Belief, clarity and rollicking support drive Windies at St. Lucia

Adam Collins
18 Nov 2018
Belief, clarity and rollicking support drive Windies at St. Lucia

Celebrations from the West Indies team. ©ICC

A week ago, St Lucia was a grim old place. Then, when the country's first game of this tournament was sodden out of existence after 72 hours of pounding rain, the ICC were so concerned about the forecast that they – quite responsibly – explored the option of moving the remaining pool A games to Antigua.

But as it turns out, it is perhaps the luckiest break this tournament has copped so far that the shift wasn't logistically viable: the backing that the Darren Sammy Stadium crowd has to the home team has been the definition of rapturous. Legendary former England captain Charlotte Edwards went as far to say that it has been loudest she has ever heard a crowd respond to runs and wickets during a women's international as they clung on to defend just 107 against South Africa then dispatched Sri Lanka after finally clicking with the bat.

In the build up to the tournament, organisers knew they had to do more work to activate the audience here than in Antigua and Guyana – traditionally, far more cricket-centric countries. To put that into some perspective, this Windward Islands nation has produced three international men's cricketers – Sammy the first and most successful. By contrast, Barbados, with a little over a third more citizens, has nurtured more than 80 Windies players.

And they've nailed it. One of the risks that came with decoupling the men's and women's World T20 competitions for the first time was that it would lack the oomph that comes with a big crowd. But way the St Lucians engage with each West Indian run and every half-chance in the field, then explode with every boundary or wicket, is the best of our sport.

The music is the cream on the cake, the Johnson Charles Stand setting the tempo with their drums and melody through their trumpets, with a healthy dose of Christmas music woven through between overs. They say that 5400 were though the gates on Friday night, a figure they expect to surpass when the locals play England on Sunday (November 19). Good luck reproducing those numbers when England's men visit the country early in the New Year for a Test Match.

In response to the passion on show on Friday, the players did an impromptu lap of honour with a West Indian flag, pausing in front of the Johnson Charles until every last autograph was signed and selfie taken.

It could be said this is a bit over the top for a group game, but it didn't feel like it.

"In Guyana we had an amazing crowd," said all-rounder Hayley Matthews after her half-century to get the party started, then three wickets and athletic catch to cream the cake. "And since we've been here in St. Lucia it's been just as good or even better. Especially when we set the low total in the (South Africa) game the crowd really helped to push us on."

Matthews, player of the match in the 2016 final, knows the importance of the love going both ways. "We're very, very appreciative of all the support we've been getting," she said. "At the end of the day, this is West Indies cricket, and we definitely play for the people of the Caribbean. We're giving back the love."

If the crowd has bolstered the West Indies fielding, as Matthews suggests, it is certainly showing. It was Deandra Dottin's run out of Dane van Niekerk that turned the South Africa game on its head; another direct hit executed against Sri Lanka with each chance taken with safe hands across the two games.

Surely it can't hurt that Gus Logie, one of the greatest fielders of his generation, joined the Windies camp as an assistant coach in the lead up to the World T20. "He's definitely a good fielding coach," Matthews said. "He really pushes us at training or in camp getting your body behind the ball and making sure that we take the crucial catches and crucial run outs."

For Logie's part, he responded modestly to the question of his effect.

He did, however, explain his belief in what strong coaching can achieve:

"I like to think with me here and the other coaches that they elevate their game to a level that is expected. We have seen them do everything we have asked them to do and we will continue to motivate and inspire them."

He praised the focus the side are showing when the pressure is on, underpinned by their belief that they can go back to back on home soil.

"We are quite excited about what we have seen so far. The intensity level is so high; the consistency from the bowlers and the way that they backed up in the field – the catching and the run outs – is magnificent."

Logie, of course, knows a bit about overseeing a team in a big tournament having coached the Windies men to Champions Trophy triumph back in 2004, insisting that half the battle is ignoring external distractions. "Being in the moment is very important," he explained, "and to the best of their ability and avoid some of the distractions you get outside of the game. That can happen at home with family and friends, the fans and media, there are a lot of distractions coming through but we want them to focus their energy on being in the moment."

In the case of Matthews, it's her genius hand at Eden Gardens in the 2016 decider that she can draw inspiration from to as the tournament moves to Antigua for the semifinals next week. "It's definitely something I can look back to," she said.  The first two games, like you said, I didn't get any runs in. It's a reminder of what I can do and keep believing in myself."

Belief, clarity and rollicking support: a potent combination if ever there was one.

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