The Windies of yore. Wow!
Which other team in cricket defined glamour the way they did? Australians reigned longer post the mid-1990s, but they never carried that oomph factor. They were workmen compared to the aristocrats that the West Indians were. Others, including India, have been on the ascendant, done the heroics and claimed the top spot in the rankings, but could hardly match them in aura. The latter simply evoked awe. The swagger, the casualness and the thinly-concealed arrogance amplified several times by the sheer physicality around added up to provide the team, what they call, attitude.
The West Indian batsmen had their trademark stroke-play. There was a particular beauty to the way the likes of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Richie Richardson went on their knees to smash ball through the covers. The gum-chewing Vivian Richards and later Brian Lara made disdain for bowlers their signature approach to the game. The fearsome reputation of bowlers reached host countries faster than they did. The eager anticipation to watch the likes of Colin Croft, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall was an experience in itself. Evening imagining them in action was. That was between the 1970s and 1990s; the glory days of the Caribbean team long predated that though.
Cut to 2017. What a fall it has been for the team! The swagger is long gone as is the glam quotient. It evokes no respect, forget fear. Do the names Kieron Powell, Shai Hope, Jason Mohammed, Evin Lewis, Ashley Nurse and Jason Holder raise any expectation? They won’t if you are not a keen follower of West Indian cricket and have a personal interest in individual players. As the hapless team plays India, it’s rather sad to note that it looks like an average Ranji team. With the combined talent available, it can only manage a shock defeat once in a blue moon against higher-ranked sides. Teams like Bangladesh have moved much ahead.
This is a surprise given the West Indies have not stopped producing talented players. Just look around the whole lot active in T20 franchise tournaments worldwide, from Bangladesh and India to Australia and South Africa. Players like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwyane Bravo, Darren Sammy and others continue to match the best in the world in cricketing skills.
The talent has just decided to desert West Indian cricket to find greener pastures. What is left over is just not good enough to shine beyond collective mediocrity.
Is West Indian cricket a victim of T20 league cricket? It’s tempting to answer in the positive – after all wasn’t that the anticipated damage from the shortest version of the game? As a lucrative global market opened up for cricketers, there was fear that national cricket would recede in terms of player preference, and they would sell themselves to the highest bidder wherever one was available — but that may not actually be the case with the West Indies. In other countries, flight of talent from longer formats to shorter formats has not quite happened. And the fact remains that the biggest stars of the shortest format are still those who have excelled in the longer ones, specifically Test cricket.
In the case of the Caribbean side, it is a case of poor talent management. The recurring fight between the players demanding bigger packages and better facilities is well-known. That the team had to cut short their trip to India and the leading players of the team had to make unflattering remarks about the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) after a world championship victory are indicators that the rot has gone deep. Worse, from the appearance of the team it is clear there is no hope. Availability of talent is not the issue but the capacity of the board to retain them is.
Now, the big question is when the lack of contest is so glaring why should superior sides play matches against them? This might appear condescending, but the quality of the team stood exposed in the first two one-dayers. At no point did the West Indian bowlers look good enough to take wickets nor did their batsmen look competent to overtake even a modest target. That makes the matches so uninteresting. This situation is neither good for the audience nor for the game.
Is there a solution? It’s for the minders of West Indian cricket to find out. But the decline is so shocking that the glory of Caribbean cricket can only be found in nostalgia.