March 25, 2000

Caribbean cricket - a very special flavour

The Carribean islands will be at the top of the list of any travel agent or group tour organisers. The pleasures the islands have to offer are not matched by many exotic locations on earth. The islands, besides being a top draw for tourists, have produced some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. Sir Gary Sobers is unanimously described as the greatest cricketer ever to have played this game. The only difference would be in the vocabulary chosen to describe the greatest all-rounder.

It was towards the end of Sobers' career that a certain Clive Lloyd was beginning to make a mark for himself. In the early seventies when Sobers and the famous three W's packed it in, the mantle of captaincy was given to Lloyd. It was the transition period with a lot of youngsters being drafted into the team. Lloyd had to retain the reputation of West Indies and in order to do that he had to bring the players together which is not the easiest thing considering the inter island rivalry. Lloyd, blessed with the natural ability for leadership, achieved what has proved to be difficult to emulate.

A young team under Lloyd toured India in 1974 and they won the series 3-2, which was the onset of their domination in world cricket. Incidentally, players like Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and Andy Roberts announced their arrival into the big league in this series. The Indians went to West Indies just after a year and the series was all square going into the final test. The venue was Sabina Park and the Test was interestingly poised. Lloyd, wanting to win the series, made his fast bowlers bowl from round the wicket to blast the batsmen out. The result was as many as five Indians ended up in hospital enriching their knowledge in sports medicine. Needless to add, the Indians lost the final Test as well as the series. As a captain he did not lose a series except the one in Australia where the hosts gave the West Indies a dose of their medicine.

Such was the domination of West Indies that it was almost a formality in demolishing the opponents regardless of the venues. The batting line up consisting of Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and Kallicharan was enough to give sleepless nights to any bowler. The four pronged pace attack of Roberts, Garner, Marshall and Holding made the batsmen wish they were watching rather than playing. These heroes were largely responsible for providing the inspiration to many youngsters to take up this game. The embarrassment of riches made one wonder if they had an assembly line for producing quality batsmen and bowlers.

The double World Cup triumphs were overshadowed when the West Indies lost to India in 1983, which rankled badly for a long time. Still their dominance in Test cricket carried on until 1992 with Richards succeeding Lloyd as captain and in turn Richardson taking over from Richards. The mid-nineties saw West Indies gradually losing their stranglehold in international cricket. Not many countries can find replacements for Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, and Marshall at will. The one silver lining was the emergence of that talented left hander, Brian Lara, the world record holder for the highest individual scores.

The declining reputation of West Indies in international cricket has made the younger generation pursue other sports like basketball and football. The other reason for youngsters gravitating towards other sports is the lack of financial security in cricket. Unlike South Africa, India and Sri Lanka, cricketers in West Indies don't get jobs for their proficiency in cricket. Added to that, the pay structure based on gradation does not really tempt the youngsters to take up this game professionally. The former great players of West Indies have offered various suggestions to rekindle the interest of youngsters in cricket.

Lara, a top class cricketer found the burden of captaincy too taxing and has decided to take a break. This has prompted the selectors to hand over the captaincy to Jimmy Adams. Currently they are involved in a Test series against Zimbabwe and the victory in the first Test provided some fillip for the Carribeans. At the moment the burden of bowling is borne by the senior most pair of Ambrose and Walsh. The spotlight obviously on Walsh who is on the threshold of becoming the highest wicket taker in Test cricket. Both Walsh and Ambrose are in the evening of their careers and very shortly the problem of replacing them will crop up.

The Carribeans have provided great entertainment to millions of people with their cavalier approach over the years. Anyone who has witnessed a Test match in the West Indies will swear that there is no better place to watch a game of cricket. For the sake of the game as also for the cricket loving public of West Indies one hopes that the Carribeans will gradually scale their way up the ladder in international cricket. If and when that happens the entire cricket fraternity will only be too happy as the flavour they provide to this game can never be matched by others.