODI World Cups.
So today is the day for either team to take a step towards ending their respective droughts.
-With The Daily Star input