During the 1996 cricket World Cup, a beer brand rolled out its official advertisement featuring the West Indies cricket team, and an entire generation fell in love with the Calypso Kings. The ads — there was an entire series of them — show the players drinking beer, high-fiving each other, lounging about the pool, wearing gold chains the size and number we’d only before seen on Bappi-da, grooving to the jazziest ad jingle of all time, basically living the good life. This, while everybody else was going on about how the mighty West Indies have fallen. They didn’t seem to agree.
It’s been 20 years since but that script is still running strong. In 1996, West Indies were beaten by minnows Kenya, then fought back to make it to the semi-finals. In 2016, they were defeated by Afghanistan but have since become champions. Back then, they played with a smile on their faces, they are doing so with a skip and a hop today. It’s almost as if they are telling the world: We’re just here to have some fun, results will take care of themselves. That alone is why the West Indies are the absolute embodiment of everything ‘cool’.
More importantly, that is the reason why they are every neutral fan’s favourites, even here in India, the country they knocked out in the semi-finals.
In India, home to world cricket’s snazziest T20 league, disillusionment has set in about the corporatisation of the sport. Cricket has undergone its own version of the industrial revolution, and brands and promotions own almost every aspect of the game. While it has brought money, the commercialisation has also adversely affected the viewer experience where falling of a wicket or even tying of the bootlaces present a chance to break into advertisements. With the proliferation of T20 leagues all around the world, traditional cricket rivalries have diluted as a Bengaluru now cheers as much for Virat Kohli as it does for AB de Villiers or Chris Gayle.
Amid this redrawing of the rules and lines, the Caribbean joie de vivre harks back to an earlier, more innocent time. Which is why, perhaps, the world danced and acted as the unofficial cheerleaders for the Men in Maroon.
Because the West Indies remind us why we like the sport so much in the first place. They play like we used to when we first began playing. Back in gully cricket, there were no backroom staff, no statisticians to tell us our averages while chasing, no video analysts to point out a particular opponent’s weak zones. A six was just anything that sailed over the compound wall; nothing was a ‘DLF Maximum’ while a wicket could be a one-bounce catch but not a ‘Citi Moment of Success’.
But most importantly, we just picked up a bat and a ball and started playing. Quite often when there were a million other things which needed to be done. Which is, if you think about it, pretty much what happened here as well.
You can see a little bit of that devil-may-care attitude in the West Indies players. At a time when the sport has become a matter of life and death, a business conglomerate to be run in the most efficient (or corrupt) manner possible, there are these merry men who go about their sport with the grand idea of having fun. At the end of the day, a sport remains a sport, something you started doing just to have fun, they seem to tell one another; and no point doing it now if you’re no longer having fun.
The really enterprising among us would even venture a guess about how successful would this team become if you were to marry their considerable talents with all the backroom gadgetry that is available today. But something tells me Gayle wouldn’t really bother taking tips from a man who tries telling him to leave the one that swings away.
And sure, this approach does explain their lowly Test ranking, their inability to produce consistent results, the sheer unprofessionalism with which they go about, well... everything. But to risk a philosophical point, would you do something well knowing you might perhaps lose all interest in it?