The Debacle In The West Indies Cricket

by Kweku McDonald
Guyana Mirror
February 21, 1999

The debacle in the West Indies cricket continues with their annihilation in the recent test and one-day series at the hands of the South Africans. This was moreso humiliating in that the West Indies team was under the stewardship of its cricketing genius incarnate, Brian Lara.

Many analyses have been suggested for the slide in the quality of West Indies cricket by sports journalists, former players, sports administrators, the cricket loving public and in the regional media. Since the invincibility of the West Indian cricket side, built around the captaincy of Clive Lloyd from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, and sustained by his long-serving deputy, Vivian Richards through to the beginning of the 1990s, an aura and anticipation of dominance had become cultured into the passion of West Indian supporters. This obviously had its source in the regional team’s pre-eminence in its earlier participation in international cricket, particularly in the immediate post-war years (the 1950s through the 1960s).

The even earlier individual exploits of such greats as Sir Learie Constantine, Herman Griffith and Sir George Headley highlighted individual talent from the region in its formative years in international cricket. It welded the pride of individual territories’ people to symbolically signify the dignity of human equality under a prevailing politico-socio-economic exploitative system - colonialism. Cricket was a status symbol of unprecedence, at that time, the leisurely ‘gentleman’s game’ as the aristocratic English gentry appreciated and perceived it to be.

With no barriers to the diffusion of knowledge of the game, the ‘native’ West Indian people of colour quickly learnt the game and excelled in it, confounding and unseating the exclusivity to the social affluent, in the dominance of the game.

After their mid-1970s demise to essentially the Australian fast bowling duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, the West Indies were able to quickly gather the pieces and construct a well coordinated team unit of their own. Beginning with their batting, the likes of Greenidge, Fredericks, Kallicharran, Richards and Lloyd had matured into an interdependent batting mechanism that all times functioned for a meaningful team effort. None of them continually failed, and when they did, it was made up for in an innings and a match by the other front-line batsmen. This lent to a period of stability in the West Indies batting line up, that when Fredericks retired and Kallicharran had differences with the then West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICBC) and abandoned West Indies cricket for a rebel tour of South Africa, new players quickly emulated the keenness, discipline and coordination of the team in their development. These batsmen, essentially Desmond Haynes and later Larry Gomes, blossomed into the limelight with the other frontline batsmen, with the latter engaging in many a successful rear-guard action with his captain Clive Lloyd. Here Greenidge, Haynes and Richards would have succumbed to an Indian or English ‘early burst’ from fast bowling greats such as Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.

The wicket-keeping was of excellence, carried for a decade by the most capable Deryck Murray, who could produce match winning batting performances as required by his team, as in the 1975 World Cup Semi-finals against Pakistan. The importance of this position (wicket-keeping) no doubt was a crucial element in the success of the innovation by the West Indies of playing four hostile, accurate and generally excellent fast bowlers in their starting line-up. Cricket pundits and sports analysts would realise how many dismissals (percentage) were due to catches by the wicket-keeper and the indescribably sensational slip-fielding. These positions had become specialist fielding positions for Lloyd, Richards and Greenidge at first, second and third slips respectively. Garner would have served a double capacity as the specialised gully fieldsman, with his huge six feet seven inch frame.

Jeffrey Dujon was able to sustain the excellence of Deryck Murray with the gloves behind the stumps, after a short tenure by David Murray.

As with the timely maturity of the frontline batsmen in the mid to late 1970s the West Indies were able to add to the opening duo of Michael Holding and Andy Roberts an equally effective pair in Colin Croft and Joel Garner. The custom, until then, was to play at most two genuine fast bowlers with a swing bowler as first change. This has been the hallmark of West Indian success in the 1960s with Hall and Griffith, supported by the ingenuity of Sobers. Perhaps, still smarting and sore from the mid-1970s series humiliation at the hands of Australia’s express fast bowling pair of Lillee and Thompson, Clive Lloyd had put it that he had learnt to give the opposition a lot of what they did not like, and got hooked on the new experiment.

West Indian cricket was so strong during this period, that when Clive Lloyd in possession of a winning team had grouses with the WICBC over paltry remuneration and eloped to play Kerry Packer night cricket without the sanctioning of the board, the West Indies cricket team’s second eleven could put in a dignified series performance against India’s best. This second eleven team under the helm of Alvin Kallicharran who opted not to go with Lloyd’s men to Australia, though not as well-knit and talented as the first eleven, was able to produce talented performances for later incorporation and greatness for the mainstream West Indian team. It was here Faoud Bacchus, Larry Gomes and Malcolm Marshall had begun to stake claims for themselves with vintage individual performances.

There was such an abundance of talent in the region, that when most players from the second eleven were enticed into touring then pariah South Africa, and consequently banned by the WICBC and regional governments who had unwavering international positions against apartheid, West Indies mainstream cricket did not suffer.

As this all-conquering West Indian side experienced demographic change, the en masse replacement by young players has been wholly unsuccessful. With the rapid successive retirement of Lloyd, Holding, Marshall, Greenidge, Richards and Dujon, the West Indies had lost the winning unit that had been ingeniously composed. Richardson - who had been nurtured to individual success in the old guard - Walsh, Ambrose, Lara, Chanderpaul, Adams and Campbell were all potential, colourful and talented replacements. They have each individually notched up some pride in international cricket of their own, but have not been able to create and sustain the invincible team unit that was the symbol of West Indian pride.

Most worrying is that almost all of these players are the product of an expanding and extensive youth cricket nursery in the region, that thrives on sponsorship support from the corporate sectors that allows for even more inter-territorial competitive games. None of the old guard that did West Indies cricket so proud, had such privileges and schooling that is available now.

No doubt the en masse transition of players into retirement and recruitment of new ones have meant that new ideals, values and esprit de corps would have to be initiated and developed. There were no older players to emulate and team discipline to adhere to.

The competitiveness of the game too is fast becoming intense. Australia - with favourable climatic conditions, unlike England - shrewdly established a cricket academy, invested in it and produced a durable unit of players that is continually replenished.

English players are now in tip-top physical condition during the winter, thanks to the fitness craze that saw an upsurge in fitness spas among other sport regimens. South Africa - with the favourable conditions as the West Indies and Australia, have emerged from isolation to quickly ascend to the highest peaks in the international game. This is no doubt due to the high levels of local competition in that country. Pakistan, although obviously less disciplined than the Australians and South Africans, have a talented, matured set of seasoned cricketers in every department of the game. Thus the adversary to West Indies cricket team has become more able whilst the home team wrestles with its problems.

Also, the intensity of the game has made it necessary for new formulas to be derived for success by competing teams. Cricket pitches are becoming more worn with the amount of cricket being played and thus may be less responsive to fast bowling than before. The rapid change and attuning of the senses from playing cautious and temperamentally in the case of batsmen in test matches and without restraint by fast bowlers, to carefree and reckless in the former instance and overly self contained in the latter instance, in one-day matches, is more than the human conditional reflexes can permit. Thus England and Australia have begun the trend of playing virtually two different teams or the two different forms of the game. This innovation has allowed them to realise success in one-day match tournaments of late.

With this increased intensity of cricket, the West Indies fearsome quartet of fast bowlers has become passive as periods of peaks and troughs in their performance lengthen with the need for more recuperation time. A glance back at Clive Lloyd’s team that trounced England with a 5-0 whitewash would reveal that the quartet of leading bowlers was varied with a swing bowler in Eldine Baptiste and a spin bowler to a lesser extent in Roger Harper, as the conditions required. The inability of the West Indies to develop quality swing bowling all-rounders since Sir Gary Sobers and as exemplified by Pollock, Cronje, Klusener and Kallis of South Africa, has contributed to their great undoing. This is no doubt due to the instinctive development of West Indian cricketing potential.

Not only does the WICB face the challenge of organising quality coaching clinics as a prelude to its numerous youth tournaments throughout the region, but it must also have the purpose of developing skills in the different aspects of the game, and more importantly, establishing such programmes in ethnic minority areas in the region as well.

As concerning the latter point, it is well understood that cricket is a passion among the Indo populations where they are of significance, namely Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. This is in keeping with the rest of the Caribbean people. Yet for more than a decade, the West Indies cricket team had not reflected a successful Indo player in its winning team. Since the exodus of Alvin Kallicharran and Faoud Bacchus, the only other non-Black player in the team had been Larry Gomes, a player of Portuguese descent representing even a numerically less vestige in the Caribbean population make-up.

This phenomenon was no doubt due to the instinctive development of the game in the region, and the no less important politco-socio institutionalisation of the game that a new elite had evolved and become established.

West Indies cricket was now a huge financial venture that made its ambits a preserve for the privileged and the perpetuation of the class prejudices endemic in the society. It was no secret in such regional circles as to the political problem in Guyana in the 1970s and 1980s, concerning the violation of democratic rights. In cricket, as in other regional institutions, a blind-eye and a tacit understanding for such a situation, pervaded.

The result of this inequitable evolution in West Indian cricket was that cricketing fans, particularly locally, had become mono-ethnically acculturised in their support for the West Indies cricket team. When Shivnarine Chanderpaul was thrust into the team at the tender age of 19, for the want of talent in a new team, unfavourable comments where aired on call-in programmes and informally, was that he should ‘wait his turn,’ whatever that meant. Indeed, all the talent in the West Indies has been tried as WICB selection panels attempted to reassemble a winning team formula. The fact is that Chanderpaul’s selection into the team is somewhat of a revolution that given the significance of his sole ethnic representation and the insecurity that thus arises, may be another source of instability, weakness and great undoing in West Indies cricket, if not the most significant.

The WICB need not go as far as South Africa cricket where the ANC Government is engaged in a policy of affirmative action in the game by introducing it to Black areas where it is non-traditionally followed. At one stage in our cricketing history, the corporate sugar industry had diffused the skill of West Indian players as Sir Clyde Walcott to coach in the farthest sugar centres in then British Guiana.

Emanating from undoubtedly such a great stint of coaching, was the likes of Rohan Khani, Basil Butcher and Joe Solomon, of regional ethnic minorities who made the team at the same time with their coach. Obviously the same conditions do not exist for such a situation to rehappen, as there are even more territories playing, but well coordinated clinics throughout the region including predominantly Indo rural Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, will begin the erasure of the tacit conceit with regards to ethnicity in the West Indies cricket team.

Holding, Garner, Marshall, Ambrose and Walsh coaching in named areas would remove endemic psychological stereotypes about fast bowling and ethnic ability. Genuine camaraderie, fiercer sportsmanlike competition ensuring all time excellence and genuine satisfaction at team selection will eliminate any ethnic extremism besieging West Indies cricket, from every perspective. Money spent on the extravagant and colourful promotional advertisements by the WICB, should be pumped into the establishment of such coaching programmes.

The recent pre-South African cricket tour players’ walkout and controversy led by team captain Brian Lara and his deputy Carl Hooper, highlights the climax of egotism and individualism that has contributed to the disarray of the team. Unlike Clive Lloyd’s Kerry Packer stand-off with the WICB, when he commandeered his men on a tour of Australia contrary to Board sanctioning in a dispute for better wages, Brian Lara chose to engage in his walkout when West Indies cricket is on the slide downward. Worst of all, the performance of himself and disciples resulted in the heaping of shame on the much venerated West Indies cricket team, succumbing to a 5-0 whitewash in the test and 6-1 defeat in the one-day internationals.

Brian Lara is the most talented and supreme idol of West Indies cricket since Sir Garfield Sobers. However, it is left to be seen whether his stardom is harnessed for West Indian cricket or vice versa, given his untimely egotistic delusion of irresponsibly holding West Indian cricket to ransom in a fatalistic and unclear dispute with the WICB.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples