Thursday, January 18, 2018

How long will progress last?


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"If this is progress, how long will it last?"

That query, from the classic calypso "Progress," penned by the undervalued Winsford "Joker" Devine, rings truer today in so many facets of life, even encompassing the relatively unimportant world of sport, than when it was first performed by King Austin more than 30 years ago.

Indeed, it is worth noting that when he delivered this enduring critique of modern civilisation on the Dimanche Gras stage in 1980 (earning the runners-up spot that year behind Lord Relator), West Indies cricket was at the very dawn of the greatest period of dominance in the history of any international sport, while the Trinidad and Tobago football squad was about to conquer the region and seemingly establish a solid foundation from which consistent development and even greater successes should have followed.

Yet here we are, more than 32 years on, trying to place things in context and wondering what shall be next in the aftermath of Test success in Bangladesh and a few hopeful signs from the national footballers across in the sister isle over the past five days. As with anything else, you can't afford to get carried away with a few encouraging developments, simply because the next setback may be just around the corner in the shape of a poor performance in the second and final Test, or sub-standard efforts at next month's Caribbean Cup Finals in Antigua/Barbuda…and that's assuming the scorelines from yesterday's final qualifying double-header at the Dwight Yorke Stadium—topped off by a decisive showdown with Cuba—would have gone our way.

For those of us who experienced and revelled in the virtual invincibility of the West Indies as a cricketing juggernaut for more than 15 years, it still feels like a humiliating admission of mediocrity to be even acknowledging, to say nothing of celebrating, a Test match win over a nation that probably shouldn't even have Test status. We all know the extenuating circumstances that resulted in the Bangladeshis sweeping the home side in the Caribbean in two Tests in 2009. That apart, they only have a solitary victory over Zimbabwe to show for 74 matches played since being granted the highest status just over 12 years ago.

It's like gulping down a bottle of Buckley's in one shot, I know, but we need to swallow the unpalatable reality that as much as West Indies cricket is revered and remembered throughout the cricketing world for its collective and awe-inspiring exploits pre-1995, it is the 17-and-a-bit years of struggle, turbulence and humiliation that have shaped our status now.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, one of three century-makers in the first innings of that first Test in Mirpur last week, is the last of the Mohicans from that glorious era. When the now 38-year-old was playing his first Test match at Bourda in Georgetown in 1994, Kieran Powell and Denesh Ramdin, who joined the veteran Guyanese in the first innings run-glut, were in short pants at primary school. Like everyone else in the squad, bar Chanderpaul, they have grown up and become part of a team that knows considerably more about losing than winning Test matches.

So while the instinctive reaction among the majority of us greying followers is to note that Powell's achievement of becoming just the ninth West Indian to score hundreds in both innings of a Test and Tino Best's match-winning five-wicket innings haul were "only" against Bangladesh, they still equate to upward steps. Yes, it's a very steep uphill climb after a long precipitous drop, and the loss of nine wickets for 64 runs in the second innings reminds us how difficult the challenge is. But we should have lowered our expectations a long time ago to avoid this constant hankering for the glory of an increasingly distant past that will probably never return in our lifetime.

Football places us in a similar dilemma. Not that we were ever world-beaters. We were, however, the best in the Caribbean for decades, capable of holding our own and even prevailing over the more experienced Central Americans. The disappointments of 1973 in Haiti and 1989 against the United States, followed by eventual qualification for Germany 2006, speak to a certain pedigree in the game. If nothing else, it was an acknowledgement that we were not to be taken lightly.

Yet last evening we were left hoping that Suriname would do us a favour and upset the Vincentians, just in case Cuba's Marcel Hernandez put on his scoring boots for the final duel in Bacolet. Unlike the cricketing experience, generally disappointing as it has been for almost two decades, football's poisonous politics, incorporating elements of exploitation and victimisation, has left many thoroughly disillusioned with the sport here.

A victim of what he described in his autobiography as Jack Warner's "ruthless behaviour" after guiding Trinidad and Tobago to the Caribbean title in 1981, Alvin Corneal's surreptitious removal as head coach then typifies the injustice and cronyism that, to many, defines the national game to this day.

In the midst of this, the pawns in these power-broking games—the players—are almost in a no-win situation. Fail to qualify for the Caribbean Cup finals and more scorn is poured on them. Advance to Antigua and critics will point out that our history in the game suggests that making it to the regional showpiece is nothing to crow about.

That is unless we appreciate, like West Indies cricket, the current state of play is far removed from the golden years.