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Much more than cricket

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The cricketers who represented the West Indies in the 2011 International Cricket Conference’s (ICC) World Cup are probably home by now, relaxing after yet another failure on the international stage. Except for some flak in the regional press, they are unlikely to feel the extent of the huge disappointment felt by the Caribbean public, at home and in the diaspora.{{more}} In any case, there is even a strand of thought which says that, considering that the team was ranked below Bangladesh before the tournament, getting to the quarter-finals, at the expense of the same Bangladesh, can actually be considered an improvement.

Of course, this ignores the ignominious exit from the World Cup and the all-too-familiar collapses, which characterise modern-day West Indies cricket.

By contrast, teams from most of the other top cricketing nations face far greater pressures from their fans and citizens. Three-time winner Australia, the mammoth of international cricket for the past 15 years, goes back to a searching examination, following its quarter-final exit, with captain Ricky Ponting, a giant during that period, under fire to quit. England, hopes raised by its world T20 title, and a splendid Ashes victory over Australia, will have its own post-mortem.

As for the teams in the Asian sub-continent, their fanatical fans demand ultimate success. The West Indies players would have had first-hand experience of this, their bus having been stoned by irate Bangladeshi fans, who mistook it for that carrying the local players, on whom they wanted to vent their anger, after a disappointing loss to the said West Indies. For these people, it is not just a game of cricket; much more is at stake.

The bus-stoning epitomises the pressure on teams from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to deliver success to adoring fans. They do not take to failure kindly. Not just today, either, for even such icons as Imran Khan and Wasim Akram have had to virtually hide from unforgiving Pakistani fans after important losses. In India, former skipper Surav Ganguly, had his home attacked for a similar reason. This is serious business, very serious business. It does not automatically mean that fan pressure guarantees success, for many other factors are involved, but it certainly makes the players aware of the weight of responsibility on their shoulders. Those representing the West Indies do not have to face similar situations, thus the almost flippant attitude to long years of defeat and the frittering away of the tremendous legacy of the seventies and eighties.

There is an old saying that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but this seems to be lost on the top “stars” of the West Indies. Yet, if they were to look around at their international colleagues, they would see examples. Take Australia, for instance. The 2011 team is but a shadow of the great sides, which won three successive World Cups, (a feat which even Clive Lloyd’s champions could not accomplish). The opening pair of Watson and Haddin pale in comparison to Hayden and Gilchrist; the present middle order can’t tie the shoe-laces of those of the Steve Waugh era; Shaun Tait is no Glen McGrath and, God forbid, to compare any of the current spinners to Shane Warne. Even skipper Ricky Ponting has been waning; yet, when the pressure came in the crucial match against India, he revealed his character and mettle with a splendid century. Could we say the same of our much-beloved Chris Gayle?

There are other examples too. Which cricketer has had to withstand the social pressures faced by India’s iconic Sachin Tendulkar? But day in, day out, he has performed, and is still delivering at the cricketing-ripe age of 37. Pakistan’s captain Shahid Afridi has had his fair share of criticism, but come World Cup 2011, with all of Pakistan craving success to compensate for the humiliation of being the only country in the sub-continent not to host a match, he has led from in front by personal example. Sri Lanka’s skipper Sangakkara has done the same. Pity poor Darren Sammy! Even New Zealand, with a batch of run-of-the-mill cricketers, has demonstrated by commitment, that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

So, it is no wonder that three teams from the sub-continent, and New Zealand, make up the ‘Final Four’ in the World Cup, competing for the glory of the championship. There is now the mouth-watering prospect of an India/Pakistan semi-final and the real possibility that one of these may have to battle it out with neighbouring Sri Lanka, (if it can get past the tenacious New Zealand), in a dream final. It is not just cricket which will be involved.

All kinds of historical, social, political and national factors are involved. The tragedy is that we in the Caribbean are yet to wake up to the realisation that it is MUCH, MUCH MORE THAN CRICKET.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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