West Indies cricket has a rich legacy that needs to be restored.
by Bilal Ahsan Dar
In the finals of the 1983 World Cup, India were responsible for one of the biggest upsets in the ODI history when they bundled the mighty West Indies out for 140 after posting a below par 183 on the board. It stunned one and all around the cricket world, none more than Clive Lloyd and his men. Their Titanic had been rocked and there was no way they weren’t going to do something about it to set the record straight. The majestic Caribbeans had won the first two world cups in 1975 and 1979 beating Australia and England in the finals respectively.
They were reigning supreme both in Tests as well as the ODIs when Kapil’s devils – who were billed as underdogs at the beginning of the tournament – shook them to their core. But, the Windies were a self-respecting bunch of cricketers who wouldn’t sit back unless they made it clear who the real boss was. A few months later, West Indies were to tour India for six Tests and five ODI’s. It’s then that they hit back with all the fury and vengeance. They pulverized the hapless Indians, winning the Test series 3-0 and completing a 5-0 whitewash in the ODI’s.
Earlier, in 1976, when West Indies were touring England, Tony Greig, the English captain, was quoted as saying that his team would make them grovel. Lloyd and his men took it personally and saw the term ‘grovel’ as derogatory, especially since Greig came from the apartheid-ridden South Africa. What unleashed after that is a part of cricketing folklore. Late Tony Greig had to eat his own words and carry the guilt as long as he lived, something he very candidly admitted whenever someone would bring it up.
There are other such incidents too throughout the seventies and the eighties, or even the early nineties. You couldn’t hurt the Caribbean pride and get away with it. Bud, sadly, now the Calypsonian charm and pride seems to be a thing of the past.
In the recently concluded ODI and T20I series against India, West Indies again lost miserably and it didn’t seem to bother them as has become their habit over the last twenty odd years. Their performance is so pathetic these days that it won’t be an overstatement to say that this team is the worst ever in the recent history of West Indies cricket, individual brilliance notwithstanding. It’s at the back of such individual brilliances post-90’s that West Indies managed to lift the T20 World Cup twice besides winning the Champions Trophy once. But wins have been few and far between and the team spirit has always been missing.
This pathetic fall from grace that began in the mid-90s has been consistently touching a new low every season, barring a few brief times when it appeared the decline was just a phase or the reconstruction was in the process. A Test win once in a while, the individual brilliance of the likes of Brain lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop in the 90s and the early 2000s did raise hopes but only to be dashed again by poor collective performances. The individual feats of the likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels and many others never led to West Indies gelling as a side that could dominate the world cricket.
West Indies did not lose a Test series for 15 years from 1980 to 1995. And their ODI supremacy was even more authoritative as they were far ahead of other sides.
In an Interview with former Pakistan captain Amir Suhail, West Indian Cricket Journalist Fazeer Mohammad tried to make sense of this downhill trip. He said: “The decline began right on the day when Australia, led by Steve Waugh, broke the winning streak of West Indies on 1st May 1995. The day should be remembered as the day of power shifting in world cricket. West Indian decline and Australian dominance for the next two decades began that day.”
Mohammad believes that the cricket administration and the media took the defeat for granted and never did an evaluation and rectification of the mistakes.
The only good thing that happened in the 2000s was that West Indies cricket brought some exciting white ball players especially for the T20 format.
There are many reasons that the experts, former players and the cricket pundits point out to explain this unbelievable decline of the West Indies cricket.
One of the main reasons cited is the internal politics in the whole system and some blunders by the cricket administration. Of course there are financial reasons associated with this, however, Mohammad believes that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has failed as a professional organization on multiple fronts. There were signs of decline very early but the board never addressed them, he says. Even referring to a Test series of 1988 against Pakistan, which ended in a 1-1 draw and about which Imran Khan still says “we would have won the series but umpiring wasn’t fair.”
The board and the administrators have always tried to sideline the former Caribbean greats and never allowed the players to take some inspiration from the legends and carry on their legacy.
Since West Indies is a common banner for many countries and islands in the Caribbean, it is always difficult to find a charismatic leader who could glue together players from all over the region. After Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, WICB didn’t find one such leader who could instill some pride and motivation in the players. Darren Sammy looked to have glued this team together winning the T20I World Cup, 2015, but he never had good relations with the board. This was evident after the world cup win when he dedicated the victory to the fans and took the WICB to task in no uncertain terms.
With internal politics, players vs. administration bickering and financial issues, the rise of the franchise leagues was always going to affect the team and expectedly the lucrative money magnet was quick to attract the players and further shake the already fragile system. The attraction was reinforced by the individual flair of the Caribbean players who, for their swashbuckling strokeplay and exhilarating fielding, remained in high demand from the get-go. They got high auctions and eventually many of them preferred to play as freelancers rather than being bound by the board contracts.
It is also reported in the media that, of late, cricket is no longer a craze across the islands and the Caribbean youngsters and aspiring athletes prefer American basketball for better money, facilities and individual growth.
Sadly, there appears to be no quick solution for West Indies cricket. Summarizing everything, one comes to a conclusion that despite so much of deterioration there should still be a hope. As individuals, players are still second to none, but as a collective unit, they are continuously failing to deliver.
With cricket now commercialized and money such a big factor, players are far more assertive. In the past it used to be a team character. Today the focus is on personalities and personal success. In such a scenario, the management needs to review its policies, accept the failures and find practical solutions to save the cricket in the island nations and try to bring back the past glory of the West Indies cricket that had made it the cynosure of all cricketing eyes around the world. Not just the WICB, but the ICC as well needs to seriously intervene and restore the Calypsonian magic.
How terrible the situation is can be gauged from the fact that former fast bowler, Winston Benjamin, sought assistance from Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin to help West Indies budding players with some cricket equipment.
West Indies is to cricket what Brazil is to football. It has been an inspiration to the world. It has a rich legacy that needs to be restored.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.