What a day it was for West Indies cricket fans!
Starved of success for much too long, yesterday was ecstasy. Paradise, which every fan thought had long been lost, had finally been found. With the men’s team completing a hat-trick of victories for West Indies in world tournaments, West Indians felt on top of the world again. The players could smile again, and the people of the Caribbean could shout once more until they had lost their voices.
The spontaneous and explosive displays of euphoria and joyousness revealed a deep yearning for something to celebrate. Every West Indies fan across the Caribbean and throughout the Diaspora joined in the jubilation, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that cricket does unite us.
The Under-19 team had already taken care of business earlier in the year, and the women’s team left the three-time champions Australia in somewhat of a trance by emphatically snatching the trophy in a confident and dominating display of cricket.
It must have been even more satisfying for the West Indies because they had been given as much chance of beating the Aussies as the sun rising in the west.
There was more than a hint of disrespect too when, on Saturday, a panel on the BBC’s Sports World programme wrote them off by stating the Windies’ best performance would not be enough to overcome an average performance by the Australians. How bitter must these words taste going down their throats right now!
The English commentator Mark Nicholas’ brainless comment about the West Indies men being “short of brains” was even more demeaning. But Darren Sammy and his men used it as motivation to become the first team to ever win this tournament twice, in the meantime making the West Indies the only territory to hold both the men’s and women’s trophies at the same time.
Carlos Brathwaite’s final-over demolition of Ben Stokes is the sort of stuff legends are made of, and he has etched himself into cricketing folklore.
Yet, amidst the excitement and elation lies the ugly truth that the West Indies cricketing structure remains tattered and torn by strife.
Sammy’s seemingly calculated shot at the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) during the post-match interview exposed the deep and bitter divisions that exist between the players and administrators. That he did it on this stage was both troubling and revealing. It took some of the attention away from the sheer magic and mastery of his team; yet, it came across as if Sammy felt he had little choice.
The Windies captain must have been aware of the possible consequences of his action; but he did it anyway.
WICB president Dave Cameron’s response was even more disconcerting. We will not dare describe as brainless his tweet: “When is the last time a critic paid one of your bills? Always remember that when you start to give them your energy.”
Nor will we suggest anything close to this description of his statement of “high praise” for the organizers and his apology for Sammy’s “inappropriate” comments. But clearly, the WICB president’s words suggested that very little thought went into his initial response to the criticism.
If the comments on social media are anything to go by, West Indies fans are squarely behind Sammy on this, and Cameron, a man of high position, is being held in very low esteem by the cricketing public.
The schism between the players and board was emphasized further when the all-rounder Dwayne Bravo also hit out at the WICB in a post-match interview with Star Sports.
“The country’s cricket is not in right hands. We have not got a telephone call from any of the WICB officials or directors . . . . Even the BCCI [the Board of Control for Cricket in India] does more for us,” Bravo said.
Like his captain, Bravo must be aware of the consequences of his words.
Their actions suggest that both Bravo and Sammy –– and possibly others within the team –– have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that they are bigger than the WICB and they feel emboldened enough to openly criticize their employer.
It is a sorry situation which must be remedied, and the players must be part of the solution. They must not ignore the importance of the sport to the people of the Caribbean and they must accept that, notwithstanding the T20 victories, success will only be sustainable if differences are discarded and all sides work as a team. Sammy and his 15 men have demonstrated that this works.
On the other hand, the WICB cannot pretend that it does not need the players, and Cameron cannot act as though he is royalty and nobility while those whom people pay to see, those who bring in the money, are treated as serfs and plebeians. The WICB must take the lead; and right now there is no leadership.
Something must give, however, because at present, even as we continue to celebrate these historic triumphs, West Indies cricket feels like a bus moving at breakneck speed towards a deep precipice with a corpse at the wheel.