The Decline of West Indian Cricket … an essay early 2015December 12, 2015
The Caribbean conjures romanticised connotations. This is easily gleamed from its archetypal idyllic postcard snapshot of palm trees and white sandy beaches creating an imagery of paradise. Reggae and rum enhance its intoxicating allure. The locale has long been a magnet for mavericks. Literary icons Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson and Ian Fleming were lured to one of the Caribbean’s pristine islands at certain points during their legendary careers. The Caribbean is a special place, so unsurprisingly the region’s most cherished sports team is innately magnetic. The West Indies play cricket to the tune of their own inimitable rhythm. For decades, the West Indies produced a rotating line of swashbuckling batsmen and a crop of intimidating pacemen. They boasted arguably cricket’s most memorable team, with the 1980s West Indian side spearheaded by Clive Lloyd and then Viv Richards treated more like a rock-star group than a mere cricket team.
Despite routinely eviscerating their opposition, those West Indians were beloved everywhere they toured. Their indelible 1980s team still retains a special space in the memory of cricket connoisseurs, even myopic Australian supporters developed an affinity for the West Indies with the fight for the Frank Worrell Trophy the most coveted cricket contest for years.
The West Indies ruthlessness bordered on arrogance but they played with a loveable swagger that made them hard to despise. They developed a mystique so strong they essentially transcended the sport during the 1980s.
Sadly, those images are becoming archaic as the once mighty team increasingly loses relevance in international cricket. Twenty years ago Australia took the mantle as the world’s best Test team after becoming the first side to defeat the West Indies in a Test series since 1980. The West Indies stuttered but remained competitive for a few years mainly due to individual brilliance from superstars Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.
This millennium, West Indian cricket has spiralled into oblivion, and they have become hopelessly inept in the Test and 50-over formats. Only in the madcap T20 format do the West Indies remain competitive.
It is hard to see them escaping from the nefarious mud. Their best Test batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul is nearly 41 years old. Chris Gayle, their most destructive player, is past his peak and amid a serious form slump in ODIs. They haven’t had a world class bowler since Ambrose and Walsh retired.
Compounding the woes, lingering bitter disputes between management and players seem beyond repair. The West Indies’ participation in the World Cup was in jeopardy due to a contractual dispute between players and the West Indies Players Association that erupted during the tour of India late last year.
Former West Indian paceman Ian Bishop believes the endemic turmoil embedded in West Indian cricket is stifling the development of the young players. But donning his best Andy Dufresne impression from The Shawshank Redemption, Bishop says “hope” persists on a West Indian revival.
“There is always hope because there is enough talent in West Indian cricket,” Bishop tells Firstpost during a phone interview. “Times have changed with many youngsters being seduced by other sports, notably basketball and football, but cricket still remains the dominant sport in the Caribbean.”
Bishop, who is now a respected television commentator, believes West Indies’ senior management and the cricket structure in the region needs an “overhaul”. “The way cricket is run region wide needs to change,” he says. “The focus should be on building more synergy between the players and management, and they need to forge a partnership. If that happens then results can improve on the field. The administration body needs to be transparent and accountable.”
Fortunately, the bickering was temporarily set aside and the two-time ODI champions took their place in the event. But the West Indies started their World Cup campaign disastrously losing to unheralded Ireland. Testament to how low the West Indies have sunk, the result wasn’t particularly surprising because they have been interminably mired in mediocrity.
Just when it appeared the West Indies were set for a humbling exit, they rebounded in their second match to convincingly defeat an inept Pakistan – another former powerhouse reduced to a pathetic caricature. It was pleasing to see the West Indies produce a solid performance, which evoked images of yesteryear, but their contrasting fortunes in their opening two matches further underlined the inconsistencies plaguing them. It is easy to sympathise with the frustration emanating from their fans. The precocious talent in the team is evident but it is painstakingly obvious that it is not being properly nurtured.
The West Indies’ erratic style of play can be attributed to flawed pathways, according to Bishop. “Too many players are coming into first class cricket with technical deficiencies both in batting and bowling, so that speaks to problems with coaching and development at school and club levels,” he says. “The product of the game is not great in the Caribbean because pitches are generally poor and not conducive to stroke play.”
Despite the pitfalls, Bishop believes poor selection has also hindered the West Indies’ prospects at the World Cup. “Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Ravi Rampaul should have been included,” he says. “This team has been selected to forge a team for the future, which is not correct in my opinion. We should be striving to try and win a World Cup. Still, this team has many match-winners, notably Gayle, Sammy and Samuels, and can beat anyone. But they are inconsistent and lack focus. The team, and cricket in the Caribbean is not managed properly. Until we see that changed, than the talent in West Indian cricket will not be fully harnessed.”
Cricket in the West Indies is veering into another important juncture. For a region blessed with an abundance of talent which has produced some of the greatest ever players, West Indian cricket remains in a pitiful state.
Unfortunately, there is nothing romantic about calypso cricket currently.