The Decline of West Indies Cricket: Self-Inflicted Wounds Take the Longest to Heal

They say that international sports teams move in cycles; that ‘golden generations’ have to give way to lean spells in order for tough characters to be formed and found. If that is the case, then this West Indies fallow period is one that shows no signs of coming full circle.

From the 1970s to the first half of the 1990s, the West Indians dominated the world cricket scene. They were the strongest, the most feared, the most exhilarating to watch. From the aggression of Garfield Sobers, the raw power of Viv Richards and the beautiful stroke-making of Brian Lara, to the trouser-wetting pace and guile of (really) fast bowlers like Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, this was a golden era by any standards.

They picked up the ICC World Cup not once but twice in ’75 and ’79, and were – unofficially at least – the best test playing nation on the planet and favourites for every series – test or one day.

Fast forward to October 2015, and they are ranked eighth in tests, eighth in one day internationals and fourth in T20. So what’s gone wrong in the interim period?

Bish, Bash, Bosh

That stat above presents an iota of insight into a multi-faceted problem: the resources and interest pumped into T20 cricket on the islands now far surpasses that of the longer formats – both amongst players and spectators. This may well prove to be a worldwide trend in years to come, of course, as the landscape of the sport changes, but it is taking far longer to manifest itself elsewhere.

England travelled to Caribbean shores to play a test series early in 2015, and for large swathes of that campaign the English fans outnumbered the West Indian entourage on the terraces. Stands stood half empty, and even the various ground staff preferred to nap under the hot Antiguan sun than enjoy the international sport being played out in front of them.

Contrast that to the cricket fanaticism of yesteryear, and it’s clear to see how the general attitude has changed. Now, the shorter formats reign supreme in the hearts and minds of the islanders.

Mercenaries for Hire

The prowess of previous Windies sides came as much from a desire to assert themselves culturally as it did in the battle between leather and willow out in the middle. Without delving too deeply into historical back stories, it goes without saying that the black men of the Caribbean, many of whom will have learnt of and heard stories about racial oppression in the ‘olden days’, took great pride in dealing out sporting brutality to the predominantly white forefathers of the game.

Knowing the history, and the pride one must feel when pulling on their national team’s colours, it is hard to suggest why the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard are so insistent on travelling the world as ‘T20 guns for hire’, rather than representing their country – surely an act, in itself, that millions of amateur sportsmen and women would give their right arm for (as long as it’s not their bowling arm). Is it purely for the money….or a general indifference to international cricket?

Either way, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of them as individuals, but rifts can take a long time to heal in sport, and if this trio – and there are others – have experienced a breakdown in their respective relationships with the West Indies Cricket Board, then perhaps their position is more understandable.

The exclusion of Bravo and Pollard from the World Cup squad earlier this year spoke volumes of the battle for power between players and selectors. The pair were told by Clive Lloyd that they were omitted as the selection panel wanted to focus on young players for the future. Pollard is 27, Bravo is 31. Sometimes, the future is now. Lloyd also stated that the pair had not performed to a high enough standard to warrant selection. Bravo had just been selected in the ICC Team of the Year for 2014. Go figure.

It’s easy to blame the IPL as well – its promise of riches too much for even the most down-to-earth cricketers to ignore. But there are players from pretty much every test playing nation who perform their duties in India without compromising their international commitments. Many have their cake and eat it; and this is a sporting tea party that isn’t going anywhere soon.

Admin Error

Perhaps the biggest shame in this ongoing mis-management and administration of cricket in the West Indies is that amongst their current playing staff they have some intriguing talents. In Jason Holder, they boast a young man who can enjoy a brilliant career in all forms of the game if given the necessary support. Having been handed the captaincy at the ripe old age of 23, let’s hope he doesn’t burn out before his flame has really been lit. And then there’s Jermaine Blackwood, a feisty middle-order batsman who produced a match-winning display in that drawn series with the English in the winter.

But then there are the board-level decisions that alienate a nation. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a fantastic servant to the cause for nearly two decades, dumped from the team without so much as a thank you and a final lap of honour. The scapegoating of Bravo and Pollard, that abandoned tour to India….such ineptitude cannot be allowed to continue.

That said, it is easy to blame the administrators and the big cheeses when things don’t go well, but as ever the players need to take a long look at themselves in the mirror. A full strength West Indies team, with its collection of misfits and outcasts welcomed back into the fold, would be a serious side to contend with.

What the great West Indies teams of the 1970s and 1980s had in abundance – alongside outstanding talent – was a fear factor; batsmen hated facing their pace attacks and bowlers had nightmares at the prospect of stopping their care-free batsmen from finding the rope. Now, when the fear exists amongst the players of their own administrators, it is hard to see how this current crop can heal such self-inflicted wounds.

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