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Is there a blight in West Indies Cricket?

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Following the West Indies series victory over England and the impressive performances in recent times of Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Taylor, West Indian cricket fans have begun to smile again. It was as though something remarkable was happening and we were not sure but it lifted our spirits both literally and figuratively. Although it was difficult to define precisely what was happening, it was clear that our ‘boys’ were beginning to feel good about themselves and had developed confidence in themselves.{{more}} Something was happening in their minds more than anywhere else, which, incidentally, is where we have always had a problem. This was clearly seen in those two matches that we were able to draw. A year or two ago we would not have had a ghost of a chance even though we had roughly the same players. Gayle has clearly commanded the respect of the players and Dyson seemed to have added something which made a difference.

So all of this is happening and we are beginning to dream once more about a return to our glory days. We had played England into the ground in the one off 20-20 game. The time to crush England was now. Then it happened. The first of the ODI games in Guyana appeared to be playing true to form. Our ‘boys’ were on the verge of moving one up into the one day series. We who were following the commentary on radio and television knew clearly what was happening. With the fall of Ramdin’s wicket we were slightly behind in a game that was likely to be cut short because of fading light. Two runs were needed to put us ahead under the Duckworth-Lewis system. Then out of the blue some curse struck the cricket ground. We couldn’t believe it. There was the coach calling our batsmen off. Unbelievable! Had someone gone mad?

The English players were beginning to celebrate while coach Dyson was shuffling papers with the team manager beside him like some messenger waiting to assist in carrying out orders. It finally dawned on these two management officials that we had indeed lost the game. Dyson had misread the Duckworth-Lewis chart. He explained, “When it came down to that last wicket I didn’t go across the column. I went down the wrong column. It’s my responsibility, that’s it…” Surely anyone can make a mistake but this explanation was unacceptable. First, it wasn’t as though there was a sudden downpour and they were taken completely by surprise. They knew it was coming and had all the time to prepare for it. But more astonishingly, is this how things are done? Are the decisions the sole prerogative of the coach? Shouldn’t he have been consulting with others? The captain was somewhere in the back unaware, it appears, of what was happening. Was no one listening to the commentary? Had Dyson consulted with others, he would have known that he wasn’t going across the column, to use his line of thinking.

We surely looked like a bunch of primitive, ‘unschooled’ persons who don’t even know how to count. It has happened before. That is true, but under the circumstances there was absolutely no reason for what happened to have taken place. And all of this after Chanderpaul, ‘the Tiger’, had exhibited his mastery in slamming 26 off the seventh over of Harmison. That unforgettable over brought us right back into the game and would have secured for Chanderpaul, the man of the match award, if we had won. So we blame Dyson, but we have to go beyond this. Are decisions really made without even involving the captain? What was the manager thinking? Was he also reading down rather than going across the column, or was he simply waiting to carry out whatever instructions came from the coach? That is West Indies cricket. We hadn’t even gotten over the shame of Antigua. And then this!

It was time to move on to the second ODI game and hope for the best. The rumours began to circulate. Our ‘boys’ might boycott the game. They didn’t turn up to the reception hosted by Digicel in Guyana. So we didn’t know what to expect on Sunday, but they turned up to a tumultuous reception from Guyanese fans that sensed that they had turned the corner. They wore tapes on their right sleeves over the Digicel name, for part of the game. This was crazy, for their grouse was not with Digicel. The West Indian Players’ Association’s (WIPA) President had resigned from the West Indian Cricket Board over differences with the Board arising from unresolved issues related to retainer contracts and players fees for the recently concluded tour of New Zealand and the current first class games. The first class games that were to be played that weekend were interrupted because no play took place on the first day. All as part of a protest by WIPA, although the players in the first class games seemed not to be sure what it was all about.

What is happening with the management of West Indian Cricket that things must come down to this? Just when we thought we had turned the corner there appears to be something around blocking the entrance. There is surely never a dull moment in West Indies cricket for even when we make improvements on the field the problems off the field appear to stifle any hope and any good feeling. A classic case of the game beyond the boundary.

Let me in concluding make a point that is not necessarily related to the issues raised above but which has to do with the St.Vincent portion of West Indies cricket. It was not long ago when regional cricket matches held here were well publicized to the extent that even if you had no intention of going to the game you just felt you had to. Those days are gone. Unless you are an avid sports fan and follow the sports news on a daily basis you would hardly have known that there was a game being played here last weekend. There were many who would have gone to the game but apparently only knew at the very last moment that there was a game being played at the Arnos Vale playing field. Has the blight been spread all around?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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