Sun | Aug 19, 2018

One West Indies team forever

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
WICB Media photo West Indies cricketers paid tribute to the late Australian batsman Phil Hughes last Thursday in South Africa. The players had their first full training session at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg as they prepare for the upcoming series against the home side. The funeral service for Hughes was held last Wednesday in Australia.

When I was a boy, West Indies cricket was coming of age, and when I became a man, it was getting stronger and stronger until in the 1960s and in the 1980s, it was the best in the world.

In those days, however, there were a few hiccups here and there, and there were a few insular voices whispering and calling for a split, for the territories to go it alone.

For more than 50 years, there have been calls to break up West Indies cricket, and recently, following the withdrawal by the West Indies from the tour of India, the calls have become louder.

The early calls were on in the days of Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Allan Rae, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin, and Alfred Valentine, when cricket was the sport, almost the only sport of the West Indies, and those were the days when West Indies cricket was blooming, cricket was considered as an integral part of the West Indies, and the West Indian people were proud, very proud.

Those were also the days of Cricket, Lovely Cricket, a calypso that serenaded the West Indies' first victory over England in England, and the calypso, after the players had done their bit, that made West Indies cricket famous.

The voices of unrest were ridiculed in those days. It was impossible to think of the West Indies, of Barbados, Trinidad, British Guiana, and Jamaica, and not think of cricket.

Cricket was the 'national' sport of the West Indies, and that was that.

I remember, however, 1954 when Jamaica collected money from Jamaicans and brought Headley home, out of retirement, to represent the West Indies against England; I remember 1955 and the fuss over who should captain the West Indies against Australia and the public meetings held in Jamaica; and I remember the threat to abort the first Test match against India if Maurice Foster was not selected, as the only Jamaican, to play at Sabina Park in 1971.

I remember, later, in 1992, when Anderson Cummins, despite Barbadian Desmond Haynes' presence, was not selected for the lone Test match against South Africa and the Barbadians

boycotted the Test match at Kensington Oval, in protest.

I remember many such things, when people from Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, and Jamaica made threats, and still West Indies cricket weathered the storm and carried on.

I remember Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket in 1977 and the effort of the WICB to get money from the governments to keep the players at home.

Government help

I remember the English County Championships and the fallout with the West Indies players and the attempt to get the governments to help with a fund from which the players would be assisted, and I remember, in 1983, the West Indies Rebel cricketers who went to South Africa and the attempts by the board to get some money from the West Indies governments so that it could try and stop some of the players.

West Indies cricket, in most cases, and with the exception of a few, never, or almost never, got any help when the going was rough or when the need was financial.

The governments, except for certain tax exemptions and things like that, were really nothing but fair weather friends, or so it seemed.

Money was always found for national football teams and track teams, however. Maybe it was because whenever the countries enjoyed success in sports such as football and track and field they were publicly recognised.

And they were saluted in football where the respective national anthems were always played, and in track and field where the national anthems were always played and the national flags always raised.

There was a greater feeling of national pride.

Not so in cricket. Despite Rally Round the West Indies, there was no such thing as a 'national' anthem, or a 'national' flag.

Once again, however, following many quarrels between players and board over money, many quarrels over team selections, many quarrels over captains, many quarrels over the men who served as presidents of the WICB, and, most recently, the embarrassing strike of the West Indies team, the whispers are back again, and almost as loud this time around.

Maybe, it is because the West Indies, once undisputed champions of the world, are not winning as they used to do, maybe it is because the world is changing, maybe it is because of the spread of a sport like football, maybe it is because of the growing achievements in track and field. Then maybe it is because of the success in other sports.

And in Jamaica, that is especially true. The deeds of Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and many, many others are there for all to see.

As a Jamaican, however, and as a proud West Indian, I am forever in favour of West Indies cricket, of one West Indian team - win, lose, or draw.

Cricket can still teach us to live together as one people.

wishful thinking

The alternative would be disastrous, almost suicidal. Individually, the islands are too small to nurture an international cricket team on their own as there is not enough people, or enough money, to do so. It would only be wishful thinking, or a pipe dream, to even think of it.

The West Indies have to struggle on, and play on.

The present set of board members and players, and especially those who see money as the only thing, can never ever take the place of presidents like Stollmeyer, Rae, Walcott, and Pat Rousseau; of players like George Headley and Learie Constantine, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Ramadhin, and Valentine, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, and Lance Gibbs, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Jeffrey Dujon, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, and Courtney Walsh.

Those players were West Indians who felt the need for money, talked about it, fought for it, but never worshipped it, or sacrificed anything for it, including, possibly, West Indies cricket.

Instead, they played cricket, they played for the territories and for the West Indies, and the memories of them live on, their greatness lasting forever.