By R Kaushik in Mirpur
James Faulkner’s comments are bound to have touched a raw nerve and might spur the defending champion on to raise its game
The venue was the Queen’s Park Oval in Bridgetown, and Ambrose, the meanest of fast bowlers but the gentlest of men, was drawn into a verbal battle by Steve Waugh. Waugh did most of the talking – and all the cursing – during the April 1995 Test, which enraged Ambrose so much that he walked to within an inch of the batsman, glared down at him from his lofty perch, his face a mask of scarcely contained rage. There was little threat of physical contact, no matter what Waugh might have feared, Richardson quickly stepping in to get his fast bowler to focus on the business of knocking batsmen over, not out.
There has always been a certain needle to Australia-West Indies cricket over the years. The 5-1 drubbing in Australia in 1975-76 marked the lowest point in West Indian history, a defeat that roused Clive Lloyd into packing his squad with fast bowlers who fired oppositions out in all conditions, on all pitches, all over the world. For a decade and a half, West Indies ruled cricket with an iron fist until that 1995 series marked a momentous shift in world order, Australia gradually establishing itself at the team to beat.
Even at the best of times, Australia-West Indies clashes haven’t been devoid of edge. As they go into their ICC World Twenty20 2014 Group 2 Super 10 clash on Friday (March 28), the contest has been further spiced up by James Faulkner saying he didn’t like the West Indies a lot, a comment that is certain to stir the pot some more.
It’s not as if West Indies has ever needed extra motivation when up against the Australians; Faulkner’s remarks, however, are certain to have touched a raw nerve, and while Darren Sammy might affect an air of nonchalance – “We all know what happened when we met in the World Cup last time” – it is inevitable that West Indies will be more determined than ever to not just put Australia in its place at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, but also all but knock it out of the running for a place in the semi-final.
Sammy’s reference to the last meeting was pointed. Australia had come into the semi-final full of beans despite a 32-run loss to Pakistan in its last league tie, but was annihilated by a Chris Gayle special that catalysed West Indies’ ridiculously lop-sided 74-run romp. West Indies posted 205 for 4 in its 20 overs on a reasonably slow Premadasa strip in Colombo, Gayle at his marauding best while making 75 off just 41. Australia will love to forget that match in a hurry; Sammy did his utmost to ensure that wouldn’t be the case, though he did so with a smile on his face, seeking to be matter of fact and without malice.
The coincidence is hard to miss. Australia is again coming into this game after a loss to Pakistan, by 16 runs in its tournament opener on Sunday, and while this isn’t quite the knockout contest it was in the Sri Lankan capital, the fear of an early flight out in the event of a second consecutive defeat is reasonably genuine. The World T20 is the one major trophy Australia has never managed to lay its hands on; it has everything to play for, as well as to show the world that contrary to popular perception, this tournament does mean a lot to it. West Indies won’t make its task easy.
Having talked the talk, Faulkner will most likely get a chance to walk it too. He hasn’t played competitively since the end of January, having had arthroscopic knee surgery in the interim, but is back to near complete fitness and Australia will look to maximise his all-round skills. A canny left-arm paceman with wonderful changes of pace and a hard-hitting batsman who holds the record for the fastest 100 by an Australian in One-Day International cricket, he will be a massive addition to a side that, for all its batting firepower, was winkled out by Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul once Pakistan had managed to stall the demonic ball-striking of Glenn Maxwell.
There is no more feared batsman in Twenty20 cricket than Gayle, the master of coolness. The massive Jamaican has had a quiet tournament despite making 82 runs in two innings; uncharacteristically, those runs have come off 81 deliveries with Gayle well below his explosive best. It’s more than possible that Faulkner’s comments will fire him up the most; the huge send-off that cost Faulkner 10% of his match fee in Canberra last year is something Gayle wouldn’t have forgotten in a hurry, and Friday could be payback time.
Both of West Indies’ previous games at the Sher-e-Bangla have been under lights, and therefore it will need to do some adjusting playing in the afternoon. The same pitch on which Pakistan and Australia combined to produce 366 runs in 40 overs will be on use on Friday, and the fact that it is a 3.30pm start should help Gayle, who has found it hard to get going under lights, find his bearings. Barring Dwayne Smith, West Indies has been fairly unimpressive with the bat, but the depth of stroke-making options in its midst will express itself sooner rather than later. Australia, itself not short on heavy artillery, will be hoping it isn’t in this match.
All is in place for what should be a cracking contest, Faulkner or no Faulkner. With all his talk, the Australian all-rounder has ensured that Friday afternoon will be no walk in the park.
Australia: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey (capt), Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger, Brad Hogg, James Muirhead, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Dan Christian, Cameron White.
West Indies: Dwayne Smith, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy (capt), Andre Russell, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree, Krishmar Santokie, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Ravi Rampaul, Sheldon Cottrell.