What made West Indies champions of the world? Ian on Sunday
Stabroek News
December 9, 2001

At least the prince of batsmen has magnificently returned to centre stage. What I would have given to see, or even listen to, that extraordinary series of dominant and scintillating innings! What I would have given to experience those battles, which he convincingly won, against the great Muralitheran! Think what we have missed by not being in direct touch with cricket played at its very best, batting at one of its supreme summits of achievement!

This great scandal of our deprivation has never been sufficiently explained, was a tremendous blow to West Indian cricket lovers, and must never be allowed to happen again. Thinking of Lara and his sublime batting, and young Sarwan's emerging brilliance too, I can hardly bear to think about what has gone missing forever from my fund of unforgettable sporting memories. Surely, at least,

someone will have the thought and the follow-through to lessen our misery by bringing the films from Sri Lanka to show on TV somewhere soon.

But, of course, clutching at the bright straws of Lara's gloriously regained form and Sarwan's scintillating contribution cannot prevent us from drowning in the deep sorrow of the West Indian humiliation against Sri Lanka. There is absolutely no disaster that can shake my love and support for West Indian cricket. However, that is not to say that it would not make me feel much better about life if the team were to be masters of the world again. What will that take? There is no simple answer but I was looking at some old essays I wrote in the glory days and they brought back memories. I reproduce one which reminded me of what it seemed like then. I wrote it in May 1984 and entitled it "The Ravening Pack."

"As the tour of England begins the West Indies dominate the cricket world to an extent rarely known in the game's history. Since the Packer era ended West Indies have enjoyed a winning streak probably unique in the history of the game. Out of 34 Tests we have lost only 2. We have just given Australia the sort of

thrashing a headmaster gives a wayward little boy. In our last 9 Tests we have not lost a second innings wicket which must be some kind of record. In limited-over contests we are, except for that one strange aberration at Lords in June last year, the complete masters. It is not only a question of superior playing skills.

The West Indies have established a psychological ascendancy which exerts its influence before a ball is bowled in a new series. Even now you can be sure the English with chalk-white faces are shaking in their chalk-white boots.

What underlies this dominance? What is the secret? The captaincy of Clive Lloyd is a factor difficult to quantify but almost certainly more important than any of us fully appreciate. They used to say of the Emperor Napoleon that his presence was worth 100,000 men in arms on the field of battle. That is what happens when a man becomes a legend while he is still active. Lloyd's stature in cricket now looms so large that merely his presence in the pavilion oppresses our opponents and undermines their confidence. Another factor, not very much mentioned, is the superiority of our fielding which is currently a class above anyone else. All our men look lithe, fit, quick, confident and commanding in all they do. A third factor is the opening partnership of Greenidge and Haynes which, late in their careers, has flowered into by far the best in the world. Yet any analysis of why the West Indies are dominant and have been for so long must in the end focus primarily on our fast bowlers. They are the key. They are our Praetorian Guard. They have made the essential difference. Let us then for a little while consider fast-bowling, this fearsome art which has given us our dominance in the game.

Cricket displays a more vivid gallery of beauty than any other game. The delicate late cut of a Frank Worrell, the delicious leg glance of a Sollmeyer, a gleaming Kanhai cover drive, the majestic power of a back-drive by Walcott or Richards, the swooping grace of young Clive Lloyd in the covers- these are portraits in the mind's eye that will never fade as long as a sense of beauty lasts. But perhaps the most thrilling sight of all, a sense of danger mixing with the beauty, is that of a great fast bowler running in to bowl. In the whole of sport in our time has there ever been any sight which has more nearly stopped the heart with its combination of grace and savage excitement than that of Michael Holding gliding over the green grass in that marvellous run of his? Half the enchantment is in the beauty, half is in the menace.

When it comes to pure speed, every generation of cricketers has boasted its own contenders for the prize. Should it go to George Brown of Brighton who, legend has it, in the year 1818 once bowled a ball which beat bat, wicket, wicket keeper, longstop, went through a man's coat on the boundary, and killed a dog twenty yards the other side? Observers in the 1890s swore that no one had ever, and no one would ever again, bowl as fast as Charles Kortright who is the only bowler so far in the history of the game to have sent a bouncer flying from the pitch clear over the boundary full for six byes. Later generations have named Spofforth of Australia for the prize, and Constantine at his fastest, and Larwood of bodyline fame, and Frank Tyson when he destroyed Australia in 1954/55, and the dreaded Charlie Griffith at his peak. Ray Lindwall once bowled a man's middle-stump and sent a bail flying 143 measured feet away. The argument will never end: some babe now softly at his mother's breast will in years to come be crowned in his turn most terrifying of them all.

But let us give a roll call and observe one interesting fact: Richardson and Lockwood, Gregory and McDonald, Francis and John, Larwood and Voce, Martindale and Constantine, Lindwall and Miller, Statham and Trueman, Hall and Griffith, Lillee and Thomson. You will see that great fast bowlers have mostly hunted in pairs. But - and this is the essential point of recent international cricket

- never in the whole history of the game have they hunted in a ravening pack like West Indian fast bowlers in the last seven or eight years. Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft, Daniel, Clark and Marshall: it must be hard enough to steel the nerve to face twin-demons straining fiercely at the leash - four or even five, refreshed in relays, make the hardiest batsman wish to settle for a rainy day.

The great question is this: after Garner and Marshall, will this mighty line of fast bowlers peter out at last? Baptiste, Small and Walsh do not to me have the ring of the old metal. But then men as they grow old never think new heroes quite measure up to the giants who they have grown used to praise. So I may very well be wrong. I hope I am. The English tour will begin to tell."

You see the problem, a big part of it anyway. We no longer have even a pair of fast bowlers to go hunting for the kill, far less a ravening pack. It is going to be a long, hard road back to dominance. But, never mind, in that long haul amidst the frequent frustration and dismay there will be much excitement and glorious bursts of cricketing beauty and achievement to keep us going as long as it takes.