News of the West Indies’ performance on the current tour of Australia seems to suggest that the team has hit an all-time low. The team was first humbled in the warm-up match prior to the first test then got totally humiliated in three days of a five-day test match.
Cricket pundits everywhere are agreed on one thing, West Indies cricket today is not in any way encouraging any other nation worth its salt in the sport to invite them to play at home.
What are the possible factors impacting West Indies cricket such that the team keeps falling down the rungs of international cricket?
While many often point to the actual players and team management as critical to explaining the state of the team at any given point, we choose here to begin with the administration of the sport.
In the case of West Indies cricket we have to point an accusing finger at the administrators of the game.
Caribbean sports enthusiasts have long since come to an understanding that perhaps the greatest weakness of West Indies cricket has always been administration. This reality dates back to the very origins of the sport in the region.
Much as we would not like the discussion the sport was introduced to the Caribbean in a very racist and demeaning from for the blacks who dominated the population.
In every country where the sport was introduced in the region the whites were allowed to play while the blacks. Descendants of the former slaves were the ones designated to bowl to the planter class and associates all day, of necessary and field the balls struck outside the designated zone.
The blacks were thought unintelligent enough to learn the nuances of the game and so were only useful to perform the most menial of tasks.
Interestingly, once the West Indies were accepted into the ranks of the International Cricket Council, for the most part it was the dominant white team in each country that was accepted as the legitimate representative of the country. No one, not even the politicians of the day, saw anything wrong with this travesty of justice.
For the majority who controlled the levers of power in the different West Indian islands, the order of the day was white dominance and black subservience.
Actually, not much has changed since then. One has only to objectively analyse the current situation to understand that not much, if anything, has changed, and this, despite the mouthings of the likes of Hilary Beckles who appears to have been silenced by the establishment of which he is now an integral part. This is a story that sounds all too familiar
Renowned Caribbean calypsonian, The Mighty Sparrow, put in song the plight of the West Indies some years ago. He highlighted the fact that Kerry Packer engineered a fundamental change in the fortunes of the outstanding players who languished for many years as the administrators enjoyed the perks that accrued to them.
Wesley Hall, outstanding fast bowler of the West Indies team, is a prime example of the crass disrespect the administrators had for the very players that represented the region in international cricket. To the extent that he is prepared to tell the whole, pure, unadulterated truth today, Hall can attest that the way he walks now is a reflection of the abject disregard the West Indies cricket administrators had for players of his era.
Over the years our cricket administrators never thought that the education of our players in the history of the game mattered. They did not consider the players intelligent enough or important enough to be educated about the several aspects of the game. It was enough for them as administrators to lord it over all of the players (considered minions, if not morons).
The most recent decisions of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is a most apt reflection of the debilitating incompetence of the administrators who have gained the support of the different national and sub regional institutions of the organisation. No one seems capable of rising to the occasion required to lift the administration of the game out of the doldrums into which it has unfortunately sunk.
There is much evidence to show that it was Frank Worrell, even as a player before he became the captain of the West Indies team, who acknowledged that there was an urgent need to put an end to the racism in cricket as far as the regional team was concerned.
The stance that Worrell took in Australia in the 1950s shocked the white administrators of the game in the Caribbean.
Once Worrell assumed the captaincy his emphasis shifted to empowering the members of the team, the players. He encouraged them to understand the history of the game and its development in the Caribbean. He encouraged their commitment to the game but more importantly to their personal development so that they could become full citizens of the region.
It was Worrell who understood the strategies being employed by Learie Constantine and CLR James et al to facilitate West Indian nationhood. Cricket became an important tool in the struggle of the peoples of the Caribbean for genuine independence from colonialism.
It is today most embarrassing that the successive generations of players have failed to grasp the historic significance of cricket in the anti-colonial struggles of the peoples of the Caribbean.
Despite the efforts of Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd to follow in the footsteps of CLR James in writing about the importance of cricket to the Caribbean liberation struggles, the players have found the intellectual quest far too challenging and have readily accepted the financial rewards of the changing aspects of the game more than the educational understanding of what it stands for us as a people.
We have, in this Column, previously made mention of the abysmal weaknesses of the individuals who have been appointed captain of the West Indies cricket team over the past several decades.
There were some captains whose prowess with the bat or the ball secured the nod of the selectors for the top job, whatever about their other capabilities. We have had captains who would have readily failed the test of articulation. We have also had others whose egos were larger than the game in which they were involved.
The West Indies Cricket Board, itself chronically mired in over-inflated egos, has been unable to engage in a selection process for the captaincy that is not somehow tainted by this reality.
Successive captains have shown themselves blighted to the point of influencing both the selection of the team as well as what happens on the field of play.
It is therefore not in any way surprising that we have witnessed the simultaneous decline in the fortunes of both the administration of West Indies cricket and the performance of the West Indies cricket team in international competition.
Enter the bungling politicians
The past several months have seen the bungling political leaders of the Caribbean eagerly suggest that they must somehow take hold of the issues confronting West Indies cricket and dictate the future of the sport in the region.
In the first instance the structure of international cricket leaves the WICB as the official representative of the sport in the Caribbean. The WICB is composed of national and sub regional boards. The Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands are the two sub regional groupings with individual boards in the larger islands of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados.
In each of the constituent member country and sub region the clubs are officially represented.
As with all other international sporting federations the structure makes provision for them to be independent and autonomous organisations, free of government influence.
CARICOM Heads of Government have experienced the disappointment that Caribbean people feel at the demise of the West Indies cricket team. Unfortunately the organisation created a Cricket Committee of sorts rather than address the broader matter of sport and its role in the development of the region.
The approach undertaken by the CARICOM Heads smacks of a failure to understand the dynamics of international sport and a false interpretation of their role in Caribbean development.
Keith Mitchell and his colleagues have assumed the role of the Pied Piper and hence expect that the monies they invest in infrastructure imbues them with the right to make demands of the WICB relative to their own perception of what should be done in terms of revitalising West Indies cricket.
If we were to accept the CARICOM approach it would mean that Presidents and Prime Ministers of host countries of the Olympic Committees and World Championships of different sports would be allowed to do more than merely declare the events officially open.
The myopia of Caribbean politicians has obviously blighted the likes of Mitchell and his Caribbean colleagues.
Caribbean politicians have thus far failed the region in almost ever endeavour to the point where it is difficult for any reasonable individual to have confidence in CARICOM and the numerous other regional and sub regional institutions. If they can’t fix their internal problems how can they expect to fix cricket.
That our regional politicians are pointing to their contribution to sport infrastructure as giving them the right to dictate how the sporting organisations conduct themselves is to invoke the concept of the Pied Piper, and unapologetically so.
Governments do have the right to call sporting organisations to account for public funds. However where they make no contributions it is extremely difficult to support them in this regard.
The ICC is the governing body of cricket at the international and the WICB is a regional body. It is the latter that must address the problems of the sport in the region and its constituent bodies must take responsibility and effect the changes that are required to facilitate redress of the unsavoury situation that mow exists.
Given what we have seen at the level of administration of the sport in the Caribbean there is little chance of the fortunes of the West Indies team being changed any time soon.