There was a time when cricket was so imbued in our psyche that we saw it as evidence of a developing people, worthy of genuine independence. In the post-World 2 era right up until 1995, cricket did a great deal for the glorification of the Caribbean region.
Back in the heyday
You may have seen images of the huge West Indian crowds at Lords back in 1951, celebrating the victory of our team over the colonial masters. I can imagine hearing Lord Kitchener on his guitar, as he jigs across the Lords’ ground, accompanied by “Wind Rush” supporters.
Those in the Caribbean would have been glued to their radios listening to every ball bowled and every stroke played. Their imagination took them to the best seats on the ground right behind the bowler’s arm. In victory, some would have had great cause to “fire one (or two)” for this marauding band of calypso cricketers from the Islands and British Guiana.
Our youth grew up playing cricket, anywhere there was a place to put up a pitch. They idolized Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Kanhai, Hall and Griffith and others. We turned out cricketers through school competitions, village and club cricket as well as from the mentoring by those who played the game at higher levels.
There was no live television until the early 1970s. Just imagine young boys learning to bat or bowl from listening to the descriptive eloquence of quality commentators such as Roy Lawrence, Tony Cozier and John Arlott.
From Cricket Factory to Cricket Mediocrity
Many thought that the way our game was evolving, we would continue to produce a new superstar cricketer every few years – from Sobers to Rowe to Richards, Lara, Marshall, Ambrose and others. We dominated a world sport for an unbroken 15-year period, longer than the Brazilians in soccer.
Having fewer than six million people, the West Indies conquered the imperial masters with ten times its population size, Australia – seven times, and India – 200 times! This is an amazing and unmatched feat – even outdistancing the Fijians in Sevens Rugby.
Today, we have become quite satisfied with a combination of entrenched mediocrity and a structured indifference. Who would have thought that the initial world champions of ODI cricket, now run the peril of not even qualifying for the next edition of this world tournament? The reasons for our decline require a treatise of lengthy proportion by those who know better than I do.
The administrators continue to dance with the idea of a return to old glory, without making deep-seated changes. I wish to touch on a few observations.
Who Controls the Purse Controls the Game
It is amazing that the rules for international cricket are entrusted to a small group of men in London – the Marylebone Cricket Club. They can be equated to the Security Council of the United Nations. They introduce new formats and new rules for the game, and peddle them to the ICC – the supposed governing body of world cricket.
Not to be outdone, India now show that they have the money and they too must have their say. World cricket is essentially controlled by the three participating countries with economic might – India, Australia and England. We are now ride-alongs.
More and more, cricket revolves around the plethora of “premier leagues” across the Commonwealth world. It is not so much any more the match-ups between nations, except when England plays Australia in the annual Ashes series, or now, India playing against either of these two teams. The others play second fiddle.
The international programmes have been adjusted to make way for these leagues and franchises – owned by Indian multimillionaires, at home in India, here in the Caribbean, in the UAE and now in South Africa. They are in control as they pipe Rupee money to our young talented cricketers. Our young lads make excuses all the time as to why they are not available to play for the West Indies team. By the way, the New Zealand cricketers play in the IPL also, but they always turn up for national duty.
We have never been able to put in place a genuine cricket development programme at the grassroots level. With every defeat, we blame the captain, the coach, the Board president and we seek to boot them out. By now, we should recognize that these individual changes make very little difference.
In the meanwhile, we continue to watch the Big Three spread their control and success across all formats of this game, that has meant so much to the Caribbean people the world over.