Dubai: Much like their cricketers, the West Indies cricket team had been nothing short of being an enigma – more so in the new millennium. In sublime form one day, plunging into depths of despair the next.
The era of Clive Loyd, Viv Richards, Brian Lara or the awesome pace attacks may be long gone, but there is still an unabashed romance about their game which holds the cricket fans in thrall. Even the day after Jason Holder’s committed men beat England by four wickets in a thrilling Test match in Southampton, it kept trending for a long time on social media – and that’s an ample testimony of the fascination about them.
Is there light then at the end of the tunnel? The rise and fall of the Caribbean cricket had been a favourite subject for the cricket writers for the last two decades or so, while so had been the stories of a false dawn. Yes, it may be too early to wax eloquent about the Caribbean renaissance – though there have been a few silver linings which gives the lover of West Indies cricket hope.
It may be unfair to expect once-in-a-generation talents to ignite the ‘Fire in Babylon’ (the famous book on the domination of world cricket by Sir Clive Lloyd’s men also made into a film) again, but it’s a fact that West Indies cricket had shot themselves in the foot for a better part of the last decade - a nasty row with the cricket board keeping away their top players intermittently.
Sitting at the Press box in a balmy evening at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2016, one was privy to the angst among the top West Indies cricketers against their board moments after winning the T20 World Cup after winning a breathtaking final against England. An emotional captain Darren Sammy tore into his country’s cricketing establishment at the acceptance speech with the trophy, and it beccame obvious that the chasm between the leading players and the West Indies Cricket Board (Cricket West Indies now) was only going to widen after this.
Far from the wave of success washing away the animosity, Dwayne Bravo - the man who was one of the brains behind the players’ revolt when the West Indies dropped out of the India tour midway in 2014 – blasted WICB as the most ‘’unprofessional’’ board in the world.
Dave Cameron, the then board president and obvious subject of players’ ire, had been in the eye of the storm and he is accused of not trying enough to thaw the ice with the players. ‘’It was not a question of me not trying enough, but more a question of lack of resources. I had sat down with them a number of times but to no avail,’’ Cameron said in an exclusive chat with Gulf News.
Cameron, who lost the presidential elections to Ricky Skeritt last year after a six-year tenure, tried to put forth his side of the story. ‘‘I had supported the players so that they can maximise their earnings. The IPL, you will have to understand, was being played in the best months of cricket for the West Indies and there was no way I could have held onto the likes of Chris Gayle, Bravo, Kieron Pollard or Andre Russell from not playing the franchise leagues,’’ he added.
The relationship had improved appreciably since last year when the West Indies had gone into the ICC World Cup on the back of an extremely creditable Test series win against England at home. In the 50-overs showpiece in England, the maroon shirts went with a virtually full-strength team and the tag of ‘dark horses,’ though they eventually failed to make the semi-finals.
It was most heartening to see Jason Holder, the understated Test captain of the West Indies, eventually getting his due recognition on the back of their win in the first Test against England. Ever since he was thrust into the role of a captain of an extremely mediocre outfit – low on morale – the Barbadian has shown enormous resilience to emerge as an astute leader of men.
The poor form of the Caribbeans in the longer form of the game – compared to their success rate in white ball cricket (two T20 World Cups in last three occasions) - proved to be their Achilles’ heel in recent years, but Holder never lost heart. The Test squad which toured Australian shores for the Frank Worrell Trophy towards the end of 2015 was, according to many, possibly the weakest team to tour that country since World War II.
While appreciating Holder’s fortitude, it’s imperative to laud the quiet role of University of West Indies in producing a bunch of new, proud generation of cricketers. The 30-year-old Test captain is an alumni of the UWI, alongwith eight more cricketers from the team.
Not only were they plucked from young schoolboy cricketing potential to study at UWI, but they were also schooled regularly in what Prof Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of UWI, calls “reconnecting” with a past UWI ethos to understand why West Indies cricket goes beyond cricket.
In his new book, ‘Cricket Without a Cause: Fall and Rise of the Mighty West Indies Test Cricketers.’ Prof Beckles has dwelt on a counterpoint on how the West Indies have taken their game back again.
Prof Beckles, who lobbied for the West Indies Cricket Academy and served for a short time on the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), outlines how he and his university team set out to “start to build a whole new cadre” of cricketers who, according to him, understand the need for a “rescue strategy for Caribbean society”.
We grew him (Jason Holder) to be the leader of this transition to start building a whole new cadre of cricketers
“What had driven Caribbean cricket had been a determination to... create a space for ourselves in modernity,” he said in an inaugural address for the book in London last year.
He said that UWI sought to link the young cricketers to a sense of their history, getting them to connect with and learn from former cricketing heroes, such as Curtly Ambrose, who was hired as a bowling consultant from 2013 to 2016. “We grew him (Holder) to be the leader of this transition,” Prof Beckles said of the Test captain who was a student of Social Science in the university.
It is in this context that Prof Beckles predicts a “fourth rise” in West Indies cricket, linked to education of the lessons of the past and the passing on of a consciousness from previous cricketing generations to the next.
He talks of a future of “Caribbean people taking their cricket back” – and he does not just mean on the pitch.
It will hence be interesting to see if the stakeholders of West Indies cricket can cash in on this winning moment, or let things drift once again!
Cricket - a tool to fight racial injustice for the Caribbeans
By Boria Majumdar
Special to Gulf News
Ian Bishop has this uncanny ability of making prophetic comments. In April 2016 the world remembers Bishop, a real thoughtleader in our sport, saying his immortal words “Carlos Brathwaite - Remember the name….”
When I reminded him that it was at a function the day before the T-20 World Cup final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata that he had mentioned Brathwaite, he was excited. “Yes I remember”, he said before going on to add, “You asked me the question and because people in India knew of Gayle and Bravo I mentioned Carlos for I knew what he was capable of”.
He had opened the doors for me to ask the next question. In the context of what is happening in the world, something that can be traced back to Sir Frank Worrell and the 1950s black revolution in West Indies cricket so very eloquently articulated by the great CLR James, did he believe the West Indies will surprise England in the first Test - I had asked him just days before the Southampton conquest had begun. Bishop paused to answer: “The first Test is our best chance. There is a lot of extra motivation on offer and England is rusty not having played any cricket in the last 100 days. Each of our players will want to do something for a cause”, he concluded.
Yet again, he has been proved right. While we continue to celebrate the legendary Michael Holding for his emotional outburst, it is important to note that West Indies cricket has always stood up against injustice perpetrated in the larger world. Before I go into a sociological analysis of West Indies cricket, let me put it bluntly that for me every life matters. There are Latinos, native Americans, South Asians and of course blacks who continue to be discriminated against in our world. Add women to this list in some parts of the world. And racism is the world’s longest continuing pandemic, far more deep-rooted and vicious than COVID-19. West Indian cricketers, like others across sport in the US and elsewhere has always raised a voice against such discrimination.
We are forced to say Black Lives Matter because it is an acceptable parameter that things can be said against men and women of a certain skin colour. This comes from a sense of entitlement
If it was Jesse Owens in 1936 and Jackie Robinson in 1947, it was Frank Worrell and his band of Caribbean greats that caught the world’s imagination in the 1950s. That Worrell was finally made captain in 1957 was a major triumph for what we now call “Black Lives Matter”. And to do well against the English has always been a motivation. Consider Sir Vivian Richards in the 1980s and Sir Clive Lloyd winning the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979. Not only did the West Indies win the World Cups, by doing so they lent a voice to the millions of oppressed in the UK and beyond.
If it was Tommy Smith and John Carlos in Mexico in 1968, it was Lloyd’s quartet of fast bowlers in the 1980s that helped assert black superiority in sport. “I take great pride in the fact that a generation of West Indians born between 1970 and 1980 grew up never seeing us lose”, said Clive Lloyd when I asked him what cricket meant for him and his generation. “For us, cricket is not simply a sport. It is something, which won us the respect we deserved in society”, argued the legendary West Indian captain.
Bishop concurred: “We are forced to say Black Lives Matter because it is an acceptable parameter that things can be said against men and women of a certain skin colour. This comes from a sense of entitlement”, says Bishop.
While Holder and Shannon Gabriel were battling it out against Stokes and company, the backdrop was that of a much bigger battle. They were fighting for their rights and more importantly a voice in the 21st century world. Southampton isn’t simply a victory. It is also a testament to what sport can do and how it can add to a movement, which has far larger ramifications.
As we wait for the second Test to start and the sporting world sport sits on one knee to raise a united voice against an unjust world, it is time to celebrate West Indian cricket. And this time, it is not for a cavalier calypso. Rather, it is for something much bigger.
Something that Holder and his mates were taught at the University of West Indies as students. To stand up for their rights. Just what they did at Southampton.
- The author is a cricket historian and sports scholar based in India
The joy of watching West Indian cricket
By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Caribbean cricket is an effervescence. Electric and breathtaking, it’s a blend of bold strokes, thunderbolt deliveries and athletic fielding. That’s the signature of the game in the West Indies.
The sheer unbridled joy epitomised in the game of Learie Constantine has been the hallmark of Calypso cricket. In a structured game like cricket where technique can at times be stifling, West Indians play with gay abandon. The tradition continues. Along the way, it spawned some legends of the game.
I wasn’t born when Constantine’s exploits lit up the Lancashire league. But CLR James’ book ‘Beyond a Boundary’ threw light on Constantine’s impact in England. He showed the West Indians could play cricket and play with such panache that the game seemed alien in the home of cricket.
Gary Sobers could well have been his successor. But Sobers wasn’t just another allrounder. He was the best the game has seen. He could bat wondrously anywhere in the order, bowl exceptionally fast, turn his arm over for a probing mix of orthodox left-arm spin and chinamans. He could field in the slips and outfield with equal felicity. No cricketer has been born with such an array of skills.
Collis King and Kieron Pollard are cricketers of a different generation. They may not match the boundless talent of Constantine and Sobers, but each of them has left a mark with their all-round skills.
Constantine is said to have wielded the bat like a scimitar. Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, who formed the three Ws with Frank Worrell, continued in that vein. So did Sobers, the first man to clobber six sixes in an over.
My interest in cricket began in the seventies. That’s when a new generation of batsmen arrived in the Caribbean scene. Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharan…all capable of plundering the best bowling attacks. Who can forget the breathless assault on the Australians in the first World Cup in 1975?
It’s a pity that Brian Lara and Richie Richardson came at a time when West Indian cricket had slipped from the summit. Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and others showed glimpses of Caribbean flavour but never matched their predecessors. West Indian batsmen continued to enthral but lacked in awe and aura.
Pace is the West Indian weapon of choice. Balls delivered at frightening speeds have always been a feature of Caribbean cricket. Wesley Hall sprinting in from the sightscreen is said to be an awesome sight. A sight that had batsmen quivering in their boots. Along with Charlie Griffith, Hall formed a formidable pace attack.
If there was an artist among pace bowlers, it was Andy Roberts. His repertoire was mindboggling. Along came Michael Holding, who earned the sobriquet ‘Whispering Death.’ The pace duo became a fearsome quartet when the unorthodox Colin Croft and 6-foot 8-inch Joel Garner joined the pack. They knocked over batmen around the world, giving Lloyd’s team an aura of invincibility.
When Croft and Garner faded away, Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose stepped into the breach. The unrelenting pace helped West Indies tighten their stranglehold on the game. Courtney Walsh walked in their footsteps, but by then West Indian cricket was on the wane.
With an array of fast bowlers, West Indies never really needed spin. But in the fifties and sixties, they produced some of the well-known spinners in the game. Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin were the spin twins who bamboozled batsmen with their mystery deliveries. Lance Gibbs was the best the off-spinner in the world in the seventies and went on to become the leading wicket-taker at the time. Sadly, spin never reached those highs although Sunil Narine is a handful now.
Constantine was called the panther in the covers. So was Lloyd until a back injury moved him to first slip. Electric fielding has always been a West Indian speciality. With only one stump visible, Joe Solomon’s accurate throw from 12 metres out resulted in the first tied Test in Brisbane, Australia, in 1960. Viv Richards’ speed, agility and accuracy effected the runouts that pegged back Australia in 1975 World Cup. Gus Logie, Roger Harper and several others followed the long line of excellent West Indian fielders.
For a side packed with brilliant cricketers, the West Indies never performed consistently. All that changed when Frank Worrell became the first Black to captain the West Indies. He turned a bunch of gifted individuals into a winning combination.
After Worrell’s departure, the side was listless until Lloyd took over the reins. Under him, a team filled with new talents went to become world-beaters. Winning back-to-back World Cups in 1975 and 1979, they dominated cricket from the late seventies to the early nineties. They were invincible.
From those heady days, Caribbean cricket went into a tailspin in the late nineties. There have been flashes of brilliance, but none consistent enough to spark a revival. Talent there’s aplenty, but it will need a Worrell or Lloyd to mould the Caribbean nations into a winning team.
I hope it’s worth the wait. For, the West Indians had given me so much joy over the years.
West Indies: Cricket’s bohemian rhapsody
Sanjib Kumar Das Assistant Editor
It was January 1, 1967, when Eden Gardens in Kolkata (then Calcutta) saw one of the ugliest scenes in its sporting history unfold on the second day of the second Test against the visiting West Indies side. Overselling of tickets had resulted in a section of the spectators spilling over on to the playing arena, forcing the game to be stopped for some time.
As irate spectators vented their anger on the men in uniform, a section of the stands with a canvas canopy was set on fire. At one point, the flames threatened to engulf the West Indies flag flying along with the Indian tricolour atop the pavilion.
While most looked on helplessly, it took the courage and presence of mind of one person to save the hosts a huge embarrassment. Sensing a humongous crisis, West Indies batsman Conrad Hunte climbed atop the pavilion’s roof and managed to save the flag while it was barely a few inches away from being engulfed by the raging inferno.
Thirty-one years later, on a pleasant December evening, as this correspondent sat down for a cup of coffee with Hunte at Hotel Hindusthan International in central Kolkata, the goosebumps from seeing the Caribbean stalwart seated barely inches away at the table were all too obvious. On being asked what ran through his mind when he decided to jump atop the pavilion roof that morning at Eden Gardens to save the flag, Hunte had a two-word reply: “Caribbean pride.”
And I think those two words very aptly encapsulate the ‘bohemian rhapsody’ of sorts that West Indies cricket has always come to stand for. Both, in terms of talent and on-field flamboyance, cricketers from the Caribbean islands have always been special. For generations, they have given cricket fans the world over the joy of watching a trademark couldn’t-care-less swagger riding roughshod over a so-called gentleman’s game.
And these legends have been loved all the more precisely for that reason: Their ability to take the world in their stride, without ever offending to anyone.
Even before I met Hunte, my liking for Caribbean cricket was fed by those grainy, black-and-white images on Doordarshan, India’s national television broadcaster, in one of those early, rare days of live television coverage as the final of the 1983 World Cup (known as the Prudential Cup then) was beamed across our living rooms, all the way from Lord’s. Keeping the delirium aside of seeing India win an improbable maiden World Cup, on June 25, 1983, beating Clive Lloyd’s immaculately talented side in a low-scoring match, what struck me that night was the sheer audacity that the Caribbean players showed right through the game. Even when in the throes of an gut-wrenching loss after being in line for a hat-trick of titles, never for once did a single member of that West Indies side look baulked. Win or lose, they’ve almost always played their game with an invisible ‘no-prisoners-taken’ emblazoned across their chests.
That’s West Indies.
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For the best part of the last half a century, that has been the speciality of the ‘Caribbean calypso’ – pure passion and raw talent rolled into one heady concoction of spine-chilling competitiveness and a never-say-die resolve that made them say, time and again, that it ain’t over until it’s over.
Fifteen years after that final, when Hunte spoke about the “Caribbean pride”, I knew exactly what he meant. Churning out such pantheon of great entertainers - from Frank Worrell to Gary Sobers to Joel Garner to Vivian Richards to Brian Lara to Chrys Gayle - West Indies is a brand.
True, this brand too had its rough patches - primarily in the 1990s and early 2000s when Caribbean cricket was staring down an abyss of mediocrity. But looking at the current side led by Jason Holder that handed out such a shocker of a defeat to England in the first Test at the Rose Bowl, Southampton, in the midst of a pandemic, a cricket romantic’s faith in the unalloyed joy that is West Indies has only been reaffirmed.
The show goes on.
Cricket in the Caribbean: A timeline
* The West Indies joined cricket’s world governing body, the Imperial Cricket Conference, in 1926 and played their first official international match. They were granted Test status in 1928, becoming the fourth Test nation. In their early days in the 1930s, the side represented the British colonies that would later form the West Indies Federation plus British Guiana.
* The last series the West Indies played before the outbreak of World War II was against England in 1939. There was a long gap until January 1948 when the MCC toured the West Indies. Of the West Indies players in that first match after the war only Gerry Gomez, George Headley, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, and Foffie Williams had previously played Test cricket. In 1948, leg spinner Wilfred Ferguson became the first West Indian bowler to take ten wickets in a Test, finishing with 11/229 in a match against England. Later in the same year, Hines Johnson became the first West Indies fast bowler to achieve the feat, managing 10/96 against the same opponents.
* The West Indies defeated England for the first time at the Lord’s on June 29, 1950 and then on August 16, completed a 3–1 series win at The Oval. Although blessed with some great players in their early days as a Test team, their success remained sporadic until the 1960s when the side changed from a white-dominated to a black-dominated side one under the successive captaincies of Frank Worrell and Gary Sobers.
* The West Indies, led by Clive Lloyd, reached their peak when their side was recognised as unofficial world champions, a reputation they retained throughout the 1980s. They were noted for their four-man fast bowling attack, backed up by some of the best batsmen in the world. In 1976, Michael Holding took 14/149 in a Test against England, setting a record which still stands for best bowling figures in a Test by a West Indies bowler. The ‘80s saw the team set a record streak of 11 consecutive Test victories in 1984 and inflict two 5–0 defeats on England. The ruthless streak of the team inspired a best-selling book ‘Fire in Babylon,’ which was later converted into a film.
* The West Indian cricket, however, started declining in the 1990s and the news millennium. Victory in the 2004 Champions Trophy and a runner-up showing in the 2006 Champions Trophy left some hopeful, but it was not until the inception of Twenty20 cricket that the West Indies began to regain a place among the cricketing elite and among cricket fans, as they developed ranks of players capable of taking over games with their power hitting e.g. Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Andre Russell and Carlos Brathwaite.
They beat hosts Sri Lanka in the 2012 World Twenty20 to win their first ICC world championship since the 1979 World Cup (they also won the inaugural World Cup in 1979) and then shocked England to win the 2016 World T20, making them the first team to win the World Twenty20 twice. The West Indies also became the first to win both the men’s and women’s World Twenty20 on the same day when the women’s team beat three-time defending champions Australia for their first ICC world title before the men’s final.