Sport sometimes mirrors life. Cricket lovers in the West Indies worry about the future of the game for good reason. It is an arena in which the region despite its limited financial and human resources, has competed as an equal, and had actually dominated for a long period. A sociologist once used the West Indies team of the 1970s and 1980s as one of the institutions in an academic study of confidence. Trying to understand why the regional team has been in the doldrums for so long is not only understandable, but a strong argument can be made that it is important. I believe one avenue for investigation is the attitude of administrators and other people of influence to the cricketers, who have been, after all, responsible for the success of the game in the region. The long history of disputes between ‘star’ players and the administration is well documented. An article in a recent edition of the Indian Express by Bharat Sundaresan on his long search for the West Indian legend Patrick Patterson, ought to be read and contrasted with, for example, Tony Becca’s reaction to the WICB’s decision to review its ridiculous selection eligibility criteria. The Indian writer obviously had great performance memories of the fast bowler Patrick Patterson for whom he searched with tenacity and dedication for a significant period. It is a safe inference from the article that he received no help from West Indian cricket people either officially or unofficially. The search was in the nature of a mission, and its completion seemed enormously satisfying. Notably, Mr Sundaresan appeared as keen about Patterson the man as he was about Patterson, the fast bowler.
About five years earlier I had the privilege to read the findings of another Indian writer’s shorter and less intense search to learn more of the life of the talented Marlon Samuels during an Indian tour of the West Indies. That article gave me a better look at the forces that might have been most responsible for shaping Samuels’ cricket life than I had been able to find anywhere. Again the obvious interest in the characters and the lives of these cricketers ‘off the pitch’, and concern for their welfare, contrasted with what I had become accustomed to from Caribbean cricket people. Mr Becca, on the other hand, while not expressing opposition to the WICB’s apparent willingness to make a change in selection policy that would not only obviously improve the team`s performance, but would have an enormously beneficial impact on the financial well-being of several players, was ambivalent, finding it necessary to warn the WICB about the potential dangers to West Indies cricket from cricketers not being sufficiently willing to sacrifice money for patriotism.
A lack of interest in and fondness for their cricketers have always seemed to be the hallmarks of the attitude of the most influential West Indian cricket people. Those negative sentiments seem to increase as the period of their dominance receded. In the search for causes of the apparent inability of the region’s cricketers to rebound, we cannot discount the lack of affection. In thinking about this issue I often recall Earl Lovelace’s language in the short piece Like when somebody dead: “West Indian commentators have a vocabulary less of appreciation than of censure. There is a sense of reproof and impatience that they inflict on West Indian players, making them more frequently the objects rather than the subjects of their constructions”