World T20: West Indies men and women find their Garden of Eden


The grass beneath and behind them was littered with glittering gold, the sky lit up with fireworks and the thumping beats of the catchy and repetitive ’Champion’ throbbing through the night. On the stage inside the famous Eden Gardens on Sunday, West Indies men’s and women’s teams united as one, shouting and laughing and singing and swaying to the now famous tune by Dwayne Bravo, double-fisted dance moves and all.
Less than half an hour earlier, the men’s team had stunned England to lift the ICC World Twenty20 in utterly incredible scenes. Carlos Brathwaite, 27 years of age but a youngster on the international stage, in his first tournament final, had smacked four of the most outrageous sixes you will see in the last over of a T20I. A little over six hours before that, young opener Hayley Mathews, who turned 18 during the women’s World Twenty20 tournament, was named Player of the Match for her 66 off 45 balls to drive West Indies women to their first title, in their first appearance at one.
Among the mass of swaying, singing bodies on stage, both Brathwaite and Mathews lapped up the moment. They will never forget this night. They may not know it now, but it will come to pass that on Sunday in Kolkata, these two rookie players took massive steps toward giving West Indies cricket the recognition it hasn’t gotten for some time.
No matter what your views on the players v board matter that overshadowed the men’s team coming into the tournament, and which, following Darren Sammy’s no-holds-barred speech with the West Indies flag draped over his shoulders, you could not but be swept up in the moment. The performances of both Brathwaite and Mathews will resound for some time to come. As will the words from Sammy at the post-match presentation when Nasser Hussain asked him how this win felt compared to when West Indies won the title in 2012.
It was straight from the heart and dedicated at his team-mates, the coaching staff, the support staff, the cricket lovers of the Caribbean. And there were strong words to those who Sammy felt had spoken unfairly about his team."We started our journey. We all know what we had. People were wondering whether we would play this tournament. We had a lot of issues and we felt disrespected by our board. Mark Nicholas described our team as a team of ’no brains.’ All these things just before the tournament brought this team together. I want to really thank these 15 men. The ability to put all those adversity aside and to come out and play this type of cricket in front of such passionate fans... it’s just tremendous," he said.
"I personally also want to thank the coaching staff. Coach Phil (Simmons). He’s been through a lot. To come here and the way he’s coached this team ... he’s just brilliant. All the other coaching staff who have done their part. We had a new manager in this tournament in Rawl Lewis, who has never managed any team before. He came here. We had a camp in Dubai. We had no uniforms. No printing. He left Dubai, went to Kolkata ... That’s where we started. The trouble he went through to get us in this uniform.
"I got to give credit to the entire team here. It was us in our own little circle. We dedicate this win to all the fans in the Caribbean," he continued.
"And lastly I want to find the heads of CARICOM. Throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team. We have got emails, we have got calls. Prime Minister Mitchell, I know what he’s trying to do. I really want to thank him and he sent a very inspiring message to the team this morning ... and we are yet to hear from our own cricket board and that is very disappointing. For today, I am going to celebrate with these 15 men and this coaching staff. I don’t know when I am going to be playing with these guys again, because we don’t get selected for one-day cricket. We don’t know when we are going to be playing T20s. So this win, I want to thank you my team. I want to thank you coaching staff. Everybody in the West Indies are champion."
Much before Sammy’s emotional speech, the captain of West Indies women, 24-year-old Stafanie Taylor, had said much less and yet made a point.
"I don’t think its sunk in as yet. We’ve got a really good feeling right now but I think when it really hits us is when we get home. I think when we wake up in the morning and there’s no cricket to go and play ... I know when I look at my trophy I’m going to be like ’is this real?’ When we touch down in the Caribbean is when it’s going to be real because I know we’re going to have a lot of people there, cameras and everything and that’s the time it’s going to hit you. And you’re going to realise you’ve won a World Cup," she said.
Taylor’s team does not have contractual tensions with the WICB like Sammy’s does, but she made a point to address the future of women’s cricket in the Caribbean."I think we definitely need some infrastructure. Whereas Australia and England have it, with youngsters coming up, I think that’s what we need ... youngsters coming up. When you look at our team, most of us are fairly young and when all of us, these core players, when they’re gone, it’s going to deteriorate. We need to start building young players growing up so they can grow on us," she said. "I think we need to go into the schools and get girls and try to get girls to come out and see who’s actually interested. I think we do have girls who are interested, but we don’t have anyone to push it. That’s where we need to start."Where Sammy and Taylor and their two teams go from here remains to be seen. Both captains have been in touch during the past few weeks in India, via text messages and phone calls. Both spoke of the positivity their respective teams gained from the other, and how the success of the Under-10 team winning the junior World Cup earlier this year was further inspiration. Sammy, as Taylor said after her team won, had been rallying his team to get behind the women’s side a day before the final. There is a bond there, make no mistake.
On Sunday, two champion West Indies teams made Eden Gardens a slice of Caribbean cricket history. No one can take that away from them.

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