WHY I HOPE STU AND JOEL CAN S GET WINDIES BACK ON TRACK
Iso hope that the West Indies make a decent fist of their Test series against England. World cricket is not the same without a strong West Indies side and they have not had one of those for 20-odd years.
But small steps can nearly always be made to add up to something significant in time and by pushing England hard, and maybe even drawing the threematch series, it would give them something positive to build on for a promising tomorrow.
If wishing them well against England sounds treasonable, I make little apology. I was fortunate in one sense, but unfortunate in another, to have played against West Indies when they were unequivocally the best Test side in world cricket. From 1980 until 1995, they bestrode the cricket world unvanquished, their battery of fast bowlers, in particular, playing the game on a different level to the rest of us.
In that 15-year period, West Indies played 118 Tests, won 60 of them, drew 42 and lost just 16. Compare that to the last 15 years, when they have played 137 matches, won 24, lost 74 and drawn 39, and the differences between now and then are stark.
No doubt the International Cricket Council would not want a side to be so dominant for so long these days, but sport needs its myth-makers, teams like the All Blacks in rugby, to draw people in – and those great West Indies sides were certainly that.
All empires end eventually, that is the nature of empires. And yet the decline in West Indies’ cricket has been more rapid and vertiginous than most. Playing talent still abounds but the talent to harmonise it, in an age that offers myriad distractions, is not so plentiful, as the West Indies Cricket Board have discovered. The raw product is there but the leaders are not. Indeed, many claim that recent problems have arisen mostly after players have reached the team and not on their journey there.
We hear often about sport being a unifying force but the West Indies cricket teams of that era, led variously by Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards and Richie Richardson, brought together an entire region bursting with pride at the achievements of their cricket team. From Jamaica to Trinidad, they were revered and lionised in song – a flotilla of disparate countries in the Caribbean Sea united by a cricket team and its achievements.
Given no one national anthem was acceptable to all, they eventually appropriated David Rudder’s famous calypso Rally Round The West Indies as their song to be played at ICC events. Rudder wrote it in the middle of their great cricket dynasty, in 1988, so it is with some foresight that he includes a warning of a less rosy future though, as you might expect, he includes a message of hope as well. Soon we must take a side or be lost in the rubble In a divided world that don’t need island no more Are we doomed forever to be at somebody’s mercy Little keys can open up mighty doors Pretty soon the runs are going to flow again like water Bringing so much joy to every son and daughter Say we’re going to rise again like a raging fire As the sun shines you know we gonna take it higher
That optimism, after decades of mis management at regional, island and individual level, seems misplaced now. Perhaps the age we live in that people especially sportsmen, can no longer be persuaded so easily to join a common cause. Pride in one’s teamseem's tohave taken a shift down the the priorities list in the aspirations of the region's cricketers. Instead, predictably given th urges of human nature, T20 dollars have dominated to the point
where some now play nothing else. The West Indies’ Board is also guilty of inertia, or worse. It can hardly be said, for instance, to be giving its fullest attention to the current series against England when the Caribbean Premier League is running in parallel. Ongoing wrangles between them and some of the leading players like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine and Marlon Samuels have also been flawed, creating a system whereby Test cricket is seen as a chore that is both irrelevant and underpaid.
It is a rum situation and one foreseen by the late Tony Cozier, broadcaster supreme of West Indies cricket for 50 years. In 2007, Cozier predicted that mismanagement by the Board, coupled with the unravelling loyalties of the players, would see West Indies slip from cricket’s top table. At the time that seemed like hyperbolic fire and brimstone but he has not been far off. The Test team, for instance, languishes eighth out of ten in the ICC rankings while West Indies’ absence at this year’s Champions Trophy, after being ranked outside the top eight 50-overs teams, was a pointer to how much apathy has set in. Happily, there are signs that such lethargy, outside the orbit of T20 in which they are World Champions, is being addressed. Last year, West Indies won the U19 World Cup in Bangladesh, a fine achievement in foreign conditions. They have also appointed a new coach in Stuart Law, a no-nonsense Australian whose belief in aggressive cricket should match the instincts of his players. If he can rein in any excesses, the partnership could work well. They also have a new CEO in Johnny Grave, a former Professional Cricketers’ Association director who will push hard for resources not to be swallowed by T20. Finally, this West Indies team is managed by Joel Garner, one of the colossi of the Eighties. Big Bird took 259 Test wickets at an average of 20.97, the second lowest in history – after fellow Bajan Malcolm Marshall’s 20.74 – for a bowler competing on covered pitches. If his bowling attack this series, and it is pretty decent, can be half as good as that, West Indies could be in the game. Yet, it is the batsmen, and how well they will cope with the moving ball, that is the great unknown. Their quality will determine whether the West Indies remain a team in decline or one on the road to recovery. For the sake of cricket, as much as my old mate Joel who will feel every bump on the journey, I hope it is the latter.
Ongoing wrangles have also been flawed, creating a system whereby Test cricket is seen as a chore that is both irrelevant and underpaid
Top rated: Malcolm Marshall had a Test average of just 20.74