Where has West Indian cricket gone wrong?
By John Mair in Georgetown, Guyana
April 4, 2007
My first West Indies Test Match was in 1959 at the Bourda. Nearly fifty years later, the World Cup Match against Sri Lanka on April Fools Day 2007(significantly) may be my last. West Indian cricket has firmly lost its way; it may never find it again. Why?
Cricket is a metaphor for the large and small societies which make up the West Indies. Their focus and purpose has changed. The New World-the USA and Canada-now dominates over the old Imperial power of Britain in every way-economically, culturally and more. The North provides the magnet for talent and brains from the region; that channel is consistently used and is a one way one. Guyana may have nearly as many 'Guyanese' in the North American diaspora as in Guyana itself.
Qualify in anything in Guyana and you are looking for your 'papers' to go North. The University of Guyana trains them -yet 89%of their graduates leave the country within the first three years after graduation. The intelligent young men from the elite schools who may have provided the thoughtful cricketers of the past are now either simply not in the country, working too hard on emigration or playing other sports.
The hegemony of the United States is all pervasive. American television dominates the airwaves. Young West Indians grow up on a diet of the NFL and the NBA. They aspire not to be Garry Sobers but Michael Jordan. Here in Georgetown it is difficult to find any proper cricket pitches. There are basketball courts aplenty. The riches to be made in the NBA are far in excess of even the over inflated fees paid to those currently masquerading as West Indian cricket stars. The choice for a young athlete is a no brainer. The US every time.
The decline of the basic industries has played its part. Sugar as an industry only really exists in Guyana and even that is in increasing question. The small islands have, by and large, abandoned sugar growing and production. Trinidad too. The sugar estates and their welfare policies-including great cricket grounds, some of near test standard-were the backbone of the Indo element of any West Indian team, Kanhai, Kallicharran both from one estate - Port Mourant.
Globalisation and the new rigid EU sugar regime have led to contraction. In Guyana, for example, it is purely a matter of time before the industry concentrates on two or three mega estates on the Corentyne Coast. Any young man growing up to play cricket on West Coast Demerara or West Bank Demerara will have to search for a club and a ground. For example, the cricket field at Belle Vue on WBD is now given over to the cows.
So, the brains have gone or are going ,the jobs have gone, the grounds are closing is there any hope for the future? That may require drastic action. Many of the diaspora support active cricket leagues with high standards. Some recent former Test players like Mahendra Nagamootoo make a good living there. Maybe it is time to recruit shamelessly from them ignoring citizenship rules(Great Britain after all claims Greg Rusedski, Kevin Pietersen and Lennox Lewis as 'British ' champions).Perhaps the current team needs to be humiliated out of their torpor. The "Baby Bentley" culture that has gripped Premiership footballers in the UK(some earn up to 120,000 pounds per week!) seems too prevalent amongst them. Pay them purely by results. No results, no pay. What other avenues does Brian Lara have for his undoubted talents? Let him find them. Make the team subject to harsh market forces.
Make cricket more attractive to watch too. The Cricket World Cup has failed where the Stanford 20/20 succeeded in spades.That caught the popular imagination. Small islands taking on small islands and bigger. It gripped the many nations. CWC has been like a foreign body which has never meshed with local culture and never will. Prices and process have seen to that.
But West Indies cricket will be in nowhere land forever without talent coming through. The Australians have done it through their cricket academy. Time for the West Indies to follow suit. A well financed full time academy in each 'Island' with competitions between them all and a super Academy for the very best. Without roots, any plant will die. Based on their sad performance at Providence, it seems only a matter of time before cricket in the Caribbean simply atrophies. That would be a pity, to say the least, 150 years after the first Club - the Georgetown Cricket Club - was established in the region.