Hardly a week goes by in the Caribbean without some disappointed West Indies cricket fan bemoaning the slide of the team that was once at the top but now is bouncing around at the bottom. In recent days I’ve seen some trenchant comments from former WI cricket maestros, such as the likes of Deryck Murray and Michael Holding, on the topic (I gaff with them occasionally) and I even found myself suggesting to Deryck, who, apart from keeping wicket, also has a way with words, that he should tackle the “what happened” subject and thereby enlighten the rest of us. I suspect that Mr. Murray may ignore my suggestion, out of an abundance of caution, but I remain hopeful.
My own sense of the matter, albeit as a non-sportsman, is that many of us seem to see cricket as an entity existing by itself and we are therefore frustrated by the deterioration in the team’s fortunes. I believe the mistake we all make, including me heretofore, is to take that narrow view. To put it another way, in a time when we are seeing this plethora of changes, and even alterations, in life generally, why is it that we seem to see cricket as insulated from or immune to those changes? It is almost fundamental that everywhere today there are multiple factors contributing powerfully to these strains on the fabric of our lives, and in exactly the same way therefore there has to be a host of factors, some of them very complex, many completely outside cricket, per se, impacting on our cricket decline. I am suggesting that when we engage the question of cricket decline we may be, as the Trinis say, “spinning top in mud” when we assume the answer is a cricket one. In fact, although I have done my share of railing at the WICB, I have come to believe that our cricket decline is the result of factors far beyond the Board; factors, in fact, over which the Board has no control and never will (population; changes in social activities and attitudes; demands on disposable income; increase of distractions; young people today disinclined for the grinding day-to-day application to a sport as was the case at one time; the short-game magnet drawing young cricketers; and (too numerous to list here) the explosion in distraction/entertainment options we have today. In summary, life now is a much more complicated animal than it was when we of the old brigade were growing up (to be fair to them, in the face of recent criticisms of their work, it is so for the media commentators too), and that complexity is everywhere, not just in cricket. Just today, coincidentally, I ordered a book that unravels the tangle of voting in the US as reflected in the changing of legislative boundaries in that country that are actually redrawn by changing factors (population; infrastructure; business growth/ decline; transportation/medical services etc.) So much so that to understand US election results you have to understand that question of boundaries which can determine whether Republicans or Democrats have control of the government bodies in the States and in Washington. I narrow my point to say therefore that my hunch is that our cricket decline is a hugely complex matter extending far beyond the Board’s stumblings.
We are frequently confronted by the point that we are no longer producing world beaters in our cricket, the likes of Sobers and Kanhai and Lara and – well you know the list – followed almost always by the “How come” question. Without consulting our sociological brethren, I would prefer to ask: with everything one can possibly think of from 50 years ago radically transformed, why are we surprised that our cricket is not what it used to be when, in almost every aspect of our lives, things are not as they used to be?
The examples are rife. When I was growing up in this country, young people and even teenagers were routinely corrected for misbehaviour or waywardness by adults completely unknown to them, and, even more pivotally, to go home and complain about it would lead to further recrimination from one’s parents. Today, that practice is extinct. An adult taking that approach in 2018 would have to be high on something because he/she would almost inevitably get a “mind your own business” response with maybe even a few choice expletives added. I am arguing that in the same way that when such a behaviour with positive impacts disappears, its absence can have negativeconsequences, across the board, possibly as far as cricket.
Living again in Guyana, I have noticed a striking decline in the roadside or driveway cricket, which was once a feature of Caribbean life and virtually a cradle for the game. We would stop our cars to permit it (grumbling, yes, but we would stop) but I haven’t had to stop for that reason even once since moving back here. The practice has virtually disappeared. I will leave the ruling on this point to my sports brethren like Deryck and Mikey, but could that possibly have been a factor in our glory days in cricket? Similarly, the perseverance in a task that was once a given in Caribbean life is often missing in attitudes today; could that be at play in our lacklustre batting and bowling performances?
My family connection to sports guru Reds Perreira allows me to quote him on this subject. Here is Reds reacting to the complaint of poor commentary on broadcasts of recent Test cricket in the region. Reds says: “One of the reasons for the high standard in past years was that radio administrators would be tuned to the cricket broadcasts, plus sponsors and advertisers. Commentators had to do a good job; deal with the game but also cover form, history, players’ backgrounds, runs last season, runs this year, etc. Attention was being paid to the level of the coverage. That does not happen these days. You get a free-for-all. No one seems to care anymore, not the CWI or the CBU.”
In summary, I see the alterations in Caribbean life in general surrounding cricket as a key factor in the deterioration in our cricket. Our manners to each other and to the way men treat women; that has changed. We don’t persevere as much as we used to do in the earlier hard times. Our respect for order and regimen has declined. Parents spend less time parenting, with children often on the run; young people don’t have the same guidance and neighbourhood supervision. Youngsters now have more sports career choices than, as it used to be, just cricket. Let me pose it this way: put all those factors into the mix 50 or 60 years ago; would we still have produced Sobers and Holding and Lara and Lawrence Rowe and Malcolm Marshall and Shiv?