The crumbling of WI cricket

 

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Category: Trinidad Society 09 Nov 14

 

“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 a game.

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 ‘self-harming.’”

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur