Viv Richards
West Indies’ Vivian Richards in action during his innings of 138 runs which helped his team to victory against England in the 1979 Prudential World Cup cricket final at the Lord's, London, on June 23, 1979. Image Credit: Sporting Pictures via Reuters

Action and drama were the hallmarks of the Cricket World Cup 2023 so far. In the opener, champions England had a great fall, engineered by centuries from New Zealanders Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra. In the following days, South Africa’s Aiden Markram blasted the fastest hundred (49 balls) in the tournament’s history, and Pakistan snatched the record of the highest successful chase in a World Cup, quelling the Sri Lankan challenge.

So much early action is a precursor to plenty more in the days and weeks to come. Cricket has been hugely entertaining, but I miss the West Indies and their scintillating game. A humbling defeat to Scotland undermined their efforts to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in their history.

A World Cup without the West Indies is like curry without spice. No team can play their brand of cricket. The fearless batting, electric fielding and liquid pace make for a breathtaking spectacle. You could argue that it belonged to the West Indies of another era.

Vivian Richards’ stamp on World Cup

Maybe. But their dazzling displays in the first two World Cups are unforgettable. Tournaments where Vivian Richards stamped his mark.

In the inaugural event of 1975 when Australia looked to chase down the West Indies total, young Richards, fleet of foot and swift of arm, conjured three runouts that swung the final. In that brilliance, we tend to forget the hurricane hundred from captain Clive Lloyd, who resurrected the West Indians in the company of veteran Rohan Kanhai.

Collis King came to the West Indies’ rescue four years later in the final against England. After that blitz, Richards took charge to power the Caribbean side to a daunting score, and Joel Garner’s crushing yorkers did the rest.

West Indies
1979 — West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, surrounded by Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharan, Deryck Murray, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Collis King, displays the Prudential World Cup at Lord's. West Indies retained the cup with a 92-run victory over England in the final. Image Credit: PA Images via Reuters Connect

In 1983 too Richards looked like steering the West Indies victory against India in the final, before Kapil Dev’s superb catch snuffed out his innings. That turned out to be the turning point, and India won their first World Cup.

After that West Indies’ might waned, and they ceased to be a formidable force. They never made the final of the 50-over World Cup again, although they did win the Twenty20 World Cup twice.

The West Indies’ decline can be attributed to the lack of high-calibre players. True, they continue to produce good players, but none of the quality of the golden generation led by Lloyd, which remained invincible in the eighties and the early nineties. While players like Brian Lara and Chris Gayle have phenomenal records, the West Indies lacked bowlers that could wreak havoc, like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. They were followed by Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson, but none of the rest could run through batting sides.

Why do I hark back to them every time the Caribbean team fail to qualify for a World Cup? Remember, they didn’t make the T20 World Cup last year. So another qualifying debacle wasn’t unexpected. I always wonder why they have to go through the ignominy of qualifiers. They were a cricketing powerhouse.

Yes, they were. But not now. That’s something I find it difficult to reconcile. I cannot believe that a team which lorded over cricket with an endless supply of fiery pace bowlers and awesome strokeplayers are no longer a force. Have the fount of talent run dry? No. They still produce mercurial players like Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer; they have class, not consistency.

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Bowling is their weakest link. The West Indies no longer have bowlers that can win matches. Pacers no longer inspire shock and awe; the spinners are not in the mould of Alf Valentine, Sonny Ramadhin or Lance Gibbs.

What about allrounders? Let’s not even discuss Sir Gary Sobers. There’s no Keith Boyce or Bernard Julien in the present crop. Not even a Carl Hooper.

So it’s little surprise that the West Indies are dawdling in the backwaters of international cricket. That’s a pity. Cricket fans like me will lament the West Indies’ mighty fall whenever a World Cup comes around. For they had given such joy that it’s not easy to forget.

But cricket has to move on. Let’s celebrate the new talents that bloom at this World Cup.