“………cricket has become a competing brand name in the leisure industry; it has to be sponsored, marketed and packaged for television”. (Matthew Engel, former Editor of WISDEN cricket annual).
In the first part of this two-part series, the varying factors, including commercial interests and the pull of global television which propelled world cricket into the path of multilateral global competition, were outlined. Though the quote from Mr Engel was extracted from WISDEN’s 1989 issue, it only serves to strengthen the points made.
The success of the English county cricket’s experiments with the one-day Gillette Cup and the Sunday League, as well as similar limited-over initiatives at other national and international levels was a driving force behind the decision of the International Cricket Council (ICC) to organize the inaugural World Cup in England in 1975. Significantly, the first ICC World Cup was sponsored by a private sector entity, the giant Prudential Insurance company and the first three editions were contested for the Prudential trophy.
The institution of the first global cricket competition came at a momentous time for Caribbean cricket. Prior to this the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team had fluctuated following our Test debut in 1928. In the period before the outbreak of World War 2, during which the West Indies was confined to Tests against only England and Australia, there were four wins, 12 losses and 6 draws.
Creditably, the West Indies achieved its first series win against England, in the Caribbean, in 1935.
The period after the end of the war was marked by a rise in the fortunes of the Caribbean team, coinciding with the arrival of the ‘Three Ws’ (Walcott, Weekes and Worrell), and, in the historic tour of England in 1950, our first triumph on English soil, the addition of the ‘spin twins’ (Ramadin and Valentine). The new Caribbean migrant population in England, the so-called Windrush generation, facing discrimination and adjustment challenges in their new home, was ecstatic, and the victory was celebrated in calypso. Hopes were high for further success when the team sailed for Australia one year later.
But, a combination of a strong Australia team and dubious umpiring decisions, was to dash the hopes of the West Indies and the team was again beaten 4-1 as happened on its initial tour in 1930/31.The pattern of ups and downs was to characterize the next quarter of a century, threatening to reach the zenith, but falling at the decisive hurdle. In the sixties the West Indies were unofficial world champions, but fell off at the end of the decade.
By the time World Cup 1975 came, Caribbean cricket fortunes were on the rise again, with Clive Lloyd at the helm and Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge leading the batting complement to an unprecedented fast bowling threat. As in England in 1950, winning the first World Cup gave a tremendous boost to not just our cricketing fortunes but to Caribbean pride and nationalism as well.
The decade of the seventies was an historic one for the Caribbean. A tide of rising black consciousness and nationalism swept the region on the tide of anti-colonialism. The Caribbean community (CARICOM) had been recently established in 1973 and four Caribbean nations had demonstrated their new sense of independence by defying the US-inspired isolation of Cuba, in establishing diplomatic relations with that country in 1974. Emerging victors at the inaugural World Cup and our subsequent dominance not just in the second World Cup competition but globally, in all types of conditions, against all comers, at home and abroad, had positive repercussions well beyond the cricketing boundaries.
However, though generally, that on-field dominance lasted for 20 years, World Cup 1983 turned out to be a dampener in our fortunes. Inexplicably, the formidable West Indies team threw away the final to a very ordinary Indian team and no West Indian hands have since held aloft the trophy indicating global one-day dominance.
1983 was in other ways a tragic one for the Caribbean, for four months after surrendering the World Cup, the first experiment in the English-speaking Caribbean at building a revolutionary society, imploded in bloodshed. It opened the doors to foreign military invasion thereby severely compromising Caribbean nationalism and sovereignty.
Neither West Indies cricket nor Caribbean political fortunes were ever to be the same again. The regional team maintained its on-field dominance for the next decade, but each time faltered at the World Cup hurdle. A combination of leadership which lacked vision operated both at the political and cricketing levels. The pride, so evident in the post-1975 years, incidentally when the Eastern Caribbean states joined the larger colleagues on the independent stage, became more and more dented, the sense of unity of purpose became more and more undermined both at the cricketing and political levels with individualism constraining our boundaries as a people.
Can the 2019 World Cup provide us with any hope for a revival of fortunes, a return to the days when we can restore Caribbean pride and let our sporting performances again teach us the value of regional unity?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.