"Don't wake up a sleeping lion," says Darren Sammy every time the media questions him on Chris Gayle's mood before a match. The genial West Indian captain is often overshadowed by the presence of the big-hitting Gayle in his team. But in this ICC World Twenty20, Sammy has proved that he no less than the Jamaican star. In fact, Sammy's contribution has been more telling than a Gayle, a Marlon Samuels or even a Dwayne Bravo. Contribution in cricket can't always be measured by the number of runs you score. By scoring runs, taking smart catches and handling a bunch of expressive cricketers with contrasting moods and characters, Sammy is certainly leading from the front.
Consistency has always been a problem with the Caribbeans. It still remains their biggest worry. In Bangladesh, they needed a spark to fire. Against the Australians, a James Faulkner quote - that he disliked West Indies - was enough to pump up Sammy's boys. The team's big guns - Sammy, Gayle and Bravo - broke into a wild version of the Gangnam to celebrate a thrilling win against the Aussies. (Windies can create history: Sammy)
On Tuesday night, after routing Pakistan by 84 runs, the West Indian celebrations were more restrained. The 2012 World Twenty20 champions seemed more focused as Sammy and Bravo added 82 runs in the last five overs after a poor start and the bowlers did well to defend the score with ease. West Indies performance was lifted by good fielding - an important factor in T20 cricket - and Denesh Ramdin's four stumpings lifted the spinners' morale. Pakistan, of course, helped West Indies will poor cricket overall, their horrible batting being the 'icing' on the cake. (West Indies vs Sri Lanka in semis)
When West Indies enjoy their cricket, it is not good news for any team. They may have lost their 'invincible' tag of the Seventies and Eighties, but in the shorter version of the game, the Caribbeans remain a massive threat. West Indies players love to express themselves. They 'invented' high-fives in cricket and now even a Virat Kohli copies Gayle's dance steps. If West Indies can continue in the same colourful vein, Sri Lanka beware.
Both West Indies and Sri Lanka look equally matched. In terms of batting and bowling, both teams have enough to show. If Lanka have a Dilshan and Sangakkara, West Indies have a Gayle and Samuels. If there is a Malinga and Mendis, there is a Santokie and Narine. Lanka may have the edge in terms of experience, but in a format where a single over can be a game changer, knowledge is not always a virtue, momentary skill and luck are.
In an evening match, winning the toss will be critical. Batting first has proved to be a boon under lights. West Indies have exploded in the death overs. In an angry exchange of words at a press conference, Sammy had told Suresh Raina "If he thinks we are only six-hitters, then stop us from hitting sixes." India still managed to stop the Caribbeans, but Pakistan bowlers were severely punished. Of West Indies' 166 for 6, 51 came in singles, twos and a three; 106 flowed in boundaries.
The way Sammy and Bravo treated Pakistan's quality bowlers like Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul was scary. Desperation can be a two-edged sword. On Tuesday, West Indies profited as Bravo and Sammy were involved in a stand of 71 -- West Indies' highest for the sixth wicket at the World T20. Sammy was particularly outstanding with a 42 not out off 20 balls.
"We had nothing to lose, we were under pressure. So I said to Sammy, as long as we stay still, don't worry about picking Ajmal or trying to rotate, just stay still, keep our eyes on the ball, we're powerful enough if we get close to the ball to hit it over the ropes. Our aim was to get at least 135 to 140 with the start we got but the self-belief we have, the form and the power we have, the momentum went with us, we finished positive and got to 160," said Man of the Match Bravo. The Lankans should take note.
Bravo obviously knows his team's pitfalls. The last five-over rampage is like a lottery. It doesn't happen every day. "In Twenty20 cricket we know how the game plays, if you take the game right down to the end anything is possible, as long as we don't give up and keep faith and have that self-belief that if we bat 20 overs we're going to get a decent total," Bravo said. (West Indies crush Pakistan to enter semis)
"But we have to bat 20 overs, so at no point can we let what happens in the middle overs get the better of us, that comes with experience and self-belief. (Against Pakistan) We still had Andre Russell and Sunil Narine to bat. It's good we did not panic at 84 for 5 and take the game all the way down to the end. We showed in the Australia game what the difference can make as long as we have clean hitters at the wicket, so that's our aim, that's our strong point and we use it to the best of our ability."
In head-to-heads, Lanka lead West Indies 4-1. In 2012, the Caribbeans beat hosts Lanka in Colombo by 36 runs to win the ICC World Twenty20. With Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene retiring from T20s after this tournament, a lot will be at stake on Thursday.