West Indies cricket is on an upswing, especially in the Twenty20 format following their triumph at the World T20 in Sri Lanka last year. Even before that success, West Indian players were in serious demand in T20 leagues across the world. This year’s Pepsi IPL has been no different with players like Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith playing stellar roles for their respective franchises. Daren Ganga, the former West Indies captain who led the revolution with Trinidad & Tobago in the Champions League in 2009, spoke to Wisden India on how T20 success has changed the landscape of Caribbean cricket for the better. Excerpts:
West Indies seem to be making the news for all the right reasons of late. Why do you think the Caribbean players are so sought after in the IPL?
I think the fact that we’re the World Twenty20 champions has finally sunk in. If you have followed West Indies cricket over the last five-six years, you’d recognise that we’re better suited to T20s and ODIs as opposed to the Test format. The reality is, we seem to have flair for the shorter version of the game and that is why we’ve been in demand not just in the IPL, but also in other leagues like the Big Bash.
Has that helped the popularity of the IPL back home?
Yes of course. The IPL is of great interest for West Indies players and fans. The popularity has soared and many more fans are watching the matches today than perhaps when it first started in 2008. From a player’s perspective, it has been a huge opportunity for some of them to make their name and showcase their skills, which they have, and that has in turn increased in the interest of the fans back home. Whether as a current international or as a regional cricketer, the IPL has enhanced their reputation.
How has the T20 success changed the landscape of West Indies cricket? Can it spill over into the way the team approaches Test cricket?
It will definitely spill over but the issue is not about helping Test cricket alone. Our performances in T20s have also reinvigorated that interest for cricket back home among the fans, which wasn’t the case even four-five years back. If I can jog your memory back to 2009 when Trinidad & Tobago first got an opportunity to be a part of the Champions League, the performance of the team of which I was captain brought about a rejuvenation and an added interest to the sport throughout the Caribbean.
If we could reflect beyond that, even the Allen Stanford series lifted the profile of the shorter version; winning a different spectatorship and truly starting that rejuvenation way back then, around 2006-2007. And it has continued to the point where West Indies players are a part and parcel of the IPL and have now become leading performers in different disciplines. We’ve obviously got Chris Gayle leading the batting charts and Sunil Narine leading the bowling charts. So from a cricket point of view, it has helped.
Has that changed the mindset of the players then?
A lot of players have inspired the next generation to look at limited-overs cricket as an option, which is why you’ve seen a drastic improvement. Today, West Indies can challenge any team in one-day cricket and we saw that in the T20s last year in Sri Lanka. All this has generated interest among potential sponsors as well and that is becoming more and more evident; definitely a very good sign for the development of the game.
Some players are obviously tailor-made for T20s. Some of them don’t have the capacity to play five days of Test cricket. Their style isn’t suitable in a format that requires more application and concentration, a sort of sustained approach. The T20s and ODIs have that attractiveness of spectators, sponsors, IPL contracts – and all this has inspired many players to think in this direction. Players are adapting their game because of all these attractions; and not necessarily looking at the longer version as an option.
Why do you think players like Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine, who you’ve captained at Trinidad & Tobago, haven’t been able to replicate their T20 success in the longer format?
Honestly, I don’t think they have had much first-class experience. They’ve played way more T20 cricket than any other format. They’ve both been rewarded in that format in ways well beyond what one could have ever imagined, so rational thinking will get all of us to understand that they would want to sustain that same level of performance in order to better what they’ve already achieved. Now these goals may not fall in line with how a cricketer would approach the longer version and this could perhaps be one of the reasons. Whether or not they have an interest in playing the longer version is theirown personal aspiration but right now, playing T20 constitutes as cricket and makes for a good career. Players are seeing that as a very viable option.
Talking of Narine’s success in T20s, do you think he is the most dangerous bowler in the format currently? What has been the key to his success?
In Sunil’s case, it’s a natural ability he has developed by playing a lot of soft ball cricket while growing up. And because of that, he has developed and matured as a bowler with this unique style; many players find it difficult to pick his knuckle ball and other variations. What Sunil has worked hard on is his consistency and T20 is a format where the general tendency of a batsman is to go after the bowler if he plays out three dot balls, Sunil disguises his variations very well at these times, which is why he has been very successful.
Also, the pitches in Kolkata have suited his style. Whether or not over time players will get accustomed to him as a wicket-taker is yet to be seen but for now, he has created a mystery around himself. A couple of bowlers like Sachitra Senanayake and Samuel Badree are very much similar to him. Senanayake has a unique action, bowls a good arm ball and these are small things that bring success in T20s. At the Test level, batsmen have enough time to play you out, which isn’t the case in T20s. That could be the telling factor as to why they’ve been phenomenal in T20s.
How influential has the Champions League T20 been for the development of these players and Trinidad & Tobago in general?
It has been a very important tournament for the development for West Indies cricket because for decades, all West Indies and regional players have had to settle for playing domestic cricket and being within our domain for all our lives. It’s only when we were selected for the West Indies team that we would get an opportunity to play outside of the region. Tournaments like the IPL, Champions League etc have created another level in our cricketing career for our development. Due to the fact that we’ve won the regional T20 competition four times in five years, we’ve been able to build on that and get an avanue to play outside the Caribbean, in India and South Africa.
These are rare opportunities for cricketers and it has helped in their development. Pollard and Narine are prime examples of this development. It has added to their global reputation and in Sunil’s case, his IPL performances last year earned him a Test debut against England. It’s proving to be a tier in our cricket development that is close to international cricket, something we’ve never had in the past. No longer do players need to play just for West Indies to have international recognition. CLT20 and IPL have given a lot of players new hope for a rewarding career both in terms of performance and financial gain.
So you believe CLT20 has opened new avenues and changed the amibitions of upcoming players from the region?
Of course, not just Trinidad & Tobago players but the objective for all our first-class teams are to have an opportunity to play outside. That has lifted the standard of cricket, more so in the T20s. Narine and Pollard have provided that inspiration. Let’s take the example of Christopher Barnwell. He has just played a handful of T20s for West Indies. But he now has a contract with RCB. Jason Holder is another one; he hasn’t played much international cricket. He has played now with some of the best players at Chennai Super Kings, so these are opportunities that are opening unique doors and players are more than willing to pounce on them.
What is your take on the proposed Caribbean Premier League? Does it have the potential to create a similar platform?
The Caribbean is ripe for something like this. Players will be excited by this League because it provides a new platform to play among some big names. The motivation levels will be higher. The CPL also brings the potential for the spectators to move away from the loyalty towards country, as is the case often in the West Indies.
But if someone like Narine were to play for a Guyanese franchise, will there be the same level of involvement among the Trinidad fans?
I believe the landscape is changing globally with every passing year and every passing tournament, with the prime example being Virat Kohli. He is from Delhi but has now adopted Bangalore as his home and is very much loved there. This concept evolves over time, it can’t happen quickly. I’m sure CPL will be no different and fans will slowly but surely embrace the concept.
Players have pride and passion when they play for their counties, but this may be the impetus required for WI cricket to have little more passion. Only time will tell but this is the direction the game is moving towards globally and we must be able to adapt.
What is the road ahead for West Indies across all formats?
Being in a leadership position for close to a decade at Trinidad & Tobago and also having captained West Indies, I can tell you that in any set-up, stability at the top is important. That is something West Indies have achieved and it creates a positive team culture. Individuals believe in themselves and that reflects in the way the team approaches the game. For now, West Indies have invested their time in Ottis Gibson and Darren Sammy and that is beginning to show. The fact of the matter is cricket needs to improve at all levels and the changes are slowly but surely beginning to materialize.