Whither withering Windies?

By Sheila Rampersad

 Wishing the West Indies better fortunes in 2014 at the moment seems just that—a wish; it is one that is unlikely to be realised. If, as Clive Lloyd concluded, the team is drunk on T20 cricket, they must be drinking bad babash for in a 50-over game reduced to 21, the team limped to 124 at a run rate of 5.90 an over; this was their response to record-setting ODI centuries from Corey Anderson and Jesse Ryder that allowed the Kiwis to amass a staggering 283—a run rate of 13.47 an over.

And this was in just one outing of the ten scheduled in the land of Fernleaf butter and Anchor cheese.

Lack of commitment, player dissension, mysterious management decisions and injuries comprise the all-too-tedious recitation of woes that has defined the team’s performance in the last two decades.

In the romantic cricketing relationship between game and people, those of us who still love and despair at the game exist in an abusive coupling. We believe after each thrashing that it’s the last time; overstate minor achievements as fundamental transformation; forecast uninterrupted sunny days from occasional rays; hasten to declare that they change, they change; despair deeper at inevitable, painful breaches; rout them with raw and relentless rage; steups them away in reverse psychology; swear never again, never again; and then return for more anguish.

New Zealand has exploited West Indian instability before in remarkably similar circumstances. In 1999/2000 the WI departed for New Zealand one year following their historic and calamitous tour of post-apartheid South Africa which was preceded by an equally historic player strike at Heathrow Airport over contract matters; in the new Mandela South Africa where the WI was asked to set an example for young, black South Africans who had started to flood into the game, the Lara-led side recorded a 5-0 whitewash in the Tests and a 6-1 embarrassment in the ODIs. 

Transport Tony Cozier’s requiem then to now: “Above all, we need to save our cricket…The passion of our people for it withers with each successive controversy and each new humbling defeat.” 

By the time the WI left New Zealand, they had lost the Tests 2-0 and the ODIs 5-0. I happened to be in New Zealand 13 years ago. I saw a red-eyed, haunted Brian Lara board the team bus after the last ODI; he would resign the captaincy one month later. He described the thrashing by New Zealand thus: “Everyone is hurt, but there is no one to blame but us. It’s a greater hurt than in South Africa because it’s a year later and you expect it to make a difference.”

Jimmy Adams, dependable cricketer and plain talker, spoke of that tour with words that, like Cozier’s, transcend the decade intervening: “A lot of us were going through a heap of emotions: anger, frustration; again you didn’t have the feeling of a unit…it was just a collection of players that had come down to play cricket for six weeks…”

West Indies cricket has become a dream killer, for players and public, in a period of Caribbean development (or lack thereof) when the region most needs dreams—and belief in them—to evolve out of desperation.

Cricketers and cricketing management have failed superbly. Like the ugliness of regional politics, the ugliness of cricket politics is devastating to Caribbean people who, as PJ Patterson wrote in 2009, two years into the rejection of his cricket-governance report, have made their greatest cultural investment in cricket.

“They have also attached to cricket their finest hopes and aspirations in the struggle to distance themselves from an ancient, debilitating colonial scaffold,” Patterson wrote in the Jamaica Gleaner. “This investment has yielded a priceless, public asset and its preservation should be seen as the peoples’ business.”

But just as initiatives for political change are left to the people who desire it least, so too change in cricket governance is left to the WICB, the organisation least desirous of so doing and which Cozier accurately renamed the West Indies Cricket Board of Crisis, Conflict, Controversy and Confusion. Thus the 2007 Patterson report, all its 138 pages and 65 recommendations, has been sitting on a shelf somewhere, its pages yellowing like the yellow-bellied displays out in the middle.

The time has come and gone, and come and gone, and come and gone for restructuring the 1927 model of governance for WI cricket. An arrogant, omnipotent WICB cannot continue with sole and arbitrary ownership of Caribbean pride, our emotional and cultural investment. 

After the 1998 Heathrow hotel strike, Dinanath Ramnarine, on his first overseas tour with the team, described the WICB as using “a big-stick mentality that you should be honoured to play for the West Indies and be prepared to play under any conditions. There was never any negotiation, you just had to take what was given…”

Everyone knows the problems. Many know the solutions. But who will force change? If regional politics is any guide, none of us will. Our visceral attachment to this thing called West Indies cricket will strain until it is no more, leaving us, our magnificence, the simple joy of bat and ball, and the dreams of young geniuses like Lara stranded in mid-evolution. 

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