It might have started in 1997. That year, Pakistan pace spearhead Waqar Younis bowled an in-swinging yorker that knocked Brian Lara, off his feet. Lara’s extravagant back-lift meant that it was nearly impossible to withdraw mid-flow, after he had committed to a shot. The ball which initially seemed liked a friendly half-volley, curled back in at pace to knock the leg-stump out of the ground. In that brief moment, Lara remained on all fours, beaten. The sight of Lara, beaten and bowed, is a significant event in the annals of West Indies cricket. It appeared as if the Prince had finally put his armor down. The Caribbean dominance was nearing its end.
The razzmatazz, the flair, the aura, which once defined the calypso style is on the wane and West Indies have only themselves to blame. A spineless display by the team, amplified further by some shoddy governance, has left their cricket in a sorry state.
For long now, the contract row between WICB officials and the players has dented the image of the team. Earlier this year, West Indies faced the prospect of a player strike on the eve of the World T20 in India. The 15-member squad seemed to have reached a deadlock in its contract negotiations with the board. According to reports in Cricinfo, skipper Darren Sammy had written to the board, stating that an 80% cut in the player’s fees was unacceptable. Also noteworthy was the fact that 14 of the 15-member squad were not members of West Indies player’s association, and therefore the WIPA had no right to negotiate terms on their behalf. The West Indies Players’ Association says on its website that it is a non-profit organization, established in 1973, and is the official representative body for professional players from the Caribbean that constitute the West Indies cricket board. In the letter addressed to the board, Sammy wrote “Traditionally 25% has been paid to the squad. That would be $ 42m, or about $133,000 per player.” That Sammy and his team went on to win the World T20 title for a record second-time is a different story but that does not negate the fact that the mediocre performances on the field are often the repercussions of the payment discrepancy. Daniel Brettig, in his article titled ‘West Indies losing an unfair game’, reveals that the 12 WICB-contracted players are split into three categories earning between US $100,000 and $ 140,000. This is in complete contrast to what the lowest ranked Australian contracted player would earn, which is close to US $182,500. In the meanwhile, the earnings of the top-contracted Australian players could amount to US $1.1 million.
Fees for the West Indies players were slashed from $17,500 to $5,000 in 2014; less than half. This is in complete contrast to what Australian Test cricketers are paid, which is US $11,200 for each home test and $15,700 for overseas match. The incongruity makes it difficult for the players to stay motivated and give their hundred percent on the field.
Unlike their marauding predecessors, who spelled doom for the opposition, the current West Indies team has struggled to find stability. The constant chopping and changing in the past eight years has left the team exposed to many vulnerabilities. West Indies have had six captains leading their test side in the last eight years. This reflects a lack of a long-term vision and a disposition to commit to it. After all, there is only so much that a captain can do if he leads under the apprehension that the next Test could be his last as captain. This kind of uncertainty is common across formats. Sammy was told that he wouldn’t be the T20 captain any more, despite his record. Such lack of support from the WICB cripples the confidence of the side even more.
Add to that, the meek display on the field. The lack of technique and an uninterested attitude towards the game has left the team high and dry. Darren Bravo, touted as one of the better batsman, was undone by a barrage of short balls in the second test against India in Jamaica. More than the dismissal, what was disheartening was the complete thoughtlessness that plagued every ball that Bravo faced. The late New Zealand batsman, Martin Crowe once remarked- ‘To bat right, get your mind right’. Anyone watching the Caribbean batsmen would probably attribute their failure to the mind not being right.
There are specks of brilliance, like Roston Chase’s defiant hundred that denied India a win in the second test or if we go back in time a little, the historic World T20 win in India, where the team beat all odds. But these are rare triumphs.
Clive Lloyd, chairman of the West Indies selection committee, once said: “To run cricket you have to have quite a lot of money.” The board does lack the resources to fuel the game but to pin the entire blame on that, would be to turn a blind eye to the other channels of conflict. The biggest criticism of the West Indies team lately has been that it lacks accountability on the field. The boardroom negotiations reek of politics, leading to a complete loss of faith among the fans.
There has never been a scarcity of talent in the country, always a deficiency of purpose and commitment. Those who grew up watching Sir Viv Richards wreak havoc with the bat and Michael Holding annihilate opposition batsmen with the ball, yearn for those days of yore. The mid 1970s marked the emergence of a superpower in cricket, that conquered the sport with flamboyance and skill. But like all good things, this too had to meet its end. Ever since the sun set on that fabled West Indies side, the world has been awaiting a revival. For West Indies cricket, and its fans, the wait continues.