From the mid 1970s to the end of the 1980s the world was still in a Cold War, the final embers of the Vietnam War were extinguished (but not forgotten), apartheid was still in force and the Berlin Wall was still very much a barrier to entry.
But within this seemingly politicised gloom, several individuals started the sparks that led to the fire of social change. Nelson Mandela, even though he was incarcerated on Robben Island, became the martyred representation of freedom and equality for all those subjugated under apartheid’s morally bankrupt rule in South Africa. In the field of technology, the 80s was a time of bold expansion and discovery, with the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates leading the silicon revolution that would form a salient part of how the world became “globalised”.
On the cricket field, there was a dark (the literal one) menace that the rest of world feared and respected but that brought the greatest light to the field. The West Indies side of the late 70s and throughout the 80s moved from cricket diocesan to cricket diocesan, bringing their own brand of cricket doctrine to the shores of their rivals. The famous “Blackwashed” series of 1984 and 1985/86 was the most ruthless display of West Indies power in the decade, subjecting England to consecutive 5-0 losses. Talk about the Empire striking back.
Since these heady salad days, the hubris that once surrounded Caribbean cricket has done a complete 360-degree turn. While their slide into mediocrity was slow, with the efforts of champions such as Walsh, Ambrose (one of my favourite cricketers) and Lara — I would choose him over Tendulkar if I had to make a choice — papered over the cracks. But once theses champions of the circled ring disappeared into the sunset, their replacements were not up to the task.
Australia became the pre-eminent force in world cricket and now an epoch shift is taking place once more with several challengers vying for world supremacy. The West Indies is not one of those parties, with the leading players such as Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Jerome Taylor all being embroiled over a contract dispute between the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players Association.
The seeds for the current dispute were sowed back in 2005 when the first dispute over revenue took place. Now with a second-string side being sent to the Champions Trophy in South Africa, where did it all go wrong?
Like any sport, cricket needs players to take up the game as children and from there the correct structures need to be in place to harness and channel that talent to the correct places to maximise the Caribbean’s playing potential. Is the West Indies doing this? Though there are academies in place, the current impasse, in the words of highly respected commentator Tony Cozier, was a power struggle for the control of West Indies cricket, and to take it one step further, perhaps its soul.
There are other excuses such as the influence of American sports, but with the administration currently tied in a war against the very people they are meant to be assisting, a big royal mess has been the result. I find it difficult to believe that the influence of American sports can diminish the passion, history and esteem the West Indies’ “public” hold for cricket. There will always be a place for cricket in the Caribbean, and until the administrators and players come to an agreement, their infighting will only serve to rot the game from its core.
One thing is clear, and that is the importance of the West Indies in cricketing circles. Many cricketers say their favourite tour is the one to the West Indies, because the Caribbean represents a totally different continent and cultural take on the game, and one which enriches it. The “calypso” style of play has become a firm piece of cricket’s lexicon due to the exploits of the West Indies’ past heroes. Sir Garfield Sobers was the first man to hit six sixes in an over in first class cricket, and Brian Lara is the only man to have held and broken the world record twice. His current record of 400* will stand for many years to come.
If the men in purple were to fade from significance or end up in the 2nd division, if ever a Test World Championship were conceived, the game would be poorer for it. We need the West Indies as much as the West Indies needs us (by which I mean the rest of world cricket).
Let us hope they make it back from the brink and ensure that cricket never becomes bland, as much as the game’s detractors say it is. You, the cricket fan, and I know different but without a competitive West Indies side in our corner, the task to convince others becomes much more difficult.