The results of the West Indies’ Test series against Sri Lanka do not make for pretty reading. They were comprehensively beaten in both Tests mainly because the West Indies batsmen could only manage three half-centuries in four innings – two to Darren Bravo who, however, yet again failed to convert promising starts into big scores. To compound matters, Denesh Ramdin and Marlon Samuels, now the most senior players, with the selectors having called time on Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s storied career, were woeful with the bat, averaging 14.5 and 7.5 respectively.
The young captain, Jason Holder, has admitted that his batsmen “were not patient enough” and had to “work on their temperament and shot selection”. In other words, they lacked the discipline and technique to occupy the crease for any meaningful period in testing conditions. Nevertheless, Mr Holder felt duty-bound to mouth the usual platitudes about “learning”, “progressing” and “looking at ways to get better”.
Mr Holder’s optimism is admirable but hardly realistic given the current state of West Indies cricket. There is no need though to recap the well-known, deep-rooted structural and organisational problems afflicting what we hesitate to continue calling ‘our regional game’. The real question now is whether the condition is terminal.
In this respect, a letter last Friday, from retired Trinidadian-Canadian judge and avid West Indies cricket fan Romain Pitt, has raised an interesting issue. Mr Pitt is perturbed by a Jamaica Gleaner article by columnist Oral Tracey, on October 20, which, among other things, avers, “The natural athleticism, speed, strength, agility plus typically short attention span make the Caribbean cricketer the perfect fit for T20.” Mr Pitt finds the statement to be inherently racist and counters that “such generalizations are absurd and counterproductive, and exacerbate the pain experienced by those West Indian fans who so badly want the best for their team.”
We can understand Mr Pitt’s pain. Five years ago (SN, November 12, 2010), we bristled when Trinidadian cricket writer Vaneisa Baksh argued that West Indies cricket was suffering from “weakness of character” and controversially but presciently asserted, “I believe that in Test cricket, West Indies is a spent force… there is no point in denying that Twenty20 has become the game of our time. It fits today’s culture and West Indian cricketers are well suited for it, and with the right guidance, can find some resurrection here. Test cricket requires strategy, technique, discipline and long periods of focus; the difference with Twenty20 is that it asks for short intense bursts of concentration – and how often have we lamented that our cricketers can only hold it together for a few overs? We can channel this Test flaw into a Twenty20 strength I think.”
We feared then that Ms Baksh’s opinion approximated outdated metropolitan attitudes which stereotyped our cricketers and our character. More critically, we could not bring ourselves to acknowledge that the struggles and achievements of the likes of George Headley, Learie Constantine, Frank Worrell, Gary Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards could, in the space of one generation, count for naught.
The truth, of course, hurts, all the more when it is uttered by one of our own and not a foreigner to whom we might ascribe prejudice and ill-will. Five years after Ms Baksh’s indictment of the state of West Indies cricket and, by extension, the West Indian temperament, Mr Tracey is even more hard-nosed and pessimistic, arguing that “”social, cultural and cricket dynamics have significantly shifted over the past two decades and have effectively forced West Indies cricket into relative obscurity. Those are not restricted to the ineptitude of successive boards and administrators.” And, to the dismay of many like Mr Pitt, to the purists and die-hard supporters who long for a return to the glory days, Mr Tracey categorically states, “West Indies cricket will never return to what it used to be.”
Worse, in his column on October 27, Mr Tracey finds in Sir Garfield Sobers’ tearful observation in Sri Lanka, six days earlier, that “a lot of West Indian players today want to make Test cricket and do well because the IPL is just around the corner,” poignant proof that the commitment to the West Indian cause is not what the greatest cricketer to have walked this planet embodied, not what it used to be. This, for Mr Tracey, is “the fundamental problem crippling West Indies cricket” and he even sees in Sir Garfield’s tears “an acknowledgement that West Indies cricket has passed the point of no return.”
Whether Mr Tracey is right or not remains to be seen. But for Sir Garfield, the man who gave so many West Indians and people around the world so much joy to have choked up uttering the following words, must count as one of the saddest moments in West Indies cricket: “And that hurts and until we can get people who are willing to play for West Indies in the right way, I think that we’re going to be struggling for a long time.”
Sir Garfield’s hurt is, of course, our own hurt and we should all be weeping with him, even as some of us hold on to the faint hope that people who are willing to play for West Indies “in the right way” and people who are willing to run West Indies cricket “in the right way” can be found.