Another failed romance: An analysis of West Indies cricket misery
Freddie Kissoon column
April 12, 2007
It is more than forty years since ten West Indian countries that are essentially identical in their historical evolution, their cultural fulcrums, the physical landscape and the social infrastructure, got their independence from the UK. In that time, (the 1960s), western European integration was beginning to take shape. In fact CARCOM is just ten years younger than the EU.
Although, CARICOM's predecessor, CARIFTA was officially implemented in May 1968, as early as 1965, free trade arrangements were already in their beginning stages.
Look at the EU today. It is the most powerful actor in international relations. It is the largest economic giant on the globe. Look at the ten West Indian states today--a shoal of sardines desperately clinging to their little castles that exist inside the intestinal corridors of their fragile psyches.
The OECS has less than half a million people, yet for some esoteric reason that lies buried beneath the ashes of an elusive paradise, they have not integrated.
West Indian history is the tragic tale of a series of failed romances, beginning with the West Indian Federation and taking us up to the present misery that has drowned the only beautiful institution these ten countries has put together – the West Indian cricket team. The list also includes the failure to integrate UG into the structure of the University of the West Indies, a united stand against imperialist exploitation, the inability to sustain CARIFESTA on a regular basis and at the moment, the rejection of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Only two CARICOM states have accepted the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ; Guyana and Barbados. To think that one of the most enlightened territories in the Third World, Jamaica, wants to retain the Privy Council.
The present torment revolves around the apathy, pathetic character, and tragic destruction of West Indian cricket. One must understand the meaning of West Indian cricket to the fabric of the CARICOM dream. If West Indian cricket disappears, CARCOM will disintegrate. West Indian cricket holds the future of CARICOM in its hands.
Those hands are now devoid of muscles and blood. Can the hemorrhage be stopped? It depends on the correct identification of the causes.
To comprehend the reasons for the moribund state of West Indian cricket, one must connect it to the post-colonial drama of the West Indies. Too many inconsequential factors are being cited for the degradation of the West Indian performance.
One of the common errors that cricket experts point to is a flamboyant lifestyle of the players of which the names most mentioned are two of the most talented cricketers in the world arena – Brian Lara and Chris Gayle. This is old news in the West Indies cricket team. It did not affect results on the field during the golden years.
My father was the chief groundsman at GCC during the charismatic reign of cricketing genius, Garfield Sobers. I saw Sobers drunk many times while as a small boy, I played on the perimeters of GCC. Sobers could spend a night drinking, and go on to the field the next morning and outperform his opponents.
One suspects that Gayle could bat on any occasion despite his so-called “sweet boy' manoeuvres off the field. Another popular observation is the incompetence of those who administer West Indies cricket.
Like the previous factor, it is important but not crucial to understanding the demise. A caveat is in order here. Players should not engage in sybaritic escapades while they have cricket duties and there must be competence in the directorate. These two ingredients would make the brew nicer but they do not hold the key to the final taste.
The painful decline of West Indies cricket, which must be realised at all times as an integral part of the social landscape, has to be assessed within the context of the overall social and economic slide of West Indies society after the end of the cold war and the lessened interest of the world in the Caribbean.
Accompanying the dissolution of the cold war was the rise of globalisation which has as one of its chief characteristics the prodigious penetration of American culture around the world due to the discovery of the internet.
The fantastic days of West Indies cricket coincided with a post-independence enlightenment or a post-colonial Renaissance. Jamaica became world famous for its music. Guyana was a leading Third World country due to its protagonist status in the Non-Aligned Movement. The University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana were producing top class scholars.
The West Indies became one of the discovery grounds for alternative theoretical formulations to liberal capitalism. The dependency model as a challenge to the existing theories of world trade was partly shaped in the region. The West Indies, too, in those days was a hotbed of radical anti-imperialist activism.
In a world that saw the major capitalist countries searching for stability after the devastation the hippie age brought to Europe and the Vietnam War to the US, the Caribbean became a centre of attraction. Not to mention, the economy of all the big players in CARICOM were sound.
It was in the late eighties, with a huge debt burden in the developing countries, an American victory over the USSR, and the end of the cold war, that international relations drastically changed the face of the globe. In this vortex of resurgent imperialism, Caribbean societies lost their geo-political and geo-strategic importance.
Raw materials from the Caribbean were not as crucial an imported item anymore for the industrialised states. A rampant globalised regime fashioned by the major powers saw a huge dent occurring in the economy of the region.
The vehicle for this was the replacement of GATT by the WTO in which Third World countries had no say in its drafting. Concomitant with this was the profusion of American culture in the region. American baseball, American football and most of all, American basketball took over the imagination of the Caribbean youth.
The Caribbean became a place where passion, purpose, resistance and aggression had gone. These symptoms have taken over the West Indies cricket team. In no other situation from the late eighties onwards have we seen this resignation than in the cricket match on Tuesday between South Africa and the West Indies.
South Africa was humiliated by Bangladesh and they went into a retreat and told themselves that they are going out there to kill when the match begins. They were ravenous tigers. They batted like people who wanted to kill the world. They had passion, purpose, resistance and aggression in them.
When it was the West Indies turn, we saw a microcosm of the present West Indian society -- a society that is adrift, aimlessly wandering in a world of uncertainty, and hopelessly clinging to the day when their place in the global sun will return.
Lacking aggression and symbolising the uncertainty of present day West Indian society, West Indies players became overwhelmed when the fight began. The agonising moments in CWC cricket when the West Indies played was as soon as the opponent showed pugilism, our players backed down and psychological despondency took over.
The last ten overs went for 134 runs. Why? Because as a bowler got hit for six, he didn't respond with a vicious bouncer, but became resigned. So he made the same mistake with the next ball and got smashed for another six. It was the same with the fielding. As soon as a crucial run-out is missed, the team folds up and the bowler loses his rhythm.
Ironically, the person who most typified the crisis in West Indian society today was Sarwan. His innings was bigger than the other batters but the way he threw away his wicket showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he didn't want to continue and he didn't want to make a hundred.
In fact, while Sarwan and Bradshaw were batting, West Indies could still have won that match. The cricket experts should stop blaming the cricketers and take a hard look at where the Caribbean is today. The Caribbean is in crisis.