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​Sammy banking on ‘destructive’ power in West Indian ranks

Graham Ford focussed on keeping Sri Lanka calm before coming up against big-hitting batting line-up

20 March 2016 12:01

“We can be very destructive”. Darren Sammy is fond of saying that and, when in a Twenty20 situation, it rings so true that one is almost sacred. Even without Lendl Simmons and Kieron Pollard, as well as Darren Bravo and Sunil Narine, the West Indies side has so much firepower that tags like ‘favourites’, ‘contenders’, etc don’t really have much meaning at times.

If the West Indian batting unit fires, chances are that the opponents will be playing catch up. And it’s not just about Chris Gayle, though he is quite the frontman. Johnson Charles, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Darren Sammy are all good enough to turn a match on its head and new boy Carlos Brathwaite is also capable of sending a few high and long. Denesh Ramdin, at No.4, may not be as aggressive as the rest, but his job is to keep things calm and rotate the strike when the big boys do the big hitting.

And, understandably, all the talk in the lead up to West Indies’ World Twenty20 2016 Group 1 game against Sri Lanka, scheduled on Sunday (March 20) in Bangalore, centred on that – the West Indian batting, the almost-white pitch adding to the possibilities.

“Yes, we are missing important players but once we execute our plans we can be very destructive. It’s cricket and it’s a World Cup. It’s an event that we enjoy playing. Our focus is on winning matches and we want to take it step by step,” said Sammy on Friday after the team went through a rigorous training session. “The most exciting part of that (England) game was that Chris batted through. Our bowlers did what we had to do and then our batters led by Chris chased it down very well. It’s about putting up a complete game. We knew the wicket in Mumbai was a 200 wicket but last night even 230 (England v South Africa) was not enough. Now it is a different venue, good wicket and we could have an exciting match and hopefully we come out victorious.”

What about the shortcomings in the bowling department? “Score more runs – simple.”

Graham Ford, the Sri Lanka coach, was happy to play down his team’s chances in the face of what promises to be a tough task. “Obviously they are a very tough side, the wonderful kind of T20 cricket that they are capable of playing ... if we do our basics well, we have a chance. T20 is a funny old game and all sorts of things can happen. At the same time we need to come up with one or two plans to neutralise the big guns in their side. So we are quietly chatting about a few things and of course the execution of those things is important,” he said.

Interestingly, after scoring an unbeaten 63 in 50 balls in a team total of 101 back in June 2009 in a World T20 semifinal, Gayle has managed just 5, 2, 3 and 3 against Sri Lanka in T20Is, and Nuwan Kulasekara has got the better of Gayle on two of those occasions.

“We have put a few things in place in the past. We have to see if that still works against him. I am not going to be telling everybody what we did to keep him quiet in the past. It is something that we are aware of within our group and it is certainly something that we will be trying to do again in this game,” said Ford, whose team is without Lasith Malinga, out with a knee injury.

“(Malinga’s absence) is a huge impact. But we have to be realistic. We are trying to nurture the talent that we have as fast as we can. Inexperienced players do make mistakes. With Malinga, it is just not his experience but it’s his skills, his bowling role. For long he has struck early for us and done well in the death overs. Finishing the innings is very important for momentum and now we have to find somebody to do that.”

If the scales were already tilted in West Indies’ favour, there is the small fact that over the years, Gayle has made Bangalore his home in India because of his IPL employers. Sammy hammered home the point more than once. “It looks like a good surface, typical Bangalore … runs … and this is the home of Chris, so we are all excited about it,” he said.

Gayle, of course, isn’t the only one with IPL experience in the West Indies ranks. “It's a plus for us. Chris has played, I think, five IPL seasons here in Bangalore. I played here last year. We have a lot of knowledge of the conditions here in India,” said Sammy. “But T20 is about momentum. Every ball is an event. You can get a wicket one ball and go for six the next. It's about winning those key moments. We know what we have in the dressing room. We know what we're capable of doing. Yes, we plan for the opposition, we look at the grounds and the stats but we just focus on what we can do. And we can be very destructive.”

One of the positives for Sri Lanka in the win over Afghanistan, too close for comfort though it was, was Tillakaratne Dilshan’s form. “I think people felt he was out of form. The way he has been playing in the nets has been superb. And his knock the other night was a masterclass. In the practice games he got two good deliveries (to be dismissed for ducks). I don’t think he was worried because he knew he was playing very well. It is nice if the experienced player bats longer and the younger players can bat around him,” offered the Pietermaritzburg-born coach of the Sri Lankan team.

Ford, who said that it was good that there was no buzz around the young Sri Lankan team despite it being defending World T20 champions, felt that his main job, especially against big-hitting opponents, was to keep his team calm. “Once pressure and panic set in, the thought process gets muddled. The execution of skills becomes inconsistent,” he pointed out. “Calmness through tough times is extremely vital. We have a very calm captain (Angelo Mathews) and he is able to assist with that and keep the calmness within the change room. With T20 cricket, it is not that easy to keep the calmness and I am sure we will have some excitement coming our way in the next three fixtures.”