Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Hindu
The Hindu
K.C. Vijaya Kumar

An ODI World Cup without West Indies provides a grim pointer to sport’s ruthless jabs at destiny

Sports fandom at the highest level is often love soaring at extreme levels. It is unconditional, obsessive, moody, prone to ecstasy and equally vulnerable to heartbreaks. And from Saturday night, it was time to nurse a bleeding heart as the West Indies failed to qualify for the ICC World Cup scheduled to be held later this year in India. The loss to Scotland, in the World Cup qualifiers at Harare, was the final nail in an old, weather-beaten coffin.

The West Indies to cricket is what Brazil and Argentina are to football. These are teams that soar above the narrow confines of nationality, draw fans from across the universe and play a brand of sport that is elemental, aesthetic, have the sweetness of hot chocolate, the spice of a Peri Peri sauce and above all gift us a sense of wonder.

Unfortunately time waits for none, trends wane, collective attributes vanish, people change and teams succumb to that old cliche — the glorious uncertainties of sport. With the West Indies, the fall from grace wasn’t sudden, this was a free-fall but in slow motion. Perhaps, the first stumble was in 1983 when Kapil’s Devils humbled Clive Lloyd’s men in the World Cup final at Lord’s.

Clive Lloyd, captain of the winning West Indian team, after the 1975 WC. (Source: Getty Images)

First time

And 40 years later, the West Indies, twice champion in the World Cup (1975 and 1979), will miss cricket’s premier championship for the first time. For most cricket fans, who are not from the Caribbean Isles, the West Indies is their second favourite team. There is an ease and fun that the West Indies bequeaths to the willow game and that swagger is what drew us in, or at least a generation used to black and white televisions, telegrams, and for which twitter was nothing but the chirping of birds.

The meltdown in the current qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe may look sudden but this has been a death, slow in progress but fixed about its certainty. Yes, taxes and death are inevitable but sporting units tend to defy this as personnel change and the flame is carried forward. It just reiterates that old saying ‘Individuals may go but institutions will stay’. And the West Indies was an institution. Marinated in the musical calypso from those distant islands, separate nations but united for cricket and promising sporting utopia, the West Indies now has been reduced to a dirge while our tear glands go into overdrive.

Those islands that threw up kinetic batters, fearsome speedsters and athletic fielders also offered us lessons in anthropology thanks to its mix of a few colonial masters and the offspring of indentured labour from Africa and India. You get Vivian Richards proud about his ‘Black’ identity and Rastafarian moorings, and you also get a Shivnarine Chanderpaul devoted to the Hindu pantheon. Above all you get a Michael Holding, ‘Whispering Death’ as umpire Dickie Bird described him, a fast bowler who evolved into an elder statesman acutely conscious about race and the attendant prejudices.

West Indies Captain Clive Lloyd surrounded by his players as he displays the 1979 Prudential Cup. (Source: Getty Images)

The West Indies wasn’t just about cricket, it was also a link to a diversity forged through a tough colonial past, while also breaking into a belly-aching laugh, dancing steps and glasses brimming with rum. This was sport, truth and paradise, it is just that the lights got switched off with a finality from Harare. Perhaps Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s castling of Gordon Greenidge at Lord’s or later Kapil Dev’s jaw-dropping catch off Richards are those initial moments when the Windies began to falter and yet there was always some hope through Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

A phenomenal squad was now throwing up a few rare individuals for us to cherish. We clutched at those helplines, hoping that a turnaround is just around the corner. There were glimmers of hope. The title triumphs in the Champions Trophy (once) and the T20 World Cup (twice) and the rousing flight of Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo in the Indian Premier League (IPL) were seen as dollops of hope promising cricketing nirvana. Just that these were ripples in a lost cause.

The lure of football, athletics and basketball, especially the NBA from the United States, has constantly attracted the finest talent from the Caribbean islands. For every Usain Bolt thrilling our senses, there are many who just hop overseas in their quest for sporting riches and stability in life. Even cricketers have leapt across continents, be it a Devon Malcolm before and a Jofra Archer now. If England enjoyed these bonuses, the IPL too found an extra spark from West Indian stars even if that old ‘club vs country’ debate was raised.

Tiny islands, split by the sea and united by a shared love for cricket, may be seen as an anachronism in this era of self-obsession and a lack of empathy, but the West Indies bucked those trends until its cricket lost its moorings. After the gut-wrenching losses against the Netherlands and Scotland in Zimbabwe, skipper Shai Hope said that the team can only go one way from now and that is up. It is a good thought to have but reality can be grim.

Dearth of talent

There is a dearth of talent within the West Indian cricketing veins and even if a good player emerges, the temptation of franchises from the cash-rich T20 leagues leads to a distraction and an eventual burnout. When Hope’s men lost their hope against Scotland, it was ironical that in the Ashes Test at Lord’s, England was dishing out a West Indian technique to silence the Aussie batters: short-pitched bowling that caused awkward responses from the stunned batters. The imitators prospered at London while the originals wilted at Harare.

Earlier, runs and wickets against the West Indies was the ultimate barometer of cricketing excellence but over the last few decades that trope has been discarded. It is now seen as a pliable opposition, easy on the eye, good for the opposition egos and so much so that the men from those islands were preferred as the rivals for Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test series in 2013!

The West Indies Cricket Board needs to step up and the old grievances of island-rivalries or the latest grouses centred around poor pay need to be addressed. To see a World Cup without the West Indies is a grim pointer to sport’s ruthless jabs at destiny. Maybe Walsh could have done an R. Ashwin and run out non-striker Salim Jaffer in that crucial 1987 World Cup game in Pakistan. The former champion subsequently crashed out of that championship.

Or maybe we didn’t read the tea leaves then, lost in our love for a splendid bunch, intrinsic to our nostalgia. It is time to see some old YouTube videos to observe Richards and Malcolm Marshall, and many others. And yes, pass those tissues, the heart breaks, the eyes mist, and it is never easy.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.