Revisiting West Indies Cricket

105362Caribbean cricketing enthusiasts remain totally confused about the state of the game in the region and the seeming nonchalance of the current crop of players.
It is also true that many of the region’s avid cricket fans have no time for the administrators of the sport on the Caribbean.
As is the case with the cricketers the administrators appear decidedly lost in some disturbing malaise out of which they seem unable or unwilling to extricate themselves.
CLR James
Renowned Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean scholar, CLRJ’s Beyond a Boundary, must be the first genuinely authoritative document on West Indies cricket and should serve as compulsory reading for anyone interested in playing the game, coaching the game and administering the game. Anyone who has a desire to play some role in the development of cricket should familiarize him/herself with the profound analysis to which James has made of our involvement with it.
James’ book on cricket sought to answer the important and insightful question, what do they of cricket know who only cricket know?
The book is a masterful literary piece that speaks to the emergence of the West Indies as a force in the global sport dominated at the time by whites. He reveals how the likes of our own Ollivierre from Bequia joined forces with young men from around the region to give shape to what was to follow and become internationally recognized as West Indies cricket.
James chronicled the immense cricketing personalities of Learie Constantine, George Headley and Frank Worrell. Alas, in respect of the last named, James found it necessary to remind us all of the struggle in which he immersed himself to effect change in the leadership of the West Indies team, supporting the ascension of Frank Worrell to the captaincy, the first black man to hold this treasured position.
James knew that race had been a critical feature of the development of the game in the Caribbean and when he recognized that the likes of Worrell had distinguished himself as a leader of men, the time had come to raise the challenge.
Of course, try as they might the leadership of the Board at the time eventually capitulated. Worrell was made captain. The rest is indeed history.
Worrell is still today recognized as easily the best of West Indies captains and those who had the good fortune of playing with and under him can attest to his leadership in every aspect. Above all, Worrell encouraged his players to educate and by extension develop themselves.
Worrell lifted aloft with his captaincy the aspirations of a people, the people of the Caribbean, and he did it with distinction. He never had to say he was humble. Humility exuded from him at every turn. He was a giant of a man and a giant of the game he played and so is today a great West Indian legend.
The essence of the CLR James thesis on West Indies cricket is that the players were of their times and understood their times. They understood the societies from which they came and understood the impact of colonialism on the peoples of the Caribbean. They therefore used cricket as the primary weapon of choice to lift themselves sand with them the peoples of the Caribbean, onto the world stage for all to see. In no other cricketing personage is this James thesis so evident as in the life and times of Learie Constantine.
Constantine never lost sight of the plight of the peoples in the Caribbean and gradually infused his commitment to their freedom from the yoke of British colonialism while playing the game in different parts of England. He was clear in his own mind as to what was required and he did it with a great sense of purpose.
To James, the emergence of the three Ws – Weekes, Worrell and Walcott – was a logical consequence of the trail set by those who went before. Worrell’s ascendancy to the captaincy of the West Indies team was a fitting climax to the struggle of the peoples of the Caribbean to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world in a sport not of their own making.
Quantum leap
Let us take the quantum leap from the era to which James’ novel refers to the last few years.
One West Indies cricketer travelling on a flight with the team in the Caribbean was apparently told that Everton Weekes was on board. His response was, Who is he? Did he ever play cricket?
When Clyde Walcott dies the West Indies was involved in a home series.
Only Brian Lara and one other player seemed to have any sense of propriety enough to journey to Barbados to attend the funeral service.
When Ritchie Richardson was responding to the media after the West Indies team’s first match and loss against the South African team just returning to international cricket his response was, it’s just another match.
In what was Brian Lara’s final match for the West Indies, played before his home and most loyal fans, many present still believe that Marlon Samuels deliberately turned his back on the batting genius leaving the retiring player in no man’s land, out by the run out route.
The foregoing pieces leave us in no doubt as to the validity of the question that James sought to answer in his Beyond A Boundary, what do they of cricket know who only cricket know.
The question is today even more valid than perhaps it was when James produced the document in 1963.
Many of our young players of cricket today do not know the history of the game and certainly nothing about the history of the sport in the Caribbean.
Most of the current West Indies players do not know the history of their respective countries far less about the game in which they are involved.
To listen to our cricketers of today speak in interviews around the world leaves many of us particularly scared of what is likely toe merge. Small wonder then that they stick to the basics – the outcome of the latest game.
They are not prone to speak on developments that have taken place in the game over the years. They cannot and dare not speak to the issues that have given rise to the West Indian ascendancy in the sport and our subsequent decline.
Interestingly, the same can be said of the administrators of the sport in the Caribbean today. There is a woeful deficiency in their understanding of the game and of the attendant struggles engaged in by successive generations of our cricketers.
The reality is that no one seems to care. The untrammelled hunger and thirst after the almighty dollar rules the day and no one seems exempt from the virus that this spreads across the sport of cricket in the Caribbean.
It is the reason why the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) can today boast of having made the right decision to sign the latest outlandish decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) that gives the cricketing power back to a select few.
The WICB leadership appears consumed by the desire to get into and stay in the financial black as opposed to its history of indebtedness. The sacrifice is not analysed. It cannot be analysed when the leadership appears blinded by the almighty dollar.
Thus we are not surprised that for all its years of conducting its regional 20/20 competition the WICB has consistently failed to attract meaningful sponsorship and patriotic crowds yet in its first year the franchised version in the same region was sold out. The WICB is yet to understand the dynamics of what has happened in this regard, to say nothing of the players.
There remains a critical distinction between playing for the sake of the monies to be gained and professionalism.
Professionalism is an approach. It is an attitude. It is a mindset.
Anyone can play for money. Not everyone can be a professional.
Unfortunately the cricketers in the West Indies do not appear to have any idea of this important distinction.
For the most part we can identify the millions now being made and some may rightly suggest who needs to have the right attitude when one is a millionaire.
The fact is that we have and continue to fail our cricketers and indeed our Caribbean people.
We run the risk of successive lost generations because of our own intransigence.
Our political leaders of the past few years, themselves steeped in the mad rush for immediate fame and glory attendant to the power they perceive themselves to have at their disposal, have failed to set good example for those who follow. Many of them fail to exhibit any modicum of professionalism instead choosing to be as garrulous and decidedly uncouth as they can possibly be.
Our cricketers have in many respects lost themselves sin the heady anxiety for the attainment of millionaire status.
James is correct in his analysis. The cricketers of today are a reflection of their time, the current period in which we live in the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, our leaders have laid themselves, one after the other, prostrate at the altar of expediency.
Our value system has become entangled, enmeshed, in that of the US and it is now not possible to differentiate them.
We watch as our youths commit to being the playthings of a culture they do not yet understand.
Our cricketers are indeed of their time. Their interests are driven in a different direction from the predecessors to whom CLR James referred in his epic novel.
Times have indeed changed and with it the cricketing fraternity.
Legacy, you may ask?
Who in West Indies cricket today, from the administrators through to the newest selectee to the West Indies team, has any real interest in legacy?
It is with a great deal of sadness that West Indian cricket enthusiasts ponder the future of the game in the region.
A trek to Arnos Vale any given weekend during the official cricket season here at home tells the story of where we are with this sport today.
James’ question lingers on, what do they of cricket know who only cricket know?
We are today woefully short of answers.