Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Why are West Indies not the Test side they once were?

Beaches, sun and laid back locals. All are characteristics of the West Indian islands. But what is it that really defines this area of the world? In my opinion it is the way they play cricket. The carefree, natural way they play has always been something I respected and wanted to replicate however it seems only they can pull it off. So why when they have so much talent and natural ability do they not prosper in the international format and especially test cricket?

Since the golden era of West Indian cricket through the 70’s and 80’s where players such as Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, Marshall, Roberts, Garner(the list goes on and on) were able to flourish and dominate the world cricketing scene, they have slowly fallen from grace almost. It would be hard for these legends to picture a West Indies team lingering towards the bottom of the test rankings without much prospect of changing however sadly that is the state of this team now. They currently lie 7th in the test rankings only managing to be rated higher than New Zealand and Bangladesh, but why when I have seen first hand the raw talent that this place has to offer?

In 2009 I went on a tour of Barbados where we played an assortment of clubs all differing in levels and leagues. We played five and lost five and it’s fair to say we were completely outclassed even though we weren’t too bad an outfit. However it wasn’t the results that amazed us, it was the way they went about playing. They didn’t bat from a textbook; they had no fear and played with such a sense of joy and fun. No matter where you bowled to some of the top order batsmen I came across, it would be dispatched. Bowl a good length on off stump; they’d clip you through mid wicket for four, with nearly every ball destined for the boundary. The bowlers bowled with such intensity all wanting to knock your head off with every ball and never bowling that half volley I so desperately craved. So with youngsters that show so much promise and like for like are better than the youngsters from a country which is number one in the test rankings, do they show no signs of being the team they once were?

One possible reason could be the impact of the USA on these tiny islands with many promising youngsters favouring baseball or basketball over cricket now due to the media influence. Or also the impact of British media with some players I met who had outstanding talent favouring to go into football so that they can follow players like Dwight Yorke. Or finally go into athletics and try and emulate Usain Bolt or Asafa Powell. All of these influences contribute to the downfall of not only the West Indian game but also the test game in general as we all know that we would prefer a scene with a high flying West Indies team around. Unfortunately though it seems that there is far more of a financial gain for these players though in other sports as cricket simply can’t offer the kind of money they can. It also can’t offer the immediacy that other sports offers as it is obviously carried out over 5 days compared to the end to end excitement of basketball or the craze that surrounds football. Therefore it seems as though West Indies may be a common feature of the bottom half the rankings table.

There is obviously though some motivation for West Indians to choose cricket over other sports with household names like Gayle and Pollard still dominating the shorter formats however it seems that promising players aren’t as worried about test cricket when they do emerge as the IPL and international T20’s offer both better pay and better audiences and so a mediocre test team is the result.

So will test cricket in the West Indies ever rise out of this spell of anomie? It is hard to say however it can be said that it isn’t from a lack of talent, it is from a lack of funding. While test cricket attracts such minimal crowds and T20 and other sports are so appealing, it seems as though the future doesn’t seem as bright as the sunshine that immerses the beautiful landscapes that this wonderful place has to offer.

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