Where has the love for cricket in the Caribbean gone?


This editorial by Garfield Robinson appeared in CricBuzz.com.

Even though I arrived early, the stands were already overflowing. Hard as many of us tried there was no way of getting into the George Headley stand or any of the other main stands, and so accommodation was hastily arranged in an uncovered area to the right (for those familiar with Sabina Park, Jamaica) of the building that houses the Kingston Cricket Club.

It was crammed; there were no proper bathroom facilities; and the sun beat down mercilessly on our heads. But we were grateful for the chance to view what promised to be mouth-watering action. The English were scheduled to tour in a few weeks, yet this duel was generating almost as much attention as the approaching test series. Though the game was the regional encounter between Jamaica and Barbados some dubbed it “The First Test.” It was 1988.

The Barbados team that day had some of the game’s biggest names: Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes. And Jamaica had its fair share of stars as well: Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Jeffrey Dujon. The size of the throng spoke to the high quality of the players on show, the relative scarcity of opportunities to witness such high-powered clashes (Every game was not yet available everywhere on TV), and the affection that Caribbean people of all ages still had for the great game.

The recently concluded Sabina Park Test against Australia attracted only a small fraction of the crowd that attended the aforementioned 1988 Red Stripe Cup game, despite the fact that children, along with patrons over the age of 65 were invited in free of charge. I can’t imagine the authorities being so generous during the glory days and Sabina Park being anything less than jam-packed.

The great craving the Caribbean people had for cricket no longer exists. Like it does everywhere, the game’s Twenty20 version garners huge turnouts, but the longer formats still only sputter along.

Not blessed with a large population, it was the passion for the sport that was principally responsible for West Indian success in cricket. And it is the waning of that passion that has precipitated the protracted decline.

In years gone by cricket was the game of choice among Caribbean youth. It was played in the backyards, on the beaches, in the streets, in our schools in every available space. As a boy we fashioned our bats from coconut branches or discarded planks of wood. Balls were often premature oranges, or some crude concoction consisting of a hard inner core wrapped with rubber tubing, the bounce of which was anything but predictable.

Whenever I tell my son that the acquisition of a single tennis ball to play cricket was a source of extreme delight he does not fully grasp what I mean because he has loads of balls lying about. He does not understand, for example, in this day when he is told he needs to don a helmet and knee pads before riding his bicycle, why we would have chosen to play without any form of protection with a hard ball that could cause serious pain. But we, and thousands of other boys throughout the Caribbean did it because we just loved playing cricket.

That widespread participation and the intensity with which the game was played ensured that some very outstanding talent would be captured in such a very wide net. Widespread participation in a sport is probably the most sure-fire way of ensuring the emergence of exceptional players. Broaden the base and there will be more and better options to chose from.

Caribbean cricket fans have witnessed a steady decline in the quality of players wearing the maroon over the last two decades. The old stalwarts demitted office; the new recruits could not match their level of expertise; and West Indies cricket has, for an extended period, taken up residence at the bottom of the Test and One Day International (ODI) rankings. Captains, coaches, selectors have been changed regularly all to little avail, and so we should all appreciate by now that we have not scratched the surface of the real cause of Caribbean’s cricket’s demise.

Promising performances every now and then has served to stoke stirrings of hope in the hearts of long-suffering fans and well-wishers, only to have them dashed again when forced to grapple with the latest disappointing defeat. The recent stunning victory against England in Barbados, for example, brought a smile to face of fans that was emphatically wiped clean by the marauding Australians who administered two humiliating beatings to a team that seemed out of its depth. At no time were the Australians in danger of surrendering the Frank Worrell Trophy, and the gulf between the teams was as gaping as that between a first grader and a PHD graduate.

The equation is simple: the Caribbean has to start producing more proficient players if they are to compete with the better teams. Now, one assertion often made and heard in the West Indies is that there resides in the Islands as much cricketing talent as there is anywhere else. Well, if that is so then that abundant talent is certainly not being uncovered, and one only has to follow the regional first-class competition to appreciate this.

The challenge, as I see it, is to once again turn the heads of West Indian youth towards cricket. The myriad pursuits readily available nowadays means cricket is no longer the only game in town and so much more has to be done to encourage kids to take a break from their video games and get out and play the game. We have to try and bring back the love for cricket.

For the original report go to http://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/73018/where-has-the-love-for-cricket-in-the-caribbean-gone

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