IT’S nothing unusual for West Indies teams to have off-the-field issues before a World Cup tournament. Those distractions have not always hampered the team’s success. In fact, West Indies have used the “bacchanal” as fuel which propelled the team to the summit of world cricket just five years ago.
West Indies are finalising preparations for the 2021 T20 World Cup in United Arab Emirates and Oman. The regional team will play England in their opening contest on Saturday at 10 am (TT time).
The build-up to the tournament has not been ideal. Apart from two crushing defeats in warm-up matches against Afghanistan and Pakistan there has been heated debates over the 15-man squad selected for the world cup. An experienced cricketer also had a feud with a former fast bowling legend concerning his role on the team.
Last week, 42-year-old Chris Gayle attacked West Indies fast bowling legend Sir Curtly Ambrose.
Ambrose said Gayle is not an automatic choice in the starting XI in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
Gayle did not appreciate the comments made by Ambrose calling for more positivity and said he is “finished” with Ambrose and lost respect for the bowling legend.
Former West Indies captain Sir Vivian Richards, who played alongside Ambrose, defended his past teammate.
It’s not the first time Gayle has clashed with a West Indies stakeholder leading up to a marquee tournament or match.
In 2015, Cricket West Indies president Dave Cameron re-tweeted a post by a fan who said, “Gayle goes…can’t buy a run. Let’s give him a retirement package…can’t fail repeatedly and still front up based on reputation.”
Gayle seemed to use Cameron’s comments as motivation as shortly after he cracked 215 off 147 deliveries against Zimbabwe in the 2015 ICC 50-over World Cup.
Ambrose’s opinion followed weeks of criticism after the West Indies T20 World Cup squad was announced.
Fans, journalists and former West Indies players questioned why some of the players were named on the team including Gayle.
The CWI selection panel, led by former West Indies cricketer Roger Harper, was lambasted.
Jason Holder, named as a travelling reserve, was unlucky to be overlooked according to some.
Others believed players like Sherfane Rutherford, Romario Shepherd and Sunil Narine should have been selected. CWI said Rutherford and Narine did not meet the fitness standard.
Holder, Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell and Gudakesh Motie are the four travelling reserves.
But all these issues beyond the boundary may help the West Indies feel right at home.
Five years ago, the relationship between players and CWI turned sour before the start of the 2016 T20 World Cup in India due largely because of a salary dispute.
It did not seem to hamper the performance as behind Carlos Brathwaite’s herculean effort West Indies won the final against England. The moment will be etched in the memory of all West Indies fans for years to come.
Needing 19 runs off the last over Brathwaite struck fast bowler Ben Stokes for four consecutive sixes in the first four balls of the over to lead West Indies to an improbable T20 title.
The then captain Daren Sammy did not hold back in the post-match conference lashing out at CWI, led by president Cameron at the time.
Sammy said, “We felt disrespected by our board, Mark Nicholas (English cricket commentator) described our team as a team with no brains. All these things before the tournament just brought this team together. I really want to thank these 15 men, the ability to just put all those adversities aside and to come out and play this type of cricket in front of such passionate fans, it’s just tremendous.”
Sammy also spoke about getting uniforms in the nick of time to play the tournament.
He said the players did not feel appreciated by the board but thanked others.
“Lastly I really want to thank the heads of Caricom, throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team…and I am yet to hear from our own cricket board. That is very disappointing.”
On Wednesday, former TT and West Indies opener Suruj Ragoonath said overcoming adversity depends on how mentally strong the 2021 West Indies T20 World Cup team is.
“How it impacts the team is really up to the individuals in the team and team management. As you’ve said in the past they have used it as fuel and that has really been the positive way to look at it. I feel if they are of the same mindset they can similarly use all the negatives that have come out with regards to team selection.”
Ragoonath believes criticism can make the team a cohesive unit.
“It is an opportunity for the team to gel together and use this to motivate them and inspire them and to go out there and show the public that they deserve their selection.”
Ragoonath said strong management can keep the players focused on the matches and help the players put any negativity in the back of their minds.
The former opener, who disagreed with the CWI selectors for overlooking Holder, said the team must put that behind them.
“We have gone past that now. A lot has been ventilated about the selection, but now it is time to focus on the tournament. It is very much at our door (now).”
Speaking about the feud between Ambrose and Gayle, Ragoonath is in support of Ambrose.
“Gayle’s focus now should be speaking with his bat and so to everyone else by the way of performances and let it propel them forward and answer the critics like myself.”
Asked if he was surprised that Gayle was offended by Ambrose’s thoughts, Ragoonath said, “When a man proclaims himself as the Universe Boss it tells you about his ego…it is something that would have struck directly at the heart of his ego, so it does not surprise me that Gayle would have responded in the way that he did.”
Ragoonath said Gayle must focus on leaving an “indelible mark” in the twilight of his career.
Omar Khan, who managed the West Indies team earlier in Gayle’s career, did not expect the left-handed stalwart to react to Ambrose’s comments in that manner.
Khan does not want the criticism of the team selected and the Gayle-Ambrose incident to play on the minds of the cricketers when West Indies play at the tournament.
“I don’t think it should affect the team. I think it is something they should wipe under the carpet as quickly as possible and move on with the task at hand…we are participating in a world cup tournament. We are the defending champions in the T20 and we should go there with a lot of pride and passion.”
Discussing the Gayle-Ambrose incident specifically, Khan said, “What has happened off the field with Gayle that is personal, that is a personal issue. That should not affect the team because that is Gayle’s personal view.”
Khan said that should be a “closed matter.”
Khan said Gayle is normally a cool customer and did not expect him to attack Ambrose.
“Yeah, I was kind of surprised because I know Chris really well. When I was manager, he was my captain. He is a cool guy, he does not really take on these things.”
The former West Indies manager said the debate over who should have been selected on the West Indies T20 World Cup team is useless at this stage.
“The team has been selected (and) there is nothing we can do about it. We got to support the team now because that is the team that will be representing the West Indies in a world cup tournament.”