Calypso cricket is back and how!
The new generation of cricket lovers won’t quite get it. Understand West Indies as they do through the flamboyant Chris Gayle or a Dwayne Bravo, the cute little jigs the players perform after a wicket or a victory and the general air of abandon about them, they may not realise this lot is the bearer of an enviable legacy. They would read the cricket the West Indians play through its yo-yo quality, brilliant one day miserable the other, but entertaining nevertheless; a threat to any rival on a given day but never perceived as serious contenders in a global cricketing event.
For the new age cricket fans, West Indies would be just any other team, evoking no special feeling or warmth. This was not the case a few decades ago. ‘Imperious’ is the word that sat perfectly on any team from the group of Caribbean islands in the 1970s and 1980s.
Players went about their game with a certain flamboyance that came with a happy-go-lucky touch. And they decimated rivals with a particular flair. Their brand of stroke-making was special and the bowlers from the islands evoked fear in batsmen the world over. The reputation of players sometimes travelled faster to foreign lands than the players themselves. One can still remember the excitement over Malcolm Marshall, the bowling great from Barbados, before his arrival in India the late 1970s.
We are not delving into the glory days of West Indies cricket, only underling the sense of awe they inspired before reducing themselves into also-rans in world cricket. There was Brian Lara somewhere alright, and also a Gayle scoring triple tons in Test cricket but the ferocious reputation of the team had taken a severe beating throughout the 1990s to the early decades of the new century. There were few takers for Test cricket and youngsters were moving to more remunerative sport like basketball. Those were the dark days.
West Indies seem to have come out of that disappointing phase finally, thanks to Twenty20 cricket. The victory of West Indies over India in the World T20 semi-finals and their performance in the preceding matches signal an important stage in the process of revival of Caribbean cricket. ‘Imperious’ is not the tag you would attach to this team nor does it carry the awe quotient of yore. Yet it’s a functional team that has been consistent in delivering the result. It is rather irrelevant whether they win the final against England, the performance already would be a massive booster dose for the game back home.
Calypso cricket combined entertainment with the game and came to define the brand of cricket West Indies played in those dark days. Many used it as a pejorative expression. The arrival of T20 offered some kind of legitimacy to this brand of cricket, albeit with a touch of gravitas. It doesn’t matter whether the West Indies are into the Calypso mode, but they have found their rhythm. The interest has to extend it to the longer formats of the game, for which there’s some disinterest in the islands.
With their performance here, the likes of Gayle, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russel, Lendl Simmons and Johnson Charles have raised a vision of great days for West Indian cricket. The unique brutal stroke-making is there as is the spirit of joie de vivre. The great fiery bowlers are missing in action though. The West Indies had never been short on potential but lacked the sense of application. It’s time they focused more. Old-timers won’t like them to be also-rans in world cricket but the force driving it.
West Indian cricket owes it to its die-hard fans. It has to display its beauty to the new generation.