There are few constants in modern cricket. The best team. The best player. Warnie’s face. All are in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, there has been one constant – and not just of recent times, but for the past 15 years – and that is that the West Indies have been entirely disappointing.
It actually seems kind of incredible now that the West Indies – who have a combined population of less than 10 million – was not only a cricketing superpower, but the dominant force for the first two decades of the modern era. They won the first two world cups in ’75 and ’79, set a then-record 11-test winning streak in ’84, and were a factory for legendary players with the bat or ball. To see what the Windies have become in falling to an innings defeat to Australia on Saturday, you’d think they spent the past several decades figuring out just what “cricket” is.
The thing about the Windies that makes this fall from grace so painful is that it’s the one team that all cricket fans want to be successful. The game is simply better for it. Their teams were full of dynamic players – from Sir Viv to Marshall to Ambrose to Lara, the game evolved as they did. Everywhere they went, they won over the crowds, as it was just impossible to deny the allure of that Caribbean flair – their voices, their style and yes, their black faces in a sport that had long been a white man’s domain – it was all so different, so exotic, so cool, and came at the perfect time. We love the Windies for the men on it as much as the cricket they play, hell, if there’s one thing even recent Windies players haven’t lacked, it’s personality.
So where have all those players gone? Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer. All I could think about in the wake of their latest defeat on Australian shores was a similar scenario six years ago, albeit one that had a particularly bright silver lining, as a 19-year-old Adrian Barath scored a debut century amidst his team’s innings defeat. And while three years later he was out of test cricket, if only for a short while, we had hope. More recently, we’ve seen glimpses from the likes of Kemar Roach and Jason Holder, but the former has failed to grow as a bowler, while Holder is now burdened with a captaincy that is just as likely to adversely affect his game as it is to grow it. Certainly, those responsible for player development in the Caribbean have a lot to answer for.
It’s not just how they develop players though, it’s also the resources they have to work with, and in this respect, no nation highlights a need to share the riches of the game’s “T20-isation” like the Windies. Obviously there’s the mercenaries who have essentially abandoned their country for an endless feast of shortest-form cricket, like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, but it’s hard to blame them given just how small the revenue base in the Windies is compared to places like India and Australia. More than any others, those two countries have been able to keep pumping money into the longer form of the game, because they have the T20 money to do it with. If the ICC is serious about keeping cricket a world game, it’s time it took charge of its two biggest leagues, and sent at least a portion of the profits they generate back to the rest of the Test-playing nations. It’s the only way to avoid cementing what is an already increasingly stratified financial landscape that the Windies loses out from.
Cricket is at its best when the Windies are good. It really is that simple. No team captures the imagination like them, with an identity that is so different from the other test-playing nations that makes it easy to cheer for them. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since we’ve had anything to cheer about. Will that change anytime soon? God only knows.