Hundred all out! That’s a telling scoreline. It tells the story of how much pride is now left in the present West Indies squad.
The itinerant Indians shot out Jason Holder’s boys for that paltry score after setting them a target of 418 runs, in the first Test, at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, in Antigua, recently. Jasprit Bumrah returned figures of 8-4-7-5 in that second knock, while Ishant Sharma (3-31) and Mohammad Shami (2-13) contributed to the rout. The batsmen put up a pathetic show and one couldn’t help but feel sorry for the sharp decline in West Indies’ batting standards.
In fact, the West Indies teams in the latter half of the twentieth century thrived on pride and self-worth. Dominated by whites for a long time, when players of the calibre of the 3Ws, Gary Sobers, Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai and others emerged from the shadows, the Caribbean players performed essentially for pride. Clive Lloyd’s team of the 1970s and 80s was a feared one, with some great batsmen like Gordon Greenidge, Des Haynes, Viv Richards and others, besides dreaded pacemen like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner etc in their ranks. Winning and self-esteem were deeply intertwined in their psyche.
That pride, that determination has now gone missing. The present West Indies Test squad is what the late Dilip Sardesai would have termed a ‘Popatwadi side’.
It was in 1990, if I am not mistaken, that Greg Thomas, the England quick bowler had said to Richards, in a County match, “It’s red, round and weighs 5 ½ ounces,” after beating him with the new ball a few times. The next ball was hoisted out of the ground and into a river close by. Walking down the wicket, with his usual swag, Richards had said to Thomas, “You know what it looks like, don’t you Greg? Go fetch it, man.” That for me was Caribbean pride.
In an Australia-World XI match at Melbourne, in 1972, Dennis ‘The Menace’ Lillee had promised to show Sobers how quick he could bowl after the former had been bounced out by the great all-rounder. “I’ll look forward to it,” Sobers had told Lillee. Scoring a masterly 254, he had reserved special punishment for the big fast bowler in that knock. That for me was Caribbean pride.
Balvinder Singh Sandhu tells the story of a Test match in the West Indies in 1983. Petering out into a tame draw, the only interest left in that match was whether Kapil Dev would get to his hundred, when Sandhu walked in to bat without a helmet over his turbaned head. When the skipper saw that he hadn’t worn a helmet, he was furious. “Bloody hell, sardar, they’ll blow your brains off. Where’s your helmet?” “Everybody is packed and ready to move, paaji,” he had replied. “There are no helmets in the dressing room.” Joel Garner, who had seen this as an insult, bowled six bouncers at Sandhu. He survived, Kapil Dev got his hundred and the match was called off. Garner wasn’t bothered about another wicket in his kitty; his pride had been hurt!
In 1976, when the West Indies led by Clive Lloyd toured England, Tony Greig, the England captain had told reporters, before the series began, that he would make the tourists grovel. Angered by his statement, the West Indies won the 5-Test series 3-0 and made Greig grovel instead. That for me was Caribbean pride.
When I watch the West Indies batting now, I am reminded of that famous Johnny Walker song from the Bollywood movie, Mr & Mrs ’55: “Jaane kahan mera jigar gaya ji.” What a fall from those heady days, when batsmen and fast bowlers from the West Indies dominated world cricket.
Jofra Archer was born in Bridgetown, Barbados on All Fools Day in 1995. But he was no fool. He knew there was no pride left in West Indies cricket, after representing the islands at the Under 19 level. He therefore opted to play for England. Archer played a significant role in England’s first-ever World Cup win and is now contributing substantially to a probable, come-from-behind, Ashes series win. He takes pride in his performances.
We were told, before the series against India commenced that Brian Lara, one of the finest batsmen the world has seen, was preparing the West Indies players psychologically for the challenges ahead. If he has been working on their mental game, as reported, then it doesn’t seem to have worked.
After the rout in the first Test at Antigua, Richards came out in praise of Bumrah. He said that he would prefer facing Lillee rather than the Indian opening bowler. Curtly Ambrose, the big fast bowler who claimed 405 wickets in 98 Tests said, “The pace, the aggression, the hostility, the craft. The way he outclasses the batsmen, the way he out-thinks them, he could have been one of us.” Roberts too felt that the West Indies team of his times could have done with somebody like Bumrah, with his freak action and game sense.
I am sure a lot of Indian fans are happy that Richards, Ambrose and Roberts have praised the Indian pace ace for his skills and his wily, cricketing brain. But if I were a follower of the game in the Caribbean Isles, I would have liked the legends to come out with their opinion and eulogy after the series was over. In all probability, the West Indies top order would be working on sorting him out and getting a strategy in place before the second Test, which will have commenced in Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica on 30 August. In that sense, I therefore believe that the icons would have done their team a bit of disservice, ahead of that Test.
Australia’s past players have been frugal in their praise for England’s bowlers, especially Archer, who have helped their side fight their way back into the series. In Ashes series, neither England nor Australia likes to cede an inch of space to the other. Some of West Indies’ past players, who have gone over the top with praise for Bumrah, were the ones who were offended by Greig’s ‘grovel’ statement in 1976. Therefore, they would have done their team a favour by keeping the praise a bit subdued till the end of the series.
Sometimes I wonder if the ‘lack-of-pride’ bug has also bitten the legends. Where are those men from the West Indies who, not long ago, would cackle and do the high-fives when an opposition batsman danced to chin music? Commentating during the first Test, as Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach bowled to the Indians, Sunil Gavaskar asked, “Where are the bouncers?” That, in one sentence, sums up the timidity that now pervades cricket on the Caribbean Isles.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he doesn’t believe in calling a spade a shovel
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