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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The lost rhythm of calypso music

Considering the composition of membership on this site, it is not surprising that most of our cricket discussion tends to be subcontinent-centric. We tend to forget that apart from India and Pakistan, there are eight other cricket-playing nations out there – each with its history, challenges and aspirations.

For a change, I decided to take a detour from the India – Pakistan obsession and talk about something, not Indian or Pakistani, but still close to my heart.

It is about the West Indies. At the moment of writing, South Africa is visiting the West Indies and, not entirely unexpectedly, giving them a thrashing. This is not the greatest of South African sides but it does not take much nowadays to topple the once-mighty West Indians over. Soon it will be the turn of the Pakistanis to visit the Caribbean – and I am afraid there are all indications that the result is not likely to be very different.

Having seen the glory of the batting of Lloyd, Richards, Kallicharran, Greenidge and Fredericks and the bowling of Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner and Marshall, for me personally it is very painful to have to see the state of West Indian cricket now.

So what has gone so horribly wrong ? The obvious one is the dirty politics within the cricket administration. It was never going to be easy - considering the West Indies is a conglomeration of various countries in the Caribbean, each with its own proud identity. Imagine getting India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh under one banner and hoping not to have politics in the administration of this combine.

Full marks then to Sir Frank Worrell, one of the finest, if not the finest, statesman the game has ever produced. He was instrumental in bringing players of various Caribbean countries together, instilling in them a common cause and passion - to play for the West Indies. The results began to show. Whether you were Guyanese Clive Lloyd or Barbadian Gordon Greenidge or Antiguan Viv Richards, you were first and foremost West Indian on the international cricketing stage. To the tune of calypso music in the background, the West Indian players on the field would come together to demolish everything that stood before them.

But that was a different time and ethos. Just as success breeds success and failure failure, the decline of the West Indian powerhouse in the early nineties (after the departure of many prominent players) was perfect breeding ground for regional interests and politics to re-surface.

In the current atmosphere, everything seems to be in turmoil – from team selection, to the coach, to the major dispute about sponsor logo promotion. A superstar like Brian Lara seems to be constantly at the center of controversy – something that is definitely not doing the team cause any good. It does not matter whether this is justified or not – what matters is that the team spirit and motivation seem to be very low. This is hardly the team that Sir Frank Worrell would have envisaged. Once again, West Indian cricket is at odds with itself. Today, the politics in the West Indian cricket administration makes the BCCI look like a saint.

Another reason for the current decline of the West Indian side is, I think, the position of cricket in the Caribbean sports hierarchy. Once cricket held pride of place and talented sportsmen with multiple choices of sports as a profession, would opt proudly for cricket. Those days are long gone by. Even sports such as beach volleyball seem to be gaining in popularity and the influence of American sports and wealth seems to have pushed cricket somewhere into a corner. One can only speculate that cricket's loss has been some other sport's gain.

A third reason is, I believe, the pitches in the West Indies. At one time, they were sporting wickets and were result-oriented. They provided a challenge to batsmen and were often a bowler's delight. Today, the tables have turned - many of the pitches are almost dead pitches, the batsmen flatter themselves while bowlers toil away with scant reward. This cannot be good for the game - as is witnessed in diminishing numbers at the gates. Which means less takings, less interest in the sport, less TV rights - a vicious cycle at its most vicious. I am sure there are many other reasons - it is too simplistic to try to attribute such a shocking decline to just two or three reasons. But let us hope, for the sake of the game and for West Indies cricket, that they can rise from this level. They just have to.

I counted yesterday the track record of the players in this last Test. The eleven players have 130 Test wickets between them, with Chris Gayle having the maximum - a rich 30. The best bowling average was Bravo – an average of over 33. That in itself tells a story of the experience of these bowlers. And bowling on an Antiguan wicket, it is hardly a surprise that the South African openers have both helped themselves to hundreds.
My thoughts go out to the late Malcolm Marshall – one of my favourite cricketers and one of the best bowlers the world has seen in the last thirty years. He must be turning in his grave at the quality of fast bowling being dished out by West Indian bowlers today.
Although there are a lot of concerns about the West Indies hosting its first World Cup, I personally think that if it would help increase interest and money in the game in the region, it would be a fantastic thing to happen. Every other region (England, South Asia, Australasia, South Africa) has had its chance - and the West Indies is the rightful place for the next Cup. If there is renewed passion in the game and , very importantly, more money is poured into West Indian cricket to make it a career of choice (let's face it, in today's commercial environment , it is money that talks) , I think there is a good chance we will see a revival. Probably not in the immediate future, but over the next four or five years.
But then I have always been an optimist.

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