Recently, Delhi Daredevils allrounder Andre Russell was quoted as saying, "People in India treat us like stars. We don't get that kind of treatment in the Caribbean."
It was a comment made at a 'promotional event' for the franchise at which Russell, a Delhi allrounder, judged a beauty pageant with some of his teammates. He was reported to have entertained the audience with a Gangnam-style jig, thus fulfilling one of the many obligations in his gargantuan $450,000 IPL contract.
At the time of writing this, Russel has scored 11 runs, and taken no wickets in three games this season. On this season's performance, it is little wonder that Russell is mindful of the warmth of the reception he is getting in India - he's probably very aware of the fact that such results on home soil would put him in line for considerable verbal abuse from a Caribbean crowd. It's also unsurprising that he would play to his audience with dance moves, and proclaim the superiority of his adopted fans to his local ones. Some may argue that he was strictly referring to the treatment he's been receiving, but words must always be taken in context - in front of a promotional crowd in Delhi in the capacity of a team representative, Russell's words surely went further than mere treatment. He was, effectively, placing Indian fans on a higher pedestal than Caribbean fans. Jamaica and the West Indies - the teams, the fans, and the exposure that he had long before inking his name to a fat cheque - all take a back seat to his role as a Daredevil. If you haven't yet noticed, as a West Indian, I'm peeved.
One of the dominating fears of the advent of tournaments like the IPL was that player allegiances would be brought into question. Those fears emerged when some players were forced to choose club over country and fulfill contractual obligations over national ones. The driving reality has always been and will always be money, and fans in the Caribbean have taken their lumps and had less-than-full-strength teams represent them from time to time.
There has been a growing acceptance among West Indian fans that players are pursuing a living, and that their efforts should be respected - as cricketers, the window for them to make big money is quite small, and their need to secure their futures is one that the whole of the Caribbean region can relate to. Given that thousands of West Indians live in foreign lands in order to have better lives bears testament to the fact that we understand the cricketers' rationale - play in India, make some money, live happily ever after.
While that's all well and good, there is a missing element that is crucial to the narrative of our cricketers going elsewhere to maximize their profits: 'Wherever they may roam, there's no place like home'. Caribbean fans can and will accept that players are doing their jobs abroad, for we know that the grass is often greener on the other side, but at no time should the Caribbean fan be put down. I doubt Russell was seeking to denigrate the Caribbean public by lauding the treatment he has received in India, but intentionally or not, he has promoted himself by deriding his own.
The Caribbean cricket-loving public is the heart and soul of West Indies cricket, and we have stuck by our team and our players through the highs and the lows since Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine wore maroon. The Delhi public fetes Russell because he is a Daredevil, and that's fine - cricket in India is known to be a borderline religion. In the West Indies, we don't go gaga over our players because it isn't in our nature and, from our perspective, it just isn't necessary. Fans support with all their heart, and love West Indies cricket from the cradle to the grave, but the reality in the Caribbean is different - our style is simpler and more laidback, people don't get thronged in public places, and good results will be praised while bad results will deservedly be criticized. This is our way.
Several players have shown outward allegiance to the Caribbean public no matter where they have been, and they ought to be commended for that. On the same note, I am almost certain that the sentiment that comes out of Russell's statement does not represent his entire view on things, and that his intention was not to malign the West Indian public. However, it needs to be said - the Caribbean public is no one's foot mat. No player, past, present or future, including Andre Russell (West Indies, Jamaica, and thirdly and least importantly Delhi Daredevils allrounder), should ever be compromised when it comes to West Indian support - just as the fans have always stuck by the players, the players should always stick by the fans.
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