The West Indies' victory in the World Twenty20 was one of the rarest, most pure moments in sport: regardless of cricketing persuasion, all neutral fans emotionally connected with Darren Sammy's team on that warm, blustery Colombo evening.
The road to redemption has been a long one for West Indies. Indeed, the word 'redemption' could not be more appropriate in this context, because in the eyes of cricket fans all around the world, the West Indies have owed us something for far too long. Perennial favourites of the neutrals, West Indies teams throughout the past few decades have always been easy to love: their unique brand of 'Calypso Cricket' characterized by spurts of brilliance, languid batting, and most importantly, express pace. As such, we have been emotionally invested in this team of mavericks, let-downs, wannabe rappers, and potential world-beaters.
And it's precisely these spurts of brilliance that have treated us so cruelly in the past decade in particular. An unlikely, backs-to-the-wall triumph in the September gloom of The Oval gave us hope in 2004, as the West Indies pulled off a remarkable triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy. And then, just as they raised our hopes and expectations, they managed to consistently self-destruct, despite boasting some of the best talent in the world.
As John Cleese famously said in the film Clockwise: "Despair I can cope with; it's the hope I can't stand."
In the intervening years, disaster struck the West Indies. Or rather, the WICB administration repeatedly attempted to asphyxiate itself, in various manners. Rivaling only the PCB for sheer incompetence and self-interest, the WICB has publicly flagellated its players, stifled youth development, and presided over farcical player strikes. Still on thin ice, they are only a public STD announcement away from reaching rock-bottom.
Most worryingly, they managed to alienate Chris Gayle for over a year. To this day, they continue to ostracize both Jerome Taylor and Ramnaresh Sarwan. The West Indies are fortunate to be in a position whereby they aren't crying out for either player, but it is an example of how there are still gaping cracks in this administration.
In fairness, the players have hardly helped themselves: individual greed and complacency often led to a corrosive team ethic, over the tenure of several leaders. Poor judgment is a quality that has clearly not entirely left the West Indies camp, with Denesh Ramdin's kindergarten insult to Sir Viv Richards being a recent case in point.
In terms of sheer redemption, perhaps Marlon Samuels epitomizes the renaissance of this West Indies side. Banned by the ICC in 2008 for two years after having divulged information to a bookie, it looked like Samuels had frittered away his abundant talent. He had only ever put himself above the cause of his team, and ultimately he had taken the game for granted. The Jamaica native served his time away, and we widely assumed it would be the last we'd see of him.
To his enormous credit, Samuels has taken it upon himself to make up for lost time, consistently stepping up and taking responsibility to pull his team out of the mire - or more often, save face. His 78 off 56 in the World Twenty20 final was laconic, classy and intelligent - something we have been longing for since he burst onto the scene a decade ago in India when he scored a match-winning 108* off 75 in Vijayawada.
However, the ultimate story of atonement must go to West Indies' durable captain, Darren Sammy. Now celebrating two years in charge of the national team, St Lucia's first ever international cricketer has been the man to unify an aloof, talented group of flashy individuals into a team. Sammy will never get as much credit as he deserves, simply because his critics will always denounce him as a 'non-playing' captain. He is not the bowler to strike fear into the hearts of batsmen; he is not the batsman to strike fear into the hearts of bowlers. Even tactically, Sammy is more of an anti-Brearley, or a proto-Dhoni - it is fair to say that he has been clueless at times.
However, West Indies have never needed tactics and Buchanan-style out-of-the-box thinking: they've only ever needed a strong leader.
Sammy's leadership and personality have been precisely what the West Indies have been crying out for - a laid-back but determined man, the new team is built in his image. Even Sammy's most ardent critic could never accuse him of ever leaving behind anything on the field, and this has rubbed off on his colleagues. Unlike the often-pained expressions of previous captains, Sammy enjoys the game unlike few others, bringing a joie de vivre to West Indies cricket that we haven't seen for the best part of two decades. Whereas many would have been jaded by the internal politics of West Indies cricket, Sammy's innocence and sincerity have rejuvenated everything about his team's cricket.
It is no coincidence that the West Indies play their best cricket when they enjoy what they're doing. Forget the emphasis on processes, pre-match chalkboards and eating the perfect combination of proteins and slow-release carbohydrates. This West Indies team partied its way through Sri Lanka, with countless tales of scantily-clad women tiptoeing outside hotel rooms at 3am, and more time spent perfecting choreographing 'Gangnam Style' celebrations than on calculating the positive expectation of using the reverse-sweep against Akil Dhananjaya.
If this tournament was won on smiles, then the West Indies would have walked it. As it turned out, they did pretty well regardless.
On that historic Sunday evening in Colombo, the West Indies strangled Sri Lanka in the most visceral, slow-drip catharsis, celebrating each wicket as if they knew they were going to win. It was a victory that every cricket fan identified with: some shed tears; others drunk themselves silly.
We know that ultimately, the West Indies will always provide us with heartbreak, but if they provide such euphoric highs every so often, I'm in it for the long haul.