The due share of flair came from one of the most eye-pleasing batsmen going around. There’s no need to add “one of the” here, because Marlon Samuels played simply the best Twenty20 international innings ever seen when West Indies were down and the count had reached about eight. A feedbacker to Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary asked if Samuels’ 78 was the 281 of Twenty20 cricket.
Samuels was not just shouting for help from the burning desk. He danced on that burning deck. He danced so well the burning deck became attractive. And Sri Lanka were singed. So singed that arguably the best Twenty20 bowler in the world went for 0 for 54. So singed that Ajantha Mendis’ figures of 4 for 12 in the final meant nothing to the result. West Indies had been 14 for 2 after Powerplays and 32 for 2 after 10 overs, the fourth-worst scores at these points in the history of Twenty20 internationals. They even took 17 balls to score the first run off the bat. Yet so breathtaking was Samuels’ assault, never mind the wickets falling around him, that Sri Lanka were too stunned to respond.
It is also fair, in a way, that captain Darren Sammy contributed big to the win too. That the man who has led the team through times when others had deserted it, despite obvious question marks based on pure skills, played a crucial role on the big night of a tournament that had threatened to make him almost superfluous. When Samuels got out, West Indies were still 108 in the 18th over. They needed a strong finish to keep fighting. And fight Sammy did. He swung and ran like hell, turning three ones into twos in the last over, hitting two fours around those scrambles.
It was perhaps a little easy to carry on after Samuels had struck. Samuels struck when Malinga had come back to try to deliver the knockout. Samuels counterattacked sensationally. All Malinga had to do was miss his yorker by a few inches in the 13th over, and Samuels stunned him with three of the finest sixes: a flick over deep midwicket, a loft over long-on, and a beautiful drive over extra cover. Still only 69 for 2 after 13, West Indies had some semblance of fight on.
Jayawardene wanted to nip that fight in the bud. He brought back Ajantha, who responded with three wickets in his last two overs: Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard out of the way. Surely Jayawardene had snubbed it all?
Not quite. In between those two overs, Samuels continued his assault, taking apart Jeevan Mendis. Then was the turn of the man widely acknowledged as the best bowler in Twenty20 cricket. After hitting Malinga for a four and a six, Samuels got a length ball, which he sent into the roof of the stadium, the biggest six of the tournament of 108 metres.
Angelo Mathews said during the break that West Indies were still 15-20 short. Perhaps they were, but the momentum of that onslaught – 105 in last 10 – was huge. If Sri Lanka were not already in their shells, a superb first ball from Ravi Rampaul sent Tillakaratne Dilshan’s off stump cartwheeling. His finger went to his lips. The crowd, though, had already been stunned into silence.
Two of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketers were now in the middle, but like the West Indies openers they were under pressure too. And would they have thought of three previous World Cup finals that they had lost? Jayawardene was too early into a sweep – a shot he plays better than anybody else in today’s cricket – and nearly gave Samuels a wicket in his first over. Kumar Sangakkara kept hitting even poor deliveries straight to fielders. West Indies kept squeezing harder and harder.
Such is the pace of Twenty20 that suddenly West Indies were 39 after eight overs, and while they had wickets in hand, they don’t matter as much in T20 as they do in more traditional formats. Most importantly, Sunil Narine had shown in one over that he was going to turn the ball a long way. Sri Lanka were running out of time, and needed to target somebody.
Sangakkara targeted Samuel Badree, and even though he hit a four, he also deposited a long hop with deep midwicket. Sammy now put in another squeeze. Mathews was finding out he had spoken too early. Three dots later, he moved across to lay the stumps prone. Sammy hit them with a slower ball. Now it began to drizzle. Sri Lanka were well behind D/L now, and Jayawardene had to take risks. Never really flowing in his effort, Jayawardene mistimed a reverse shot, and holed out to point.
After that Nuwan Kulasekara was just a minor irritant to celebrations the world had been waiting to watch. Gayle, who might have failed with just three off 16, was the man dancing the hardest with every falling wicket. He was also the first with his arm around Rampaul who bowled an over as ordinary as his first wicket was extraordinary.
After that 22-run over, Sri Lanka needed 44 from four overs, not unheard of in T20. Sammy, though, had kept the trump card back. On cue, Narine delivered Kulasekara’s wicket. The birthday boy, Bravo, who had got a shocker from the umpire when he batted, was the man at the end of the two catches that finished the match.
The time had finally arrived to party, and they partied as well as they played.