As touching tributes were being paid to the life and times of Barbados and West Indies batting great Sir Everton Weekes at his official funeral at Kensington Oval yesterday, it crossed my mind that both Sir Everton and former Barbados Prime Minister, Professor Owen Arthur, who died early Monday morning, would have been very hurt by the manner in which West Indies lost the just concluded three-Test series against England, 2-1.
Make no bones about it. After winning the first match by four wickets at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, West Indies were a big disappointment in being brushed aside by 113 runs and 269 runs – both at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester.
And mind you, a full day’s play was lost in each of the last two Tests because of rain. So the Wisden Trophy, which West Indies captured 2-1 in the Caribbean last year, has been regained by Joe Root’s side for the last time as the teams will next compete for the new Richards-Botham Trophy.
From being buoyant after leaving Southampton, Jason Holder’s team flattered to deceive.
In assessing the series, one of the reasons for the disappointing showing in the last two Tests put forward by Holder was mental fatigue resulting from the COVID-19 bio-secure environment.
“It’s been challenging. I think mentally some of the guys are a bit worn out as well,” Holder said.
“We’ve been here four weeks before the first Test. We had a change in the environment which we really enjoyed at Southampton but then to come back here to Manchester to see the same people, same place, same rooms was a bit difficult,” he added.
Following the first Test, I stated that, “one has to be reminded that it’s a three-match series and winning it will be very sweet for several reasons”.
“Hence maintaining level heads instead of getting carried away will be key in the remaining matches – both at Old Trafford in Manchester – to secure an away series success against a major Test-playing country for the first time in a quarter of a century,” I wrote.
No need to dwell on all of the statistical evidence, which followed, except to offer special congratulations to the hard-working fast bowler, Kemar Roach, who became the ninth West Indian and fourth from Barbados to reach 200 Test wickets during the final Test. The others in that special club are Courtney Walsh, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Lance Gibbs, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, The Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Andy Roberts.
Now, honestly, with all due respect to Holder and his team, having used this column to share stories of the outstanding achievements of batting great Sir Everton Weekes following his passing on July 1, it is also an honour to write about the cricketing thoughts of the 70-year-old Mr. Arthur, who was an ardent fan.
From a local perspective, it was always a joy to see him mingling and feeling at home with fans while watching his favourite team Barbados External Telecommunications (BET) (also formerly known as Cable & Wireless and LIME; now Gladiola) at their old ground at Wildey.
Mr. Arthur would sit on the “mound” at the northern end in an era when BET boasted of some young, talented players including the likes of Courtney Browne, Floyd Reifer, Ian Bradshaw, Horace Walrond, Brian Johnson and Gordon Maxwell, all learning from veteran teammates such as Joel Garner, Rommel Brathwaite and Lonelle Hutson, among others.
Fourteen years ago, while covering the Test series between West Indies and India for the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Arthur during the drawn second Test at Beausejour (now renamed the Daren Sammy Stadium) in Gros Islet, St. Lucia. (NB: India won the four-Test series, 1-0).
Speaking as a special guest on the lunchtime show “In the Middle” on the third day’s play (June 12, 2006), Arthur said he was in support of the setting up of a Caribbean Professional Cricket League, but reckoned it should involve top players from other international countries.
While praising the facilities at the Stadium in Gros Islet, Arthur said the involvement of such leading players would justify the investment, which regional governments had made at venues ahead of the 2007 World Cup, which was hosted by West Indies.
“A professional league for me in the Caribbean will not just be a league of professional West Indian cricketers playing in the Caribbean but the best cricketers in the world coming to the Caribbean to be involved in the professional club cricket outside of the Test matches, and to get the best playing against the best,” Arthur said.
“It is the only way in which we are going to justify the investment we have made in these tremendous facilities because the Caribbean must not only bring more Test cricket to the Caribbean but we must also find a way of fully utilising these facilities for the development of the West Indian game.
“So a professional league that involves the best of the West Indian cricketers but (also) the best of the world cricketers in much the same way that the Australian Sheffield Shield has been organised and the English county system is the way forward.”
Arthur’s then deputy Prime Minister, Mia Mottley (now the Barbados Prime Minister), had also called for the setting up of a Caribbean Professional League in a CMC CricketPlus interview during the first two One-Day Internationals between West Indies and India in Jamaica the previous month while she was in Kingston.
Arthur said there was a need to broaden the base as he reflected on a short-lived professional league tournament in Jamaica in 1997.
“My view about a professional league is that the holding of the World Cup in the Caribbean and the building of these world-class facilities will require us as a matter of more financial prudence, but as a matter of commitment to the development of the game in the Caribbean to move to the creation of a Caribbean Professional League.
“I am going to be very careful in what I say because the West Indies Players Association may see the concept of a Professional League in the Caribbean as an instrument by which the returns of the Caribbean themselves may be enhanced.
“I believe that no group of amateurs, no matter however skilful, can ever beat a group of professionals and in order for us to develop West Indies cricket, the best must always play with the best,” Arthur said.
“The wise men from the east followed the stars, not only wise men follow the stars but always followed the stars. And if you were to have a series organised, not as it was organised before where a small group of folks gathered together on indifferent grounds in Jamaica (in 1997), no offence meant to Jamaica, but some of those grounds were indifferent to play a so-called professional league.
“Being the best and filling the stadium but letting the best West Indian players continue to play against the best in the world is the way forward.
“The rest of the world is no longer allowing us to come to England and play against them there. We have to find a way out. And that is my concept of a professional league.”
Arthur said it was important that the facilities in the Caribbean should be made full use of in the aftermath of the World Cup.
He also lamented the fact there were disappointing crowds for that Test in St. Lucia, while quickly pointing to the fact that there were other sporting attractions at the time including the soccer World Cup in Germany.
“It might be that there are some people who will see a professional league as only serving the purpose of their playing the West Indian players to make more money from the game.
“That is part of it, too, but a professional league must matter in two respects – allowing our players to compete against the best consistently to improve their game, but also enable us to maximise the use of these world-class facilities that will now exist in the Caribbean.
“And unless you have the best players in the world consistently playing cricket in the Caribbean, the Caribbean public is not going to follow it as you can see here. Once there are alternative attractions, the Caribbean public will follow the superior attractions,” he asserted.
“This Test match is being played in St. Lucia, so the St. Lucian public has a choice as between watching cricket, World Cup football, the French Open and NBA.
“And we must stop being so romanticised about the place of cricket in the Caribbean. There is now a modern Caribbean society that benefits like any other society from a choice of entertainment, a choice of information, and they are discriminating in their selection processes and the West Indies Cricket Board must tap into that understanding, that you must give people their very best if they are going to choose in today’s world,” Arthur said.
As is turned out, the regional board introduced the Professional Cricket League (PCL) for the 2013-14 season.
I very much appreciated what Mr. Arthur said 14 years ago. But then again, as a Libran, and sharing the same birthdate, October 17, though in different year, I believe I know how his brain functioned.
Thanks for the memories, Owen! Rest in peace.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).
Email: [email protected]