Garry Sobers has delivered an emotional lament on the state of West Indies cricket, attributing the decline of West Indies side to the rise of Twenty20 leagues. He made his comments in Colombo, ahead of the second Test of the Sobers-Tissera series, which he is attending.
Sobers was particularly sorrowful as he reflected on what he felt was a dearth of motivation and pride in playing for West Indies, among modern players. West Indies are currently eighth on the Test ranking list, and seventh in ODIs. "My whole obligation was to West Indies cricket," Sobers said. "As I've always said, I have never made a run for me. I have always played for the West Indies team and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did. You know, records meant nothing. The team was important.
"I don't think we have that kind of person today. We might have them in different countries - we might have them in Sri Lanka, in England, in Australia - but I don't think we have that kind of person in West Indies cricket anymore, who is quite prepared to play and give it everything for their country. And that hurts. Until we can get people who are willing to play for West Indies in the right way, I think we're going to be struggling for a long time. Other countries are going to surpass us. "
Sobers suggested that some West Indies players even focus on Test cricket only as a means to landing an IPL contract. There have been several instances of Caribbean players prioritising domestic leagues over playing for West Indies in the past few years. In January, Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine declined the retainer offered by the West Indies Cricket Board, ostensibly to remain free to play in domestic T20 tournaments.
"I think T20 competitions are certainly destroying West Indies cricket, I'll tell you that," Sobers said. "When you look at the point of view of the players from the West Indies in particular, they come from very humble backgrounds. So if the opportunity is there for them to make money so they can help their families, then you can't really blame them. But I think they should be able to use discretion and understand the difference. I don't think Twenty20 will run away. I've always believed that Test cricket was the utmost, and if you were a cricketer, that was the sort of cricket that you'd want to play."
Sobers said that other cricket nations had maintained the primacy of international cricket much better than West Indies had. He believed, however, that the Caribbean could still produce talented cricketers who were capable of regaining some of West Indies' former glory.
"In the 1980s and 90s, West Indies were champions for about 15 years. I don't think you'll see that again in the history of cricket. At present we have lost a lot of that because I suppose we got too lazy. T20 cricket seems to be affecting West Indies more than any other nation. We're all rebuilding. But some seem to be doing it faster than others. All the other countries seem to be doing it faster than the West Indies.
"But I think we've got a lot of good players in the making, and I think they just need a bit more time. If they are handled in the right way and are given the right ingredients, I am quite sure that West Indies cricket will blossom again."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando