The Development of West Indies Cricket

Caribbean context

A perceptive, prescient look at West Indies cricket and its decline

Rob Steen

October 4, 2008

Text size: A | A



More searching than former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley's A History of West Indies Cricket - Manley is the friend to whose memory these volumes are dedicated - sport's least likely dynasty found the ideal chronicler in the Professor of History and Pro Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs) at the University of the West Indies.

Beckles is an academic whose works range from studies of slavery to a history of Barbados. And yes, there is probably rather too much deployment of the word "paradigm" here for most tastes, but don't let that put you off. Written at the turn of a new millennium, embedded in socio-economic context, loaded with perspective and prescience, this is a labour of love: the love of a proud but gravely worried parent.

To reclaim the glories of the 1970s and 1980s, Beckles argues, the youth of the Caribbean must first reclaim the islands' history, the better to understand why the game is so integral - perhaps too integral: he advocates a "normalisation of cricket culture" - to regional identity. This is an exemplary place to start. If you want to know why George and Learie were so important, what inspired Frank, Clive and Viv, how life became strife for Brian, and why board and players are still united only by mutual mistrust, look no further.

The most fascinating chapter is an entirely fictional debate on postcolonial West Indies cricket between Manley and CLR James, originally published in magazine form. "We embraced cricket and asked it to serve our need for advancement," Beckles imagined James asserting. To which Manley "responds": "I oftentimes asked myself whether we have asked too much of cricket, and whether it is time for us to let it go free to find a level and place outside of our extraordinary social expectation." One suspects Beckles leans towards the latter view.

"The 'third rising' in West Indies cricket is the mandate of their generation," Beckles writes wistfully of his young sons. Volume 2, The Age of Globalisation, is a blueprint and also a prayer - that the past can be built upon, learned from and atoned for; that a fragile and parlous present can evolve into a worthwhile future; that renewed and fruitful togetherness on the field, above all, can inspire the rancorous Caribbean nations to follow suit. The message is even more relevant now than when it was originally sent.

From the book (Vol. 2)
The skipper had never been on a West Indies team that played so poorly, and he could not contain his opinion. "If we had played to our potential," he said, "we would have beaten them convincingly. It hurts real, real bad; this is the weakest Australian side we have played against. We just allowed them to outplay us," he concluded.

The stillness and fears that held West Indians together at Sabina Park were overshadowed by dozens of carnivalised Australians who had flown in for the "show down". Aussie flags monopolised the sky over a ground now covered in festivities. Somewhere in the background, over on the Mound, the sound of Bob Marley could faintly be heard - "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing's gonna be all right." Mark Taylor described the Wednesday as the greatest day of his life, but it was filled with ashes for West Indians. Michael [Manley] had asked, "Hilary, do you understand what this all means? Do you realise that the players have lost direction and a sense of purpose?" The nation, he said, was on trial, and not doing very well. Something has to be done, we agreed, and the solutions lie beyond the boundary.

The Development of West Indies Cricket Vols 1&2
by Hilary McD. Beckles

The University of West Indies Press, 1999

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

RSS Feeds: Rob Steen

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination"
Related Links
Teams: West Indies

Chanderpaul, the coach's nightmare

Modern Masters: He developed a rhythm that worked for him and gave him better balance at the crease

    'I spent 95% of my career bowling the same ball'

Angus Fraser talks about his workmanlike bowling, playing second fiddle, his stop-start career, and England in the '90s

    'A coach earns respect by working as hard as the players'

Sanjay Bangar talks about his quick transition from player to coach, his philosophy and the reasons behind Kings XI Punjab's turnaround

    'Swann could bowl length blindfolded'

Erapalli Prasanna on a thoroughbred professional whose basics were extraordinarily strong

The mathematician who loved cricket

Haider Riaz Khan: GH Hardy, a regular at Cambridge, ranked mathematicians and physicists on the 'Bradman class'

News | Features Last 7 days

Champions League T20 still battling for meaning

The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric

From Constantine to Chanderpaul

As West Indies play their 500th Test, here's an interactive journey through their Test history

'My kind of bowling style is gone now'

Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament

Busy keepers, and Waqar's bowleds

Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player

Soaring in the 1980s, slumping in the 2000s

In their pomp, West Indies had a 53-13 win-loss record; in their last 99, it is 16-53. That, in a nutshell, shows how steep the decline has been

News | Features Last 7 days