West Indies Cricket: Back home, joy and misgivings


The West Indies teams’ performances on Sunday brought the Caribbean to life, but also raised old questions with no easy answers, Tony Cozier reports for ESPN.

In the space of six extraordinary hours at Kolkata’s iconic Eden Gardens on Sunday, West Indies cricket, for so long in a state of a seemingly incurable, self-induced ailment, was resurrected by the unprecedented victories of their women’s and men’s teams in the World T20 championship finals.

Six weeks earlier, the unfancied Under-19s had triumphed over India in their 50-over World Cup in Bangladesh. It was a hat-trick that further stimulated the renewed pride of a passionate public in the game that made the widely scattered mini-states in the Caribbean renowned for their style of play and their excellence.

It was a pride that rapidly diminished as West Indies plummeted from their once mighty place at the top of the world to the depth of the ICC rankings in Tests and one-day internationals.

The newest, shortest format was ideally suited to their way. They were champions in 2012 in Colombo; for the women who ended the mighty Australians’ sequence of four championships, it was uncharted territory.

Whether West Indies can now use this momentum to raise their standard in the longer versions is open to question. Tests are marathons, T20s 100-metre dashes. ODIs are the middle distance events.

There was the same euphoria and expectation after the men’s World T20 triumph in 2012 as there are now. Nothing came of it then, as several leading players opted for IPL contracts rather than Tests. Meaningful planning and preparation are required for the promising emerging players to turn their attention to Tests.

Already Carlos Brathwaite, the six-hitting hero of Sunday’s unlikely victory, has signed for the imminent IPL; the vast financial disparity between sticking to the West Indies maroon rather than donning the advertising billboards that are the franchise leagues’ uniforms is virtually irresistible for promising players.

For the time being, such matters are for the future. As Brathwaite, the strapping six-foot seven-inch Barbadian, despatched Ben Stokes high into the night sky and among the scattering spectators with four successive hits to complete as memorable a victory as West Indies cricket has known, the joy was widespread and spontaneous.

Watching the live TV coverage in disbelief from the comfort of my drawing room, I could hear the raucous cheers from all around. It was just after 1pm. Elated friends who rarely dwell on West Indies cricket telephoned from the Coast beach bar, barely audible above the exultant din; they had to share their delight with someone. They didn’t break up until well after dark. The scene will have been repeated a thousand times over, from Montego Bay in the north to Georgetown on the South American mainland. Immediately, dignitaries were falling over themselves to hail the successes.

To David Granger, president of Guyana, it illustrated “the indomitable spirit of the people of the West Indies and what is possible when we work together for a common good”. Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley, said they “confirmed the resilience and prowess of West Indies cricket, despite recent challenges, and have brought honour back to the region”. Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, noted that “many doubted the possibility of these great victories but the teams remained focused on their tasks and their self-belief, fixity of purpose and professionalism won the day”.

Cricket returned to the front pages and the editorial columns of Monday’s newspapers; colour pictures of the highlights filled space usually reserved for other growing sports.

“6, 6, 6, 6” was the banner headline in the Guyana Chronicle over the subhead “Carlos Brathwaite sinks England in final over”. The two Trinidad dailies, the Express and Newsday, went for the same simple keyword, “champions”. “Two Sweet: Windies Kings and Queens of World T20” proclaimed Barbados’ Daily Nation front-page title.

Watching the live TV coverage in disbelief from the comfort of my drawing room, I could hear the raucous cheers from all around. It was just after 1pm. Elated friends who rarely dwell on West Indies cricket telephoned from the Coast beach bar, barely audible above the exultant din

The Jamaica Observer editorial referred specifically to the women’s achievement. It noted that in Jamaica not only is there no structured all-island cricket league for adult women, there is no league for female cricketers at school. “In such circumstances, we may well ask how did it come to be that a Caribbean women’s team won the world title yesterday,” it added. “Power of women, no doubt, but it shouldn’t be expected that such success can be repeated without proper developmental programmes.”

Men’s captain Darren Sammy‘s pointed criticism of the WICB at the trophy presentation, that the players felt “disrespected” by the board, attracted the attention of all editorial writers. Sammy said his players were upset at the WICB’s response to their pre-tournament appeal for a renegotiated contract, and by the silence of board members throughout their advance to the final. In contrast, they had repeatedly received encouraging emails and phone calls from CARICOM governments.

He also revealed that they hadn’t been provided with uniforms for their warm-up matches against Zimbabwe and Warwickshire at a preparation camp in Dubai, obliging new team manager Rawl Lewis to prematurely head to Kolkata to source them.

The view of the Trinidad Guardian was that it was “a shame” that Sammy chose the occasion “of a unifying moment for the West Indies to lay bare his sense of bitterness at the division between players, administrators”.

Some held the different position that Sammy was using a global TV audience to restate the players’ widely known disagreement with the board over pay that put their participation in the World T20 in doubt.

The Guardian did advance an interesting theory on where the public stood on the matter. “If the office of prime minister of the Caribbean existed and Darren Sammy ran for it, he would probably win in a landslide,” it asserted. “To judge from the immediate and social media reaction to his post-match comments, a large segment of the Caribbean public identified with his sense of grievance against the board.”

WICB president Dave Cameron is not one to take a backward step, even in the face of pressure from CARICOM governments to adopt the recommendations of the latest report on its governance that it be “immediately dissolved” and replaced by a newly structured board. He responded with a public statement apologising for “what could be deemed inappropriate comments” by Sammy. It guaranteed to keep the fight going.

All the same, he sounded a conciliatory note, stating that the board’s annual review in May had been put back until after the IPL season to accommodate the presence of all the players along with the players’ association, the selectors and the technical team.

“We are fully aware of the financial rewards on offer in the lucrative international T20 leagues, but we believe deeply in the importance of cricket to the people of the region and of West Indies cricket’s place in world cricket,” he said. “The aim is to have all players competing and available for selection.”

The Jamaica Observer offered some cautionary advice to Cameron and the WICB directors. “They may feel angered and insulted [by Sammy’s words], but they need to listen,” it editorialised. “West Indies cricket belongs to all Caribbean people, and for that reason all stakeholders need to be embraced. That’s the way to keep West Indies cricket alive. That’s the way to ensure that the joyous adventure which is part and parcel of the Caribbean personality, so wonderfully expressed by Mr Brathwaite on Sunday, lives on.”

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