When the West Indies won the T20 cricket world cup in April, it was a moment of joy for every cricket lover, even as England's Ben Stokes, who got hit for four consecutive sixes, burst into tears. Every cricket fan appreciated the Caribbean team's performance, especially since nobody expected them to win the tournament in style.
West Indian cricket has had a chequered history. Over the years, West Indian teams have produced dozens of legends, without whom the game would not have been as great as it is today. From Larry Constantine to George Headley, Everton Weeks to Frank Worrell, Rohan Kanhai to Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards to Gordon Greenidge, the list is endless.
But the T20 triumph notwithstanding, the West Indies have been on a downward trajectory, performing very poorly and consistently in test as well as one-day matches. Only their exploits in T20 offer a glimmer of hope.
Why has this one-time cricketing giant come before a fall? Despite their dismal performance, players should not be the only ones to take blame.
So why has this one-time cricketing giant come before a fall? Despite their dismal performance, players should not be the only ones to take blame. The post-match presentation ceremony after the T20 finals in Kolkata was an eye-opener for the global audience as they listened to an emotional speech from West Indian captain Darren Sammy, who talked at length about their unsupportive cricket board (see the transcript here).
Lessons from history
This is not the first time that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the players have been antagonistic to each other. Clive Lloyd's team faced similar resistance from the cricket board when they went against its wishes to join Kerry Packer's World Cricket Series during the late 1970s. Like the current West Indian team, they also had no outside support and most of them feared that they would not be allowed to wear their national team jersey once they go back from Packer's league.
In the starting matches of the league, the team did a poor job and didn't perform to the standards expected by Kerry Packer. Like a typical businessperson, Packer wanted his money's worth in terms of performance from the team he had invested in. He talked straight to the team and clearly mentioned that they could either perform or perish.
A team that has mastery over test cricket can probably lead in any other format of the game as well, but the vice-versa is not true.
This situation could have crumbled anyone but those men were not ordinary. In some ways, Kerry Packer's angry speech led to something which transformed world cricket altogether. The team got united as a solid bunch as they had only themselves to rely upon. Once this happened, the team went on to dominate world cricket for the next 15 years. The board had to bow down under huge public pressure, as people wanted these men to represent the West Indies, rather than a selection of unknown players.
The fitness standard of the team was superb for that time. They played intimidating cricket on the field and generated a sense of fear in every team which played with them. But it was not just their brute force which made them world champions. They were technically sound in every aspect of the game, and that is why they ruled test cricket in particular.
The true 'test'
A team that has mastery over test cricket can probably lead in any other format of the game as well, but the vice-versa is not true. History has proven this time and again and that is why no matter how well West Indies does in T20 cricket or much their players are in demand from various cricket leagues, the current team must build on basics to not only save their own cricket, but cricket globally.
The space for test cricket is shrinking. The stands wear a deserted look during most test matches, unless it's the Ashes or when teams like India, South Africa, England and Australia are playing. This was not the situation earlier. Because teams like the West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan have been playing really poor cricket, crowds are leaving the stadiums.
The West Indies need to reform their domestic cricket structure, which is no longer attracting youngsters who can become the next Brian Lara, Michael Holding or Desmond Haynes.
The West Indies should learn from the current resurgence of the New Zealand cricket team in the past two years, which under the charismatic leadership of Brendon McCullum has been playing an excellent and mesmerizing game (though they have a lot to improve in test cricket). They made the crowds come back to the stands. One can now see packed stadiums in New Zealand and all this is because their team performed well.
The West Indies needs to do something like that to gain the lost support of cricket fans in the islands. Next month, the West Indies Cricket Board is hosting a triangular cricket series to make the game more attractive for audiences. Australia and South Africa have been invited to participate in the tournament, and if the West Indies manages to win, it would be like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
The West Indies need to reform their domestic cricket structure, which is no longer attracting youngsters who can become the next Brian Lara, Michael Holding or Desmond Haynes. Even the young talents who do play want to make quick money, and most are lured to the charm of T20 cricket. They need more players like Darren Bravo who declined to participate in the T20 cricket world cup in order to focus on test cricket.
The WICB itself needs restructuring and reformation in order to settle issues such as timely payment of salaries to cricketers. Once such non-cricketing issues are resolved, focus can be put back on the game completely. For that to happen, West Indies again needs the services of Clive Lloyd and his men to bring back their lost glory. The cricket administrators need to listen to and follow the advice of these greats, and if they cannot do that, they should relinquish their chairs to them for a better future for not only West Indian cricket, but for cricket at large.
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