Kraigg Brathwaite
West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite celebrates after scoring 150 runs in the Second Test against England at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on March 19, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

What happened to the Calypso flair, reminiscent of the West Indies cricket of yore? It conjured images of breathtaking strokes, fearsome fast bowling and electrifying fielding. That seems to have vanished into the pages of cricket history.

Kraigg Brathwaite spent 710 minutes at the crease in Bridgetown, Barbados, to grind out 160 runs from 489 balls. Hardly a cavalier innings befitting a West Indian. This is not to belittle the Caribbean captain’s effort, but such a knock belongs to the previous century. Not at a time when limited-overs cricket has upped the scoring in Tests, giving the five-day classics a lease of life.

That aside, the opener’s innings hardly fits the West Indian mould. Brian Lara was the only other West Indian who spent more than 700 minutes batting in recent times. One of Lara’s knocks yielded 375 runs, and the other was the only quadruple century in Tests. A far cry from Brathwaite’s marathon.

The romance of West Indies cricket

Effervescence is an epithet I have always attached to West Indian cricket, ever since I read C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary. I fell in love with his descriptions of Learie Constantine’s explosive batting, panther-like reflexes and fiery bowling. I sought out more books on West Indian cricket and came across some wonderful batsmen and bowlers. The bold strokes of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott leapt from the pages while West Hall and Charlie Griffith instilled fear in batsmen.

I began to Garfield Sobers towards the fag end of his career, mainly through books and newspaper reports. But then the West Indian surge was waning in the post-Worrell era, and they were rebuilding the side.

Clive Lloyd brought to India in 1974 a young side brimming with talent. The only veterans I could remember were Vanburn Holder, Lance Gibbs and Roy Fredericks. Then there was Alvin Kallicharan, but no Rohan Kanhai. I can vividly recall the newcomers: Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and the tearaway Andy Roberts. The three epitomised the Caribbean flair and went on to play influential roles in turning the West Indies into world-beaters.

Who can forget Fredericks’ assault on Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee, Max Walker and Gary Gilmour on a fiery Perth wicket? That innings on December 13, 1975, could well be one of the most aggressive knocks in cricket. What about the Kallicharan’s 10-ball destruction of Lillee in the 1975 World Cup, easily outscoring Fredericks on an overcast day at the Oval.

Greenidge and Richards continued in the same vein, giving sleepless nights to bowlers worldwide. Of Greenidge’s many sterling knocks, two contrasting double centuries against England in 1984 are fresh in my memory. The first was an unbeaten 214 from 242 balls at Lords, which gave West Indies an improbable win chasing 342 to win in five-and-a-half hours. Two Tests later, Greenidge patiently composed 223 from 425 balls at Old Trafford, a dour knock that helped Lloyd’s team post 500.

Virat Kohli and Vivian Richards
India’s Virat Kohli with West Indian great Viv Richards, who struck fear into hearts of bowlers around the world. Image Credit: Twitter

It’s difficult to pick one of Richards’ so many tempestuous knocks, but I cherish his 138 against England in the 1979 World Cup final. After a 139-run blitzkrieg with Collis Kings, Richards pirouetted on his right leg and swung the last ball of the innings from Mike Hendrick over the Lord’s fence. A class act, in my book.

All these may pale in comparison with Sobers’ masterly 254 for the Rest of the World XI against Lillee-led Australian attack in 1972. At the time, Don Bradman called the Melbourne knock the best innings seen in Australia.

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Richie Richardson, Brian Lara and many others followed in the West Indian mould. But the Caribbean stock seems to have depleted. These days, not a single batsman can be spoken in the same breath as Fredericks, Kallicharan, Greenidge, Richards or a Lara. The last of them was Chris Gayle. The rest are stars in Twenty20 cricket, not in Tests.

The fast bowlers too are no longer intimidating. There’s no one to rank alongside Roberts, Mike Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Even spinners are in short supply. None are good enough to be an Alf Valentine, a Sonny Ramadhin or a Lance Gibbs. Not even a Roger Harper. The mystery of Sunil Narine never had a sustained impact on Tests.

What a fall for a side that swept everything before them in the eighties. That’s the circle of life in cricket.

Brathwaite’s painstaking effort on Saturday was vital for the West Indians. It may even have secured them a draw against England, although it’s too early to say since the fifth day in the second Test could throw up surprises. Yet it was a courageous effort, even if it was a very un-West Indian like knock. It works in Tests. But the nagging feeling persists that some positivity could have helped. Or else, Tests would become like the dirges of the past.