Interest in cricket waning badly

Interest in cricket waning badly

The West Indies cricket team is in New Zealand and very much under the hammer. This is not in any way surprising as over the past several years we have grown accustomed to the regional side’s inconsistency in the sport we once dominated for just over a decade.

Gone are the days when we used our four-pronged pace attack to demolish opposing teams in record time, leaving the international cricket fraternity reeling under pressure to find novel ways of ending our control of a game brought to us as part of colonial expansionism.

During the first test against New Zealand a handful of Vincentians were watching the proceedings at an establishment in Kingstown. They were not really looking at the performance of the West Indies team. Instead, their main focus was to witness the performance of Vincentian cricketer on the team, Sunil Ambris. This is reflective of the state of the sport in the Caribbean today. Many of the people who choose to follow any match involving the West Indies team seem far more interested in the performance, not of the regional side, but rather, the fortunes of the players on the team from their respective countries.

The performance of the West Indies Cricket team today continues to be a reflection of the state of the sport in the region where there appears to be little concern for the crafting of a development strategy that is sustainable by a leadership that is sufficiently understanding of the sport in today’s changed global sport environment.

Today’s cricket reality in the Caribbean reveals declining crowds in attendance at matches at different levels as well as significant slide in participation rates.

 

Rationale for the decline

What then are the possible reasons for the decline in interest in cricket around this Caribbean of ours?

 

WI team performance

Perhaps the single most important reason for the decline in interest in cricket in the Caribbean is the performance of the West Indies cricket team.

Perhaps the single most important reason for the decline in interest in cricket in the Caribbean is the performance of the West Indies cricket team.

In the earlier period of the region’s entry into the international cricket fraternity, it was understandable that the team was the embodiment of the peoples of the Caribbean.

We were all very anxious to have our people represented in an international forum and though sport was not as popular as it is today, it was nonetheless an opportunity which we grabbed with both hands.

Our early cricket reflected the reality of the Caribbean at the time, viciously racially antagonistic. The remnants of the white plantocracy controlled the sport just as they controlled everything else in the countries that made up the region. The governing body for the sport in each of the Caribbean countries were essentially white and this featured in their selection perhaps more often that their knowledge of and performance in the game.

Blacks struggled to make the West Indies cricket team just as they struggled for their very survival as members of their respective societies. Life chances were particularly harsh.

CLR James and others have recounted the historical experiences of West Indies cricket and how it had become necessary to promote the region’s development of the sport as an opportunity to show that blacks were as capable as whites in sport. This was another option to showing more generally that racial inequality has no genuinely justifiable basis.

Over the years the West Indies cricket team developed enough to lead the world for a considerable period. However, while at the top, the rest of the cricketing world fought to create new strategies of a sustainable nature to ensure that their fortunes were reversed.

The decline in the performances of the West Indies Cricket team after the glory years under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, has led to a significant loss of faith in the regional team.

Caribbean people, once buoyed by the team’s successes, began to turn off their television sets and radios and eventually reduced their attendance numbers at local, regional and international matches.

In many of our countries today local matches are treated to poor attendance. Even the regional competition, for all of the monies now being poured into it, fails to attract crowds that can help the players feel a sense of being supported in their craft.

Even international encounters are losing attendees in the region and it all has to do with a sense amongst the populace that the players have no appreciation for their support; that the latter are keen only on their own well-being.

There is a general sense in the Caribbean that today’s players have no commitment to the Caribbean or to any of the causes its people choose to embrace.

 

Cricket West Indies

Since its entry into the global cricket movement in 1928, the West Indies cricketing authorities have been facing challenges of one sort another.
The issue of selection has always been critical and so too, perhaps much more so, the appointment of team captains.

Cricket leadership across the region has always been consistent with what has been happening at the country level in terms of national politics. So it was that when these societies were characterised by racism the leadership of cricket in each of them reflected a similar situation.

Andy Bull, writing in The Guardian on 2 February 2009, observed, “…For the first 20 years of their Test existence, the West Indies were captained exclusively by white players, despite the fact that Challenor’s tour in 1923 was the last occasion on which the best player in the team was a white man.

“Tony Cozier wrote in his History of West Indian cricket that the refusal to appoint a black captain was ‘historically understandable at a time when it was generally considered that by ruling classes that the black man was not ready for leadership, political, social, sporting or otherwise.’

Some may well suggest that of all people, Cozier should know, given his own family’s involvement in the sport in Barbados, where racism was rife.

As is the case with Caribbean politics today, blacks have risen to top positions. However, the reality is that many of those at the top today have been schooled in the authoritarianism of their predecessors so much so that they are often blinded by their over-inflated egos that offer a false sense of self-importance.

The peoples of the Caribbean have, with good reason, pointed accusing fingers at the administrators of West Indies cricket, now dubbed, Cricket West Indies, for their seeming inability to offer competent leadership.

Cricket West Indies has been so poorly managed that the governments feel almost compelled to intervene for and on behalf of the peoples of the region. Of course, some of the government leaders are themselves victims of their own over-inflated egos and cannot stand as good examples to any organisation. Since CARICOM does not inspire the peoples of the region in any significant way there is little chance that the regional heads would engender confidence amongst the cricket lovers of the Caribbean.

 

Loss in popularity relative to other sports

The growth of information communications technology has meant greater access by all to sport across the globe. Caribbean peoples are no longer restricted to following just a handful of sports. The number of sports being covered from around the world continues to grow. The result is that children are now exposed to and are attracted to an increasing number of sporting options. Cricket is just one of the many options in this regard.

Additionally, cricket took an inordinately long time to effect change. It took Kerry Packer to show the international cricket community hat is possible with the application of new technologies to the game and the value generated by greater and more attractive coverage of the sport.

The emergence of the high-stakes, highly competitive cricket in lucrative markets has left the Caribbean extremely far behind so much so that when T20 is being played in the region, one wonders whether it is in any way related to the attractive, exciting and enticing versions we see elsewhere in the world. The stands are empty, except in a few instances and the dynamic interplay with those present seen in other parts of the world does not really happen here.

Football has long since surpassed cricket as the most popular sport amongst the peoples of the Caribbean. The international governing body for the sport, FIFA, has been particularly adept at transforming itself and its activities into a global brand with tremendous appeal.

The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has reorganised and revitalised itself so much so that its global appeal continues to rapidly expand.

Many sports have increased expenditure on marketing their products in a manner that has enhanced their appeal to children and their parents enough to pull them away from some of those sports which we simply assumed capable of being forever attractive.

Cricket has declined in popularity amongst children. In the Caribbean they do not have good role models with whom they can relate and strive to emulate. There is a dearth of good cricket ambassadors in the Caribbean.

 

Population dynamics

In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the sport of cricket has assumed near-religious proportions. For their populations, cricket is still a major liberating force in respect of income generation as well as enhanced social status for the achievers.

In contrast, in the Caribbean, we have thought ourselves to be so developed that with significantly smaller populations we commit to a wider variety of sports with varying levels of appeal to different segments.

In Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, Indians outnumber all other ethnic groups practising the sport of cricket. This is also reflected in the attendance at local, regional and international competitions. This is a cultural phenomenon that Cricket West Indies is yet to understand and profoundly analyse.

 

Epilogue

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, historically, the best cricketers have come from the rural areas where there are fewer distractions, the poorest cricketing facilities and limited equipment. However, it is in these rural areas that people still have a sense of community and success means so much to the entire grouping.

Unfortunately, our cricketing authorities fly in the face of the local realities and are at a loss as to ways in which to appropriately respond to the continuing decline in interest in the sport.

The concrete strip at the Grammar School Playing Field, once the breeding ground for numerous students, remains largely abandoned. The Wilf Slack Nets at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex are used mostly when we are hosting regional and international matches.

Our continued inability to attract the top cricketing countries to play international matches in St Vincent and the Grenadines means that our children are denied the opportunity to see first-hand some of the best cricketers in the world and be motivated to idolise them in the same sport.

We can either sit idly by and watch the total demise of a sport that once meant so much to us as a people or rouse from our slumber, be creative and effect meaningful change.

 

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