The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE & OPINION - Derek Pringle ex­plains why cricket would ben­e­fit if West Indies were to ap­proach their for­mer bril­liant stan­dards

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

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