Just a year on from having their limited-overs cricket embarrassingly shown up on the biggest stage at the 50-over World Cup, England will have a chance to be crowned world Twenty20 champions on Sunday. Standing between them and the World T20 title at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, though, will be the team that has embraced the sport’s most explosive format more than any other. West Indies cricket may be in disarray in the longer formats, but they have again showed in India that they remain the most natural exponents of T20.
Still, the progress from England to get to this point has fueled confidence that the trophy is now well within their reach. At the 2015 World Cup, England appeared desperately behind the times and were sent packing after the first round following an ignominious defeat to Bangladesh. The 2010 World T20 triumph appeared an aberration and an awful long time ago.
Following the World Cup disaster, English cricket underwent a major overhaul and rethink. The swiftness of their progress toward a more positive brand of cricket has surprised even the man who has witnessed it first hand as captain.
“I think the strides we have made in the last 12 months, this would be a great reward for the mindset we have showed and the hard work we have put in,” Eoin Morgan said in England’s pre-match press conference.
"It's quite a stark difference. It's hard to believe in some ways. I would have never imagined the turnaround being so immediate or having such an immediate impact... the key component within that has been the mindset. I think tomorrow the opportunity we do have is a product of that. It's totally exciting... I am just very, very proud.”
England’s strides in just the past two weeks have also been impressive. In their first game of the World T20, Morgan’s side were on the receiving end of a comprehensive defeat at the hands of the West Indies and Chris Gayle’s 47-ball century. Since then, England’ young team have grown in stature, starting with a sensational win against South Africa when chasing 230 runs for victory.
After beating Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to make it out of their group, England then ousted the only team with a 100 percent record from the group stage, New Zealand, in the semifinals, thanks to 78 from Jason Roy.
There was an upset in the second semifinal, too, with the West Indies ending the dream of tournament hosts India. In a thrilling contest, Lendl Simmons, who had joined the squad only days earlier after replacing the injured Andre Fletcher, fired 82 from just 51 balls to guide his team to victory with two balls remaining.
Having been painted as a team reliant on Gayle, for so long the biggest star of T20 cricket, the West Indies flourished despite their talisman being dismissed in just the second over. And proving doubters wrong has something that has fueled the West Indies throughout their run to the final.
Despite their previous success in the format, including winning the World T20 in 2012 and reaching the semifinals two years ago, many had written the Caribbean side off before the competition. A contract dispute ahead of their arrival in India, together with a lack of preparation and an aging side provided plenty of ammunition for the critics. But one piece of criticism, the suggestion from one pundit that the team was “short of brains,” has provided particular inspiration.
“People paint us as money-grabbing cricketers because of our success in T20 cricket but still they don’t respect us in this format,” captain Darren Sammy said in his press conference. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But whatever they say it doesn’t really matter.
“How could you describe people with ’no brains.’ Animals [have] got brains. We’re not an object. To me that particular comment really set it off for us. To describe our team, who were defending champions two years ago, as guys with no brains is really out of order. Gods don’t love the ugly. We’re very wonderfully, beautifully made and that’s why we play exciting cricket.”
Match time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV (USA), Sky Sports 2 (UK), ESPN (Caribbean)