The Rise and Fall of West Indies Cricket??
Many of our sport-loving people across the Caribbean are accustomed to the heart-failure type cricket that our West Indian cricketers have apparently made part of their cricketing culture.
Cricket analysts around the world are often at their wits end trying to decipher the psyche of the current generation of cricketers in the Caribbean.
The West Indian Cause
The initial entry of the West Indies in the sport of cricket at the international level saw a most devoted cadre of players who knew what the game meant and who played it in accordance with the rules and the flair associated with it.
The world came to associate the early West Indian cricketers as young men filled with a passion for the game and an eagerness to show that they understood its nuances enough to challenge those who lay claim to the game’s foundation.
Learie Constantine, George Headley, Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin found themselves synonymous with the brilliance of the best in the game. Others were quick to follow.
Frank Worrell, himself a victim of the racial discrimination that some claimed to have been part of the sport’s development in the Caribbean, proved himself to be the best captain that the regional side has ever had. He was also part of the Three Ws – Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, all from Barbados (popularly called Little England) that took the sport at the international level by storm, displaying immense class in a sport that was supposed to have been the purview of the Caucasians.
The early understanding of what cricket should mean for the colonised peoples of a group of islands called the Caribbean had seen Learie Constantine involve himself in an alliance with CLR James and others to lead a struggle for independence for these countries in the belly of the beast.
Frank Worrell took up the mantle and showed the rest of his teammates the importance of breaking down the barriers of racial discrimination everywhere it reared its ugly head, especially in the sport that he mastered. The cause of the West Indian cricketers was readily that of the oppressed peoples of the islands from which they came. The players espoused the cause because they understood it.
Frank Worrell was also keen on having his players develop themselves and not see the sport as merely enjoyment.
Wes Hall recalls all so often Frank Worrell encouraging the members of the team playing county cricket in England to attend classes to better themselves and prepare for a life after the end of their sport careers.
Wes explains that Worrell crafted a team that was always imbued by the spirit of togetherness that he inspired.
Of course not everyone on the respective teams accepted all aspects of what was happening around them. There were always some who felt that the sport brought them to the international arena and they had fun being here, there and everywhere. On the field of play however the sense of belonging to an oppressed region and a desire to prove themselves worthy opponents to any cricketing nation took full control.
It was not surprising therefore that the era of Frank Worrell’s leadership of the West Indies cricket team perhaps proved to be the most defining moment in the history of our involvement in the game.
It was perhaps fortuitous that this was the same era that ushered in perhaps the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen, Gary Sobers of Barbados. As an individual player Sobers has no equal. His array of competencies has left him easily the most gifted athlete to play the game and his success took the entire Caribbean, not just the West Indies teams on which he played, with him.
The gaiety that characterised the players of that era of Sobers etc., allowed for them to be dubbed calypso cricketers. This association with one of the cultural features of the Caribbean was a boon for the region and everywhere the team played the calypso was an integral phenomenon.
The players associated themselves with the islands. They knew they were from and represented the Caribbean everywhere they played.
The powerful teams that proved awesome with the likes of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Andy Roberts, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Winston Davis, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall and Alvin Kallicharan, among others, showed the world that we possessed the talent to be the very best in the world so much so that the International Cricket Council bowed to the pressure of the older teams confounded by the power of the West Indies teams and changed the rules of the game in respect of the bowling.
England, wallowing by successive defeats at the hands of the West Indies calypso cricketers opted to change its policy by limiting the number of overseas players a country cricket team could have in its roster. While the reason given was the need to develop local talent the ultimate objective appeared to be to minimise the number of West Indian players on the English cricket scene.
Unfortunately successive generations of players did not quite make the link that their predecessors had with regard to the cause of our peoples and the playing of the game around the world.
The changing tide
Soon enough the concept, calypso cricketers, took on an entirely different meaning. To many it came to mean a group of players who had no real commitment to anything. The players had no real understanding of the history of the game and its significance to the peoples of the region we call home. Importantly they did not seem to care.
We have all heard the story of a player on the regional team travelling on an aircraft. After being told that Everton Weekes was on the plane he asked… Who is he? Did he ever play cricket? That is the level of disinterest shown by the new generation of West Indies cricketers in what went before them.
In the current World Cup being played in Australia, the West Indies team has shown that it is consistent in its inconsistency on the field of play.
We began by underestimating Ireland only to be humbled by them at the end of the game. Not surprising the Irish scoffed at having been labelled as the underdogs by the media and cricket pundits prior to the game.
Our players seem to have forgotten that it was Ireland’s defeat of Pakistan in Jamaica during the World Cup of 2007 that led to a series of unsavoury events including the unsolved murder of the Pakistan coach at the time in the Pegasus hotel in Kingston, an embarrassment to the Caribbean to this day.
The flip flopping of the players saw them trounce Pakistan. That was not surprising because the two teams appear to share the same level of consistent inconsistency in the sport so anyone could have emerged victorious.
Chris Gayle’s amazing world record of the double century in the next game against Zimbabwe should have warned us that the inconsistency would soon reappear and it certainly did when we were humiliated at the hands of South Africa.
It is not surprising that in 2015 Bangladesh has been able to earn its place into the quarterfinals of the World Cup ahead of the West Indies. There is not much lower for us to fall on the cricket totem pole.
The new developments that have come into and changed the dynamics of international cricket may well have been the primary cause of our undoing as world leaders in the sport.
While in the past our West Indies cricketers constituted a team today they are individuals looking after their own wellbeing.
The players now have the option to play the game all year in different tournaments in several parts of the globe earning themselves millions.
Why then do they have to concern themselves with the outcome of a game in which they are representing the West Indies?
They play as individuals enough to gain the next contract that would fuel their respective egos with no concern for the peoples of the countries in the Caribbean from which they come.
It is enough for the current crop of West Indies cricketers to be satisfied with being heroes in terms of their income earning capacity.
The young people in the Caribbean are not keen on test cricket as their predecessors. They do not readily identify with a West Indies team. They too are products of a rapidly changing world where excitement and adventure are the order of the day. Adrenalin-rush sports are important and appealing. Their attendance at T20 cricket even much more than One Day Internationals is because of this focus.
Those who sit and complain about the West Indies team of today are a dying generation, people who grew upon an era where the regional focus was on building consciousness of who we are as a people and of the importance of inculcating a culture of independence and national and regional pride. Today’s generation take all of this for granted and have no interest in being representative of anything other than their individual selves.
Is it any wonder then that the West Indies cricketers of today display a body language on the field of sheer nonchalance in the face of embarrassing defeat? The embarrassment does not reach them. It is the older generation at home that is embarrassed.
The players come off the field after having been totally annihilated and simply move on to the next undertaking without care or caution.
That is what we have become.
We know how we got there.
Can we change anything?
Can we refocus enough to become a world power in the sport we once dominated?