By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, Sept. 6, 2019)
“What do they know of cricket who only cricket knows?” — CLR James, “Beyond the Boundary”.
“The International Cricket Council should do everything possible to ensure that West Indies cricket is revived.” — Ian Chappell, former Australian cricket captain.
The sad state of West Indies cricket is troubling. Not only to those of us who grew up in the Caribbean or came of age when the mighty West Indies of Greenidge and Haynes, Richards and Lloyd, Kallicharran and Gomes, Richardson and Dujon, Roberts and Holding, Marshall and Garner, conquered and dominated the cricketing arenas for a decade and a half. No team before or after has been so intimidating and dominating.
For Caribbean people, for black people wherever they resided, the triumph and supremacy of a bunch of young black professionals, particularly when they forced the former colonial masters and their ilk in England, Australia and New Zealand to scream, complain and surrender, even as they bent the rules of the game to blunt the West Indies’ effectiveness, was nothing short of poetic justice.
During the high tide of West Indies cricket, the team was playing for pride and respect; for independence, against apartheid and oppression. This is why Caribbean people were so hurt and felt so betrayed when a bunch of renegade players signed contracts to play in South Africa as “honorary whites”. This is why Vivian Richards, apart from his legendary greatness as a batsman, captain and player, is so revered for his refusal to sign a blank cheque to play in racist South Africa.
At least from the 1960s fight to get a black captain, cricket was seen as more than just a game. The maroon WI Cap was more than headgear. Then we looked beyond the boundary, to matters of race, class and manhood. We knew that to win was to gain respect and reputation; there was no money in the game then. It was only after the Kerry Packer World Series that cricket became financially attractive. In those days, Richards stroked the ball to the boundary, tapped his red, black and green wristband, sneered at the bowler and said “Black power”.
Before we dominated the game of cricket, we were known as “calypso cricketers”. a merry-go-lucky bunch. We entertained, but lacked the stamp of consistency and prolonged success. The moment we mastered the art of professionalism and success, our cricketers were labelled “marauders” and worse. Couple black with dominance and success, and you have the perfect menace. Sadly, today we are again reduced to calypso cricketers, laughingstock really, because our team cannot even entertain. Five-day games end in three; T20s end after 15, and one-day games are completed within 35 overs.
What has gone wrong? Sorry to disappoint, but it is not the usual suspects: administrators, selection panel or players. Their roles are marginal to the demise. The problem lies in the way cricket has been marketed and the manner in which the spoils have been distributed. As entertainment and results took precedence over fight, determination and survival, One-day cricket, and then T20 cricket gained dominance. Cricket was reduced to 6s, 4s, runs, wickets, winners, losers, instant gratification. Test Cricket is said to be too long and boring.
What has this done to West Indies Cricket? Michael Holding tells the story that when the West Indies lost its first game in World Series Cricket, Kerry Packer demanded excellence and success, or he would end the sponsorship. The players took the threat to heart, went on a fitness, training and practice regime that built WI cricket into the fiercest fighting and most successful machine ever assembled in cricket.
With the emergence, emphasis and predominance of limited overs cricket, WI cricketers reverted to old habits: lack or insufficient attention to personal fitness, training and practice.
In a T20 match, 45 runs can turn a game. Sixty by a middle order player may win it. Not so in a Test Match. There is not enough scheduling of the long version of the game. Test cricket is demonised and marketed as a dying species. Consequently, our cricketers no longer follow the mantra “Bat long”. The popularity of “Casino cricket” in the Indian Players League (IPL), where mediocre players can instantly become millionaires, adds to our cricketing woes. No one cares to play for the West Indies.
The Ashes series between Australia and England, and the Test series between India and Australia, offer ample proof that test cricket is the ultimate test of the mettle of athletes. It is marketable, entertaining, and popular, and can remain successful. People will pay to go see good, competitive test cricket.
A WI revival in cricket will only come when we create the conditions to build a determined fighting team in the test arena. Our batsmen dominated because they seldom gave their wickets away. Currently, we have skilled players, but cricket, with all of its scientific innovations, has gone past skill. Our players need to add technique.
They have to look at tapes of themselves and opponents, and study them, correct weaknesses and build on strengths. Most of all, they have to learn to occupy the crease for long periods. This will only come through practice. Science has determined that a professional needs at least 10,000 hours of practice to be successful and remain successful. The swing to the hills mentality that is prevalent among our cricketers must be discouraged. The great Everton Weekes scored 4,455 test runs, averaged 58.62 and struck ONLY one six.
We need to create wickets that will encourage our bowlers. Don Bradman asked why would a cricketer want to be a bowler. Well, he may want to be one if the wickets offer encouragement rather than batsmen’s paradises.
Finally, high-level sports and performances is a developed society affair. Sadly, the ICC is dominated by India, Australia and England. Over 75% of the money generated by international cricket is divvied up between these three countries. This lack of financing to fund cricketing programmes, build academies, train young cricketers in the fine art of scientific training, physical and mental development may partly explain why WI is competitive in Under-15 and Under-19 cricket world rankings where raw talent is evident, but players flounder and fail to emerge into test and international prominence.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and theGrenadines.
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