Following West Indies’ recent embarrassment in the swiftly organized and just as hurriedly lost series against India, some agriculturists facetiously suggested that perhaps the time was appropriate to make another major thrust with sugar cane cultivation on some of our major grounds across the region.
Frustration, understandably, gave way to images of Bourda, Kensington Oval, Sabina Park, Queen’s Park and the rest being put to better economic use with the acquired knowledge that at least sugar cane serves a purpose. Dig them up, some cried.
We will not be so defeatist, though, in attitude to our one unifying force. But after 19 years of our cricketers’ stumbling from one failure to another, and administrators converting ineptitude to an art form, millions of suffering Caribbean people scattered across the globe simply deserve better. The question often posed is: if two decades of failure have cut Caribbean people to the quick, have our cricketers and administrators been similarly impacted?
The answer is perhaps to be found in the recent utterances of cricketing legend Curtly Ambrose.
“They don’t quite understand what cricket means to Caribbean people and until they understand it, they won’t get any better,” the Antiguan great suggested. His words surely would have resonated with those raised in a colonial Caribbean, the early post-colonial period and the era of the 1970s and 1980s when black consciousness was not a mere slogan.
These were occasions when thousands, millions even, huddled around radios from Georgetown in the south to Kingston in the north, cheered and beat their breasts with pride as names such as Weekes, Worrell, Walcott, Sobers, Kanhai, Hall, Lloyd, Holding, Roberts, Richards, et al retaught the summer game to its creators. They were motivated by pride and passion and not the pennies they earned.
Perhaps cricketing success in the region today is not measured by victories won, but by dollars earned. It is a reality that the West Indies Cricket Board gave face to when they accepted a lucrative offer to take an underprepared West Indies team –– outside of the Future Tours Programme –– to pay homage to Indian icon Sachin Tendulkar late last year. The irony of that situation is that the culture which the WICB has now willingly embraced, when practised by its marquee players, was once soundly criticized.
Dwayne Bravo has been handed the reins of the regional One-Day International team. Yet, fewer than five years ago he was turning down a contract that tied him into the plans of the WICB for the development of West Indies cricket. His preferred option, at the time, was earning millions from lucrative Twenty20 leagues across the globe. Et tu, Chris Gayle.
Now, with millions made, some of our leading players are publicly appearing to be buying into the development plans of the WICB, what little they might be.
Hear Ambrose: “I’ve heard that they are playing for the money, but my take on it is very simple. Cricket is a heart sport and guys should be paid handsomely to play cricket, but the problem I have, if the guys are only thinking about the money first and not the cricket first, I have a serious problem with it. Cricket should always be first priority and the more successful you are as a cricketer and a team, then you make more money because people like winners. You should not put money first.”
Alas, the truth is that the West Indies “team” is one of wealthy losers.
Of course, even losers have their moments. Thus, six consecutive victories against mediocre opponents such as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and New Zealand in home conditions, will not be seen in the correct context as simply loose adhesive over a festering sore.
And, for all the elation that the Twenty20 World Cup victory brought to the region, that was mere camouflage where our cricketers needed not use their brains for more than half a day. Cricket purists enjoyed the victory but weren’t fooled.
So what can the WICB do? What will become of the regional game? The millions are in cricket to stay. Thus, the task faced by the WICB is to rekindle the passion in the cricketers who represent millions that no longer huddled together around their radios, but watch the futility on their televisions, tablets, computers and cellular phones.
They watch aghast that losing no longer hurts, but is instead rewarded by a system where success is not inextricably tied into reward. The task ahead is an onerous one. Indeed, we could have easily produced substantially more sugar cane over the past 19 years while foolishly expecting a better cricketing harvest.