June 14, 2014

The utterly expected tale of the Kiwi Calypso

Andrew Hughes
The Kiwis graciously show excitement at beating West Indies despite no one in the stadium believing any other result was possible  © Associated Press
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Children are generally quite gullible. I was a child so I know. When I was young, I was happy to believe in all kinds of nonsense: tooth fairies, vampires, shape-shifting alien monsters, flying robots, talking cars, supply-side economics.

But if you'd told me that in my lifetime a touring New Zealand team would crush West Indies by 186 runs at Sabina Park, in Kingston, in Jamaica, I'd have given you a suspicious, narrow-eyed look, before backing away slowly and running off to find a policeman. Either that or I'd think you were a traveller from the seventh dimension and ask you for Darth Vader's autograph.

No film studio on the planet would have touched the script for Kiwi Calypso: an uplifting tale of how a plucky nation famous for flightless birds, wind, and unnecessarily confrontational rugby dances, overcame the odds to beat the greatest cricket team ever assembled in their own backyard. An audience can suspend disbelief in the case of bike-riding aliens, self-driving cars and flying men in blue tights, but New Zealand beating West Indies in Jamaica? Come on buddy, no one's buying that.

The remarkable thing about this reversal in cricket fortune is how unremarkable it now seems. Everyone who read the news had the same reaction:

"I see West Indies lost again, dear."
"Was it to Papua New Guinea?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Damn. I had money on them losing to Papua New Guinea."
"To be fair to them, dear, they weren't playing Papua New Guinea."
"So who was it?"
"Let me see. Ah, it says New Zealand."
"Oh. Well that's not very surprising."
"No, I agree, it isn't particularly remarkable. Could you pass the marmalade?"

New Zealanders would have had exactly the same conversation, accompanied, perhaps, by the raising of one eyebrow, whilst West Indies fans would know better than to read the cricket news during a home Test series.

So what has happened to West Indies? We know their Test team used to be very good. We know they are no longer very good. We can measure the angle of the slope of their decline (about 45 degrees) the extent of the deterioration in percentage terms (roughly 100) and we can even name the slump after the man who has diligently recorded it: let's call it the Cozier Rate Of Caribbean Test Cricket Performance Entropy.

But why has it happened? Experts on West Indian cricket have all pitched in over the years, but their explanations sound like the collected attempts of a series of druids, shamans and amateur wizards to explain why tides happen. Is it the lure of basketball? The magnetic power of athletics? Global warming? Bad karma? The Iraq war? Meanwhile, the tide comes in, the tide goes out and the West Indies lose.

There were two more alarming facts in this stranger-than-fiction, yet strangely predictable result. First, the home side played two fast bowlers. As far as I'm concerned, two fast bowlers is two fast bowlers short of a West Indies attack. I'm sure there's a clause in the WICB constitution requiring a minimum of four scary pace men in every West Indian team, and if there isn't such a clause, there should be.

Secondly, Chris Gayle appears to have taken a vow of abstinence. In the first innings, for possibly the first time in the history of the universe, he batted more slowly than Shivnarine Chanderpaul. This may be related to the fact that he has been reading Geoffrey Boycott's 13th volume of autobiography: I Told Thee I Were Right. But whatever the cause, he needs to rethink his strategy. There may be many reasons why Chris Gayle was put on this planet, but grinding out half-centuries at a strike rate of one run every two balls was not one of them. Pull yourself together, Chris. Your loose confederation of regionally proximate but mutually antagonistic sovereign nations needs you.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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Posted by Third_slip on (June 15, 2014, 18:51 GMT)

Rufus if you are referring to sport, then your view is badly ill informed. West Indies had an outstanding cricket team throughout the 1960's including Sobers, Kanhai, Hall, Griffith and Gibbs. In athletics Jamaica and Trinidad have an outstanding sprint tradition going back to the 1940's. The point raised by Paul Somerset is more pertinent. Why has a group of disparate islands of just 6/7 million people enjoyed so much success? Remember West Indies played their first test in 1928 and played just six series up until 1947-48. Yet just 15 years later they were able to compete with and beat the best. In the period between 1973 and 1994-95 West Indies lost just 3 series (none at all from 1980) has never been achieved by any other side. Since then many of the islands have produced some brilliant sprinters e.g. Usain Bolt, and some outstanding footballers. Lots have played county cricket since including Sarwan currently and haven't achieved much. It's all very complex.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (June 14, 2014, 17:57 GMT)

@Paul - the rise of the West Indies in the late 70s has probably only one parallel in history - Genghiz Khan coming from Mongolia. That region did precious little before or after. This may be a phenomenon for sociologists, historians and psychologists to mull over.

Posted by Paul_Somerset on (June 14, 2014, 15:09 GMT)

I think we're approaching this question from the wrong direction. The mystery is not why the West Indies are currently so mediocre, but why were they ever so brilliant. How did a region with such a tiny population and such limited infrastructure ever come to rule the world?

I know one or two members of the brilliant team of the late 1970s, such as Clive Lloyd, have credited spells in England with enhancing their confidence and professionalism. The rise of one-day and T20 cricket has left County cricket all but bereft of men from the Caribbean, and their absence has been a blow to both the W Indies and County cricket itself.

Even the great IVA Richards played for Lansdown CC in Somerset before he represented the W Indies, while you have to wonder whether Chris Jordan would have become such a consistent performer had he stayed in Barbados.

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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