30 years ago, this summer’s international visitors to England’s green and pleasant land were both in very different places. South Africa were still struggling against an appalling apartheid regime and the West Indies were the most dominant cricket side on the planet. In 2017 South Africa are happily now a major part of the cricket fraternity whilst the West Indies, despite some impressive limited overs success, are drifting further and further into obscurity.
For a man whose interest in cricket first started formulating in the late 1980s the West Indies were the side that everyone wanted to be, everyone wanted to see and everyone impersonated in practice. From learning about Sir Vivian Richards to listening to the wonderful and irreplaceable Tony Cozier they were cool, calm, collected and seriously bloody good. They are the cricketing equivalent of Brazil in football in that they are everyone’s favourite second team.
Listening to England being dismantled on TMS whilst being driven around by my Dad in Scotland on family holidays became a regular occurrence and I don’t think I will ever forget listening to a Curtly Ambrose inspired demolition of England for a meagre 46 at Port of Spain in 1994 whilst hiding under the duvet at my grandmother’s house. The runout of now England batting coach, Mark Ramprakash leaving the score 2-1 replays constantly in my head whenever I think about a West Indian pace attack. They struck fear into not only their direct opponents but the fans alike.
Not quite being old enough to have seen them in their real pomp I would listen enthralled to commentators, friend’s fathers or my older brothers talk about Gordon Greenidge’s 214 not out to win the Test at Lord’s in 1984, Malcolm Marshall batting one handed in the same series, Sir Garfield Sobers hitting a flat six through the offside at the MCG and someone who was referred to as the ‘whispering death’(I later discovered his name was Michael Holding) demolishing all before him. Having now seen footage of these phenomenal players it must have something quite spectacular to see them going about their business.
All great teams and individuals have a shelf life though and the cyclical nature of sport will always bring about the end of a dominant era for a side and unfortunately, I came in towards the end. In 1994/95 Australia finally took over the mantle as the number one side in the world and they maintained that for almost two decades. Whilst the West Indian results didn’t quite remain as spectacular as they had been during their dominance they still had some quality remaining.
Brian Charles Lara became the next West Indian batting hero and in 1994/95 he broke almost every batting record available to an individual. He was, along with Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman to have played the game in the last 30 years and with Ambrose and Courtney Walsh still terrorising the opponent’s batsmen they still managed to win more than they lost.
Sadly, those days have been left behind and West Indian cricket bares very little resemblance to the one I learnt so much about all those years ago. In-fighting and poor pay has always been associated with the West Indian cricket board and once again they have not helped this decline, you feel, as much as they should have done. Internal bickering and squabbles about incredibly low pay are not something new but with the advent of T20 and all the various leagues that come with it, players are now able to seek financial gain elsewhere. They did not appear in the Champions Trophy earlier this summer because they are now ranked outside the top eight in the world for limited overs cricket and their Test ranking is always drooping.
A comfortable series win is expected for England at home and it should turn out that way. There are a couple of Hopes for the West Indies in Kyle and Shai who will hopefully make an impact on the series but there are not many other positives. Hopefully, following the Under 19 World Cup victory last year there are hopes of an improvement in their fortunes going forward but something needs to change sooner rather than later.
The game financially is in very good health now but the revitalisation of the West Indies as a cricket team would be great news for everyone involved. The vibrancy and the excitement of the game would only be enhanced by having them involved again. I for one hope it happens sooner rather than later.
By Andy Hunter