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2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No 1

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© SportsCafe

2016 | The Year Of The Underdog - Story No 1

Everybody loves underdogs, and 2016 has truly been the year of the underdogs - they went well beyond the realm of dreams and accomplished impossible feats. While underdog Donald Trump did blot the fantastic canvas of 2016, the world of sports turned a bit more beautiful than ever in that same time.

Here at Sportscafe, we look at the year 2016 and why it should be renamed as the 'Year of the Underdogs'. 

Our first story is a fascinating one. It's the tale of a team that set the sport of cricket aflame when it was still in its infancy, only to sink into mediocrity in the interim, and then rose back from the ashes once more in 2016. More important, however, was the manner in which they went about it – not through nerve-racking struggle, but with unbounded joy.

“Gods don’t love the ugly. We’re very wonderfully, beautifully made and that’s why we play exciting cricket,” said Darren Sammy on the eve of the WC final in a fitting reply to Mark Nicholas' ugly comment dismissing the Windies as being “short of brains”. It was even more fitting when they lifted the cup by swatting aside England with some “exciting cricket” in the final over. OK, that's an understatement - it was the greatest final over of a World Cup. It was “David vs Goliath”; it was frolicking Frodo and fellow hobbits against the might of Mordor. And they won! And along the way they won hearts over and over with the 'Champion' dance. 

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But veiled beneath those smiles and celebrations, was pain and anguish. The path to the top wasn't rosy. Even as cricket boards across the world pamper their cricketers with fatter and fatter paychecks, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has stood with one foot in the quicksands of debt and the other firmly on the player's backs – and the former appears sufficient reason for the latter's position in their eyes. 

The members of the WICB board, who have tasted power for too long, have strongly resisted any change in their structure despite the Trinidad & Tobago PM Keith Rowley saying "the time has come for serious action in trying to save West Indies cricket" and former Jamaica PM Patterson, who spent a year preparing a review report proposing drastic reformation of the Board stating," the status quo is unacceptable". Patterson eventually complained that he had wasted a year of his life preparing that report, which shall most likely never see the light of day. Sport often professes to offer us respite from the hard-hitting reality that is life but then tumbles into the waiting clutches of commercialism peddled by the power-hungry patricians unerringly. It would be absolutely infuriating if only it were not so depressing.

Even a month before the World Cup, the participation of Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and a host of other stars was in the grey as the Board threatened to send a second-string team to the event. Better sense prevailed, at least in the interim, and they landed on Indian shores, but the Board was not done yet. Left without playing kits, the team had to print their kits in Kolkata, like a second-string college team.

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The team had finally landed on Indian shores, but not all of them. West Indies lost their best bowler in Sunil Narine to chucking allegations, their big-hitting all-rounder Kieron Pollard and their opener Lendl Simmons to injuries, although Simmons would eventually return just in time to take them across the line against hosts India. Without those star names, they in fact, landed not as favorites despite being the No.1 nation in T20s not long ago, but as darkhorses.

Despite all their success in the format, the critics did not take much time before dismissing the Windies as a bunch of party-hard playboys who are concerned more about the sweet sound of money than the music of David Rudder's 'Rally round the West Indies'.

“People paint us as money-grabbing cricketers because of our success in T20 cricket but still they don’t respect us in this format,” Sammy said before the final. “Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But whatever they say it doesn’t really matter.”

The bias was only taken to its natural next level by Mark Nicholas with his “short of brains” comment. Darren Sammy may not have accomplished much at all on the field this time, but he has led them with flair off the field. Replying to the remark, he said, “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.” It was really out of order, and apologies by Nicholas did little in the way of redemption.

It takes a lot to remain optimistic in the face of such headless criticism. But maintaining brash chutzpah is something, and few could manage to get away with it as this team. Talking ahead of the final against England, Sammy sounded as nonchalant as possible. “Just thinking about lifting that cup tomorrow, I can almost foresee what’s going to happen after. But we have a game of cricket to play first,” he said. Unbelievable chutzpah it was, hitting four sixes off four balls when you need 19 runs off six balls.

Darkhorses they were called when they began, and Sammy was smart to play along all the while. Dishing out the David vs Goliath narrative before the India match was a deliberate ploy, and it is easy to forget it was 11 Davids against one lonely Goliath. India had Kohli. England had Root. But as Sammy put it, West Indies had “15 match winners”. And almost each of Sammy's 15 match-winners delivered when it mattered most – Gayle won the opener, Badree and Fletcher did it against the Lankans, Russell against the Proteas, Simmons against India, and Samuels and Brathwaite in the final.

This is for all the fans in the Caribbean. I don't know when I'm going to be playing for West Indies again, I want to thank my team, thanks my coaching staff. This is for the CHAMPIONS!

Sammy after the World Cup final

And it wasn't just the men's team that shocked the cricketing world. The women's World Cup was scheduled at the same time as the more illustrious men's one and it turned out to be a double header for the teams for the Caribbean. The women's team got off to a good start qualifying for the semi-finals behind England in their group. Australia, who were aiming for their fourth consecutive World Cup, and New Zealand completed the rest of the field for the event. As expected the Aussies made their way to the final but it was the 6-run win by the Windies over New Zealand that caught the eye of the fans. 

Previously, in 2010, the West Indies had reached the final where they had squared off with the same opposition and had come up short by 3 runs. This time it looked like the same result was on the cards as the team from Down Under reached their century in the 14th over. Australia appeared to be well on track to go past 150 but Deandra Dottin conceded just 1 run in the last over to give the team a fighting chance. What followed was a surprise to everyone as the WI openers put up a batting display that would have made Sobers and Richards proud and they wrapped by the game with eight wickets to spare.

However, it was just the cherry on the top as the youth team had wrapped up the U-19 World Cup, just over a month before the double win, in Bangladesh. They became the first team in history to hold all three trophies together.

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However, it has been far more than just a win for the collection of countries. It has been a lot more than sending a message to the Board, to Mark Nicholas and to Shane Warne. They have shown us that when David meets Goliath, David does win if not always. They have shown us that there is hope despite all odds. They have shown us that you can win without playing ugly. They have shown us that sport is not 'war'. They have shown us how to celebrate. They have shown us how to play and how to live. The fire in Babylon burns brighter as ever, and it dances wildly to the tune of the 'Champions'.

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