“All empires crumble. But the speed
with which West Indies have plummeted from their status as world
champions—and they were the greatest team of all time in the 1980s—is
alarming, exacerbated by this self-harming.
Without being in any way alarmist, it
is foreseeable that cricket in the West Indies will soon be reduced to
occasional Tests against England, home and away.”—The
Daily Telegraph (UK)
“What do they know of cricket who only
cricket know?” CLR James, Beyond A Boundary. You don’t have to be a
cricket fan to know what the game means to India or the West Indies. I
grew up watching throngs of people on crowded streets, ears glued to
transistor radios, others crouching around a radio, on the floor, in
shops listening to cricket commentary, to boys using sticks, stones,
anything to make a cricket pitch, to the sight of cricket grounds,
blinding white on fit cricket players, and cork balls.
On arrival in Delhi a few years back,
the first thing to greet me was a massive billboard of a smiling Brian
Lara. People all over the world look puzzled when you tell them you are
from Trinidad, only to see a gleam of admiration and recognition when
you mention the enchanted words “Brian Lara.” We all know it’s more than
The sporting world was stunned after the
West Indies pulled out of its October-November 2014 tour to India.
India, left high and dry—with 17 days of international cricket to be
played on the tour—three Tests, a one-day international and a T20—was
livid. The move was apparently not only ruinous for the West Indies’
reputation but its finances. The Indian cricket board is threatening to
sue the West Indian board for US$42 million and appears legally to be on
solid ground. From India to the UK, from Australia to the West Indies
the aftershock commentaries and news stories have been coming hard and
fast in the media.
I turned to an Indian who has been
faithful to cricket as long as he can remember. “As a schoolboy, I
travelled 80 miles in November 1948, to New Delhi to witness the first
Test match between West Indies and India. The excitement created by that
West Indies team at Ferozeshah Kotla grounds where the match was played
was fever pitch in a jam-packed crowd. West Indies did not
disappoint—their first three batsmen, among the best in the world at
that time—Alan Rae, Jeffrey Stollmeyer and George Headley—were sent back
to the pavilion by an Indian medium-pace bowler for a mere 27 runs.
Clyde Walcott and Gerry Gomez remained for the remainder of the day,
scoring some 294 runs.
“Since then, the West Indies team has
remained the most favourite international team to Indians. I do not
remember any talk of money for the players then. The advent of IPL in
2008 changed all that. Players were auctioned for hefty sums and they
became aware of their earning powers.
“They realised they were not dependent
on often uncaring boards and players’ associations for their livelihood.
Lack of patriotism and loyalty to fans are contributing to the crumbling
of cricket in the West Indies. They are unlikely to regain their 1948-
like enthusiasm for them in India any time soon.”
Jeremy Matouk, a Trini whose passion for
cricket is encapsulated in his e-mail, which includes the word “hitwicket,”
said this: “India vs WI has a long history, especially given the huge
Indian populations in the WI and the fact that when they play in India,
WI players of Indian descent are seen almost as distant cousins.
Test matches in the Oval used to have
sizeable sections of Indian supporters born and bred in the WI,
especially Trinidad and Guyana. Thirty years ago, the current situation
would have been unthinkable.
“Today, the financial stakes are all
that matter. India’s passion for cricket has created the perfect cash
cow for investors, most of whom know nothing about cricket. Beneath all
that is the ever simmering insularity that has always plagued WI cricket
and the selectors' choices. It is a mirror through which we can look
into the soul of WI society. That is why CLR James said that cricket
goes beyond the boundary.
“But in the denouement—the ‘who is to
blame?’ (nitty-gritty crisis talks, the breakdown of communication
between the players, their union, WIPA, and the West Indies Cricket
Board over their new collective agreement which reportedly dropped their
wages by 75 per cent, the refusal to mediate in India by the team)—one
thing is clear, that West Indies cricket reflects what we feel about
ourselves as a region.
“What is that? It’s
becoming a region where there is very little patriotism, where we don’t
move as a team, where it’s each man for himself; where those in power
play the high-handed card, and those with less power retaliate with full
force, not caring about the blood they splash on an already broken
society. Where money and power remain the twin gods of all things. We
may think we are on the right track, but by abandoning every vestige of
altruism, every idea of the higher public good, we are indeed