The first place I turned to in the book by Hilary McD Beckles, Cricket without a Cause: Fall and Rise of the Mighty West Indies Test Cricketers was the index. I was struck by the absence of subjects like ‘coach’, ‘defamation’, ‘IPL’, ‘Lawson Packer,’ ‘preparation’, ‘pitches’, ‘psychologist’, ‘scheduling’ and ‘suspension’, and by the number of photographs of the author throughout the book. I did not despair, because I knew the author had a formidable reputation. At the back I noticed the odd sentence: “The result is a book that captures the crisis of West Indian post-independence society and economy that has ruptured and sold the soul of the Windies game.” I am still not sure who did the selling.
Success and failure in sport are not common challenges for top academics like Professor Beckles, so it is not surprising that the latter would seek an explanation for the condition of West Indies cricket in a thesis that reflected his status as a major thinker. In substance that thesis was grounded in economics, with the IMF being the major culprit. To get there, in my view, it was necessary to find evidence of identifiable worsening in the economic conditions of working people, and indeed, of governments in a significant period before the beginning of the decline. One very good reason for rejecting this thesis is that no such evidence has been provided, but just as important, it would border on the ridiculous to imply that at any time in modern West Indian history, economic conditions were rosy for working people, and that during the period we were very good, say from 1948 to the end of the 1980s that fiscal policy in the region was expansive, although, in fairness, the Labour parties that governed for a good part of that period were more worker friendly than at other times.
The trouble with Professor Beckles’s analysis is that he treats the WICB as if it were the state; 5 day cricket as if it is still the only form of cricket; that many past great West Indian cricketers were infused with ideological commitment; that the IPL increased players earnings by 50 per cent, while in many cases it was 500 percent; that the bigger countries only tried to hurt West Indies cricket without making enormous investments in their own game; and that he compared Christopher Gayle’s leadership style to that of a gang leader in a Sir Frank Worrell lecture, some years ago, so he felt no compunction about using expressions like “cash before country” or “cricketers versus country” in discussing the legitimate issues with which players were confronted.
The writer, having served on the board of the WICB, and having been an adviser to it, finds it difficult to recognise or to admit what a prominent role that board played in the decline of West Indies cricket. The inability of the board’s leaders to make the adjustments in management made necessary by dramatic changes in the game like the emergence of the IPL, left the region out in the cold and never able to field its best team.
The subjects I noted that did not appear in the index are all critical to an appreciation of twenty-first century West Indies cricket. How can one write about Sobers’ pain in Sri Lanka without reference to his troubles with regard to his early visit to South Africa, or the needless suspension of the coach immediately preceding that Sri Lankan tour. In short the book falls very short of its objective because of the author’s lack of objectivity.