Decade Review 2009
Decade review

The downward spiral

In the 2000s, West Indies went further and faster down the slippery slope they started on the decade before, as infighting, apathy and instability came to reign

Vaneisa Baksh

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Shivnarine Chanderpaul fights a lone hand as West Indies crumble, England v West Indies, 4th Test, Chester-le-Street, June 19, 2007
West Indies' decade has largely been one of bleakness, with occasional silver linings © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Brian Lara | Allen Stanford
Teams: West Indies

No longer formidable as they entered the 21st century, the West Indies cricket team seemed more farce than force. The seeds of the nineties had begun to yield strange fruit. Ripening as the decade turned, they left a bittersweet taste: nostalgia for the brighter days and horror at the unfurling parody. Hardly anyone realised that upward mobility had ceased. Now they were on a plateau of sorts, before slipping off the edge.

It took time to recognise the plunge, but there was no mistaking the seminal nature of the scores of Sabina Park 1995. The Waugh brothers, Steve and Mark, scored 200 and 126. Brian Lara went for a duck. Mark Taylor's men captured the precious Frank Worrell Trophy (and have not yet relinquished it), confirming that West Indies' slide had gained dread momentum. Yet it took the traumatic South Africa tour of 1998-99 to really hammer it home.

In this past decade, the nineties were amplified. Consequences have been more explosive and reactions more drastic, but the trajectory has been the same. Within the bulwarks of the structure of West Indies cricket - administration, performers, governance - the antics remained the same. What might have changed was the external environment, which roiled along merrily, catching West Indies unawares, unprepared, and often with muddy cheeks.

The flurry of captaincy appointments in the 2000s - nine captains served in more than five Tests each, and many of them more than one stint - was more of an acceleration of the desperate search for leadership that began when Viv Richards gave up the captaincy in 1991. Although the turnover was not quite so high in the nineties, the position had already assumed an air of transience and contentiousness that seemed to burden its holders. The high turnover rate extended to presidents and chief executive officers of the West Indies Cricket Board.

The team suffered from the same instability. With the insouciance of one-night stands, players drifted in and out on a match-to-match basis. Barely knowing each other, and often disliking what they knew, team-mates formed few bonds. Nearly as many players were capped in Tests in the period as in the two decades before it.

The impact of these changes of personnel contributed largely to the inconsistency that came to characterise West Indian cricket. Two illustrative points occurred in 2009. The first was the outstanding and consistent successes of the Trinidad and Tobago national team in the Champions League. There is no case to be made that the team had better players than the West Indies team, but it was a team that had played, stayed and trained together over a long period. It was a team abiding under cohesive management, strong in discipline, and sharing a common work ethic infused by its captain, Daren Ganga. The second point was the stark difference in performance between the first and second Tests in Australia in November and December. The inconsistency shone blindingly above the individual performances.

Much has been made about the lack of pride, the abandonment of nationalism and the focus on finances as reasons for the falling away. They are contributing factors, but the absence of a stable, nurturing environment is more fundamentally the root of the evils.

The West Indian road has been so devoid of direction, policy and strategic intent that no one knows which way is up. From captain to cook, the rules change arbitrarily and disorder makes it impossible for any plan to come to fruition. Publicly, team members have been censured for sloppy performances, preoccupation with income and bling, and unwillingness to put the effort into training and fitness. A story that recently made the rounds was of two team members who had a physical altercation over who was a scab and who would stand for West Indies cricket. Would that have arisen if the issue of loyalty was as alien to players as has been suggested? Yet, while it is true that they have been infuriatingly casual as professional cricketers and too cavalier as representatives of a people, it reflects the environment in which they function.

The West Indian road has been so devoid of direction, policy and strategic intent that no one knows which way is up. From captain to cook, the rules change arbitrarily and disorder makes it impossible for any plan to come to fruition

The WICB has parried its way into the most untenable of relationships with players and administrative staff. Not knowing what to do, it has done nothing but react obfuscatingly to every possibility of development. Caught in a web of mistrust and disagreements, it has fought unnecessary wars on too many fronts. Reneging on contractual agreements, refusing to sort out retainer contracts, selling out sponsors and then exploiting advertising and marketing rights - the board spent a great deal of resources on arbitrations, commissions of enquiry and legal wrangles and mostly came out on the wrong end. Despite the clamour for openness and transparency, it kept itself cloistered under the hubris of absolute ownership of West Indies cricket. Yet even as it would not publicly acknowledge the disapproval directed at it, it could not help feeling anxious about its own survival.

When Allen Stanford arrived with his grand Twenty20 tournament plans, it was fear that he was planning an ultimate takeover of West Indies cricket that determined the response to him. It muddied waters and led to needless acrimony among legendary players, until Stanford effectively bought out the WICB with his millions - and even then it was tetchy. What would have happened had Stanford not been hoist by his own petard is anybody's guess.

The WICB found that the projections of windfalls and super legacies from hosting the World Cup in 2007 were not quite as lucrative as they had been led to believe. While some found it profitable, it did not yield nearly enough to refill depleted coffers. Several of the member territories had invested significant portions of their national budgets in preparation for a fairytale ending to the World Cup story. Instead, they were confronted with a global recession that turned their economies upside down. Faced with the prospect of spanking new stadia shrivelling up and dying, the search to recoup may have contributed to the notion of each nation going it alone.

The popularity of Twenty20 provided the impetus. The games have attracted supersized crowds, and with West Indian players demonstrating a penchant for the format, it seems natural for this to be the next realm within which West Indies cricket will rise. Whether it will enter that domain as one nation or fracture into its sundry parts has been a growing debate at the end of the century. In frustration with the administrators, public and parochial calls resound for breaking up the West Indian unit. But who would want to watch Test matches played by the teams that would result?

The possibility of national teams being fielded for Twenty20 tournaments (as already happens) is more likely.

West Indies cricket has been in the doldrums for such a long time, it is difficult to visualise its renaissance. Many have valiantly tried to turn things around; far more have preferred the status quo. At every level, leadership is a diminished franchise, lacking in vision, guts and principles - so far removed from the grace, foresight and integrity of Frank Worrell.

There's been no shortage of activity, but change is a stubborn creature to harness. So reports still languish without implementation, academies still remain a promise, captaincy and all leadership positions are matters of expediency.

Brian Lara takes questions from the media at an ICL press briefing, Mumbai, November 25, 2007
Brian Lara: the genius who left a mixed legacy © AFP

The culture of mediocrity has become the dominant culture. Brian Lara, a creature whose excellence floundered within that morass, recently commented that unlike the Australians, West Indians excelled at converting talent into mediocrity. He was speaking at a ceremony where he was awarded an honorary Order of Australia. It came just over two-and-a-half years after he retired from international cricket, and reinforced that he has been the most influential and dominant person in West Indian cricket for more than 10 years. At 40, the honours have been high for Brian Charles Lara, TC, OCC. In Port-of-Spain, a promenade bears his name, so does a massive sport complex (incomplete after five years); an exhibition at the Lord's Museum celebrated his career in 2007, his retirement year.

There is no question that he brought something immeasurably valuable to cricket. Yet he was as much a part of the debilitating environment, and just as susceptible as its other inhabitants. He was accused of being divisive, selfish and temperamental, and some anointed him the root of all the evils.

Objectively, Lara's gifts empowered him phenomenally, and he exploited that power. Were he in a more mature environment, there would have been much more to support and guide his development. His legacy has been mixed. He was for long the sole force keeping interest in West Indies cricket alive, and since his departure the team has struggled to attract international attention. It will be a challenge for young Adrian Barath to grow within the present framework.

Most of West Indian cricket's headline appearances have arisen from the acrimonious disputes between the WICB and WIPA. With WIPA becoming more strident in its calls for contractual arrangements, the clashes between the two bodies escalated often into open hostilities that invariably went to arbitrators, with the WICB losing ground each time. Trust has disappeared between the parties, and the players feel that their employers are not on their side. When the WICB cobbled together an alternative team for the Bangladesh series in 2009 after yet another dispute, they brazenly announced that it was to maintain Test honour. Then without batting an eyelid, they returned Chris Gayle to the captaincy (honour and principle out expediency's door) for Australia.

As a second decade closes with the same problems circling and the same solutions hovering, nothing offers hope of change or turnaround. Despite anxiety, there is little to support the islands going it alone: they simply do not have the resources to do it.

What gives more cause for concern is the general waning of enthusiasm for Test cricket. The youngsters are not particularly interested in its rigour, spectators are losing their five-day wonder, and there doesn't seem to be enough motivation for it to regain any of its stature. It is hardly likely to die, not within our lifetimes, but it is unlikely that it will undergo any sustained resurgence. In the meantime, with West Indies still occupying the lower rungs of the rankings, and with no tangible moves toward infusing any passion or commitment to Test matches, chances are that the wistful dream of a return to Test dominion will never come true. It might well be time for shorter dreams - 20 overs long.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad


Comments: 23 
Posted by Hita on (January 2, 2010, 0:28 GMT)

It is sad to witness the depths of WI cricket, despite the consistent and characteristic WI flair evident in every new talent that we see. The main blame should go to the administrators, since the players have to concentrate on their own game & career. Which Board in the world would mete out a treatment to arguably the greatest batsman in the decade on either side of this millenium? Brian Lara was given a RAW deal by the small group calling themselves administrators. It was sad to see BC Lara ending his test career leaving the world in shock. Had he been playing for India or Australia, he would truly have been a Demi God in spite of his reported divisiveness. If any genuine talent sees what happened to Lara, they would never pursue cricket in WI. They should rather migrate to other countries. The way forward for WI should be restore some pride. Winning is essential for that and WI should focus on T20 to do that as its duration is ideal for showcasing the mercurial talent.

Posted by Nathaniel on (January 1, 2010, 6:07 GMT)

As a West Indian supporter, I was amazed at how the team dominated international cricket in the 70's, 80's and mid 90's. It is appalling to see that West Indies cricket has declined badly, and this is mainly due to the fact that the West Indies Cricket Board of Control does not have a passion for the sport in the Caribbean. Administartors have come & gone, and yet it seems as though things have got from bad to worse. The solutions are right before the eyes of the WICB, and yet the administators continue to behave like ostriches, always burying their heads in the sand.If the board shows a more whole hearted committment, then West Indies Cricket will begin to rise.

Posted by George on (January 1, 2010, 3:19 GMT)

Interesting article. My feeling is that the decline in West Indies cricket is directly linked to bad leadership in countries like Guyana.

I remember, growing up in Guyana during the 70s/80s the prime minister(Burnham) did everything in his power to discourage the playing of Cricket. He ensured that all of the new playing fields were equipped with soccer goal posts but no cricket pitches, he also made it very difficult for Guyanese to obtain cricket gears like balls and bats. It was truly a sad time for cricket playing Guyanese.

I think that it is quite an accomplishment that Guyana is still able to produce layers like Chanderpaul , Sarwan and Dowlin.

Posted by Jerry on (December 31, 2009, 21:53 GMT)

I agreed with Max056 that Ramdin needs to make more of a contribution with the bat. He is a very good keeper in my eyes but his poor batting over shadows his abilities behind the stumps. In world class cricket keeper plays a key roll in the outcome of a test match. The 3rd test in Austrailia was a disgrace and a huge disappointment for the WIndies fans. Sarwan, Ramdin and Bravo needed to have patience in their batting. Sarwan cricket sense is questionable. He is a specialized batsman and should have applied himself.Test cricket is all patience. Adrian Barrat is a very positive addition to the team but I hope WICB does not ruin him. By the way, Sarwan and Bravo played right into the hands of the Aussies plans. They know how these guys play their shots and setup the trap for them. Cricket sense is very important and they have very little.

Posted by hayden on (December 31, 2009, 0:48 GMT)

@tfjones1978 why i agree whole heartedly with most of your comments, how is dividing a team up into regions for ODI going to make them stronger? if going by what you said gayle would be playing for jamaica, chanderpaul for gyana, bravo for trinidad etc. effectivly taking the strongest and best preformed players and splitting them one per island nation? which island would be touring aus this feb in your book? i wouldnt want any of them individually but would be happy to pay to see them all in one team! which is how it should be! they are capable of beating any nation when combined as one side, i dont think they would be anything but easy beats by themselves!

Posted by Sam on (December 31, 2009, 0:01 GMT)

Excellent column, though I think there's cause for optimism. The current team performed well in 2 out of 3 Tests in Aus and that's without Taylor and Edwards, as well as Sarwan and Chanderpaul suffering fluctuating fitness. There's serious talent in this team, especially Roach.

Posted by Mark on (December 30, 2009, 23:26 GMT)

Excellent well written article, confirming my belief that Vaneisa Baksh is one of the better more intelligent cricket journalists out there It sums up why cricket's once most flamboyant, colourful and entertaining international cricket team from crickets most flamboyant region the caribbean have languished at the bottom rungs of test cricket rankings for the last 14 years. No doubt cricket has been poorer for it How brilliant it would have been in the internet age if the west indies were strong again like they were for most of the 20th century.Also I agree with her that the economics of globalisation and declining interest in cricket in the caribbean over that period may have played its part.That said we saw the current west indies push a good aussie side close to the limit in Australia.Hope west indies can build on their positives and dig deep into its rich 20th century cricket legacy. I am sure all genuine cricket fans around the world would like to see west indies cricket recover.

Posted by Sheldon on (December 30, 2009, 20:38 GMT)

I think that we have to give the turn around time. There were some positive developments over this past year and don't forget Gayle's performance in New Zealand at the end of last year. We as WIndies supporters are expecting too much to happen immediately and sorry guys it just does not go that way. The Australia of today is a direct result of the determination by CA not to ever let the ineptness of the Kim Hughes era to ever happen again, that was over 20 years ago. If we require excellence we have to give ourselves time and plot our course carefully, never mind that the WICB has at times been all at sea. We have to look at the big picture, take baby steps and accept pain as the pathway to maturity, then we can hope to see some lasting progress. But if we keep chasing our tails we will just become dizzy. Hang in there Chris and Co your days are close and your time will come

Posted by StJohn on (December 30, 2009, 20:31 GMT)

An interesting article, but it summarises the problems without really setting out solutions. This is not necessarily the role of journalists, but criticism & analysis is less potent without it. Problems aside, there has been a real improvement in WIndies performances in the last couple of years, which is great to see. The results have not always reflected this, but there is greater fight & resilience in the team now than 3-4 years ago. This culminated in the recent series in Australia, which WIndies were unlucky not to draw & which they might have won (a great result considering their 2 best bowlers of recent times, Taylor & Edwards, were injured). If WIndies can sort out the perennial sponsorship in-fighting & string together a few Test series wins, then that will go some way to restoring balance, consistency & popular enthusiasm for their cricket. It is also noticeable that the team's improvement seemed to start after Lara retired, which is probably proof enough of his divisiveness.

Posted by Mohamed on (December 30, 2009, 18:02 GMT)

Ms. Baksh has done it once again! Praise for the Trinis and to hell with Gayle and co. Nary a word about Shiv. Her comments about the inconsistency of WI between the 1st 2 tests in Aus either shows her ignorance of the circumstances or her willingingness to disregard the facts and lay blame on Gayle and co. Certainly the WI were hampered by not playing together for a long time and also by having only 1 warm up match before the 1st test. (CA granted only 1 warm up match). She ignores the improvement made before the Ban series. WI bt Eng & were forced to defend in very cold weather in Eng. Ms. Baksh cannot have it both ways, i.e., blaming the players and at the same time acknowledging that they don't have the support of good management or system and have financial problem in WI. She also ignores completely the fact that T&T is relatively wealthy country compared to the rest of the WI and can afford better competitive cricket. Enough about Champions trophy which is club cricket at best.

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Vaneisa BakshClose
Vaneisa Baksh has been studying West Indies cricket's history for ages, and has been writing on the game for even longer. She has been admitted as a member of the Queen's Park Cricket Club in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, which recently opened its doors to females. She hasn't become one of the boys yet, though.
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