It was not a match involving India, so the goodly crowd that landed at the Wankhede Stadium Wednesday on a balmy Mumbai evening was hoping for the West Indies to win against England in their ICC World T20 opener and Chris Gayle to provide the fireworks. And true to the entertainer that he is, the ‘World Boss’ didn’t disappoint. He sent the fans back home happy with the memory of a ‘Gayle storm’ which they are unlikely to forget in a hurry.
The last time West Indies landed in India, in 2014, they left the tour midway in a huff following a pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). That left disappointment all around. Two years later, the script remains the same. The pay dispute again cast a doubt over their appearance in the World T20 in India and had it not been for an 11th-hour resolution between the WICB and the players, the world would have missed the spectacle of Gayle taking England to the cleaners.
The travesty of cricket in the Caribbean Islands is that it is always held hostage to off-field shenanigans. The West Indies are ranked second in T20Is but were never spoken of as favourites in the build-up to the event. They lost two of their crucial players in Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine before the start of the tournament.
Gayle, too, had gone through a tough time after being charged of sexism during a recent interview with a journalist. It’s obviously hard to concentrate on cricket with all these distractions. But the greatest quality of the West Indies is their ability to keep smiling amid adversity and block out the noise as soon as they enter the field. They play with the same verve and intensity no matter what the situation is and that is why it’s so easy to fall in love with them.
That intensity was on display against England at the Wankhede. The crowd did applaud Joe Root and Jos Buttler’s big hits but England wickets were cheered even more. West Indies’s acrobatic fielding efforts drew cheer while Dwayne Bravo was seen having fun while fielding at the Sunil Gavaskar Stand fence. In a game where Indian fans had no stake, the crowd was well behind the West Indies.
England had posted a competitive 182-6 on a good batting pitch. Before this match, West Indies had played just two T20Is in the last 12 months winning one and losing the other.
They might have been rusty but there was positivity among the fans and hopes of a Gayle special.