West Indians longing for ‘a better day of cricket’
This columnist was, as a boy aged 11, introduced to the discipline of Test cricket. It came from a medical father from a background of poverty, but a father who thought that the game of gentlemen was compulsory education for his sons, for whom birth circumstances afforded a perch of privilege on the social ladder.
The option to refuse parental instructions did not exist then. Daddy, who could more than afford a higher spectator rating, accompanied his very compliant younger son to sit on the grounds at Sabina Park, the least costly section.
Clearly, a lesson was being taught. Of course, it was after school hours at the neighbouring Morris Knibb Prep, and since elder brother - now revered as Dr William - was confined to boarding school at Jamaica College (JC), there was no sibling sharing of the moment.
It was the closing session of the fifth and final Test against the visiting India, for whom Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar showed class that foretold the later arrival of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.
Batting idols to many West Indians at the time, the Three W's (Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott) had scored 564 runs among them in the first innings. To be able to see them on that afternoon, modest offerings notwithstanding, almost atoned for failure to do so when they dispatched the bowlers from the continent to all sections of the park.
Chasing 181 runs for victory, 92 for four wickets - after an India crawl to 444 to ensure a draw - was less than enticing.
Following that era, there were thrills in batting power, panache, and pride. The architects were Garfield Sobers, later to receive a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen; Rohan Kanhai; Seymour Nurse; and Basil Butcher, supported by the Boys' Town boy, Collie Smith, after opener Conrad Hunte, also to receive the title "Sir", had prepared the opponents' bowlers for the slaughter.
They made the game an entertainment priority. That the wielders of the willow, in all their elegance and aplomb, contributed to the saying, "cricket is a batsman game", will not here be disputed. But that accepted, six-foot and plenty, lightning-quick bowlers, fierce in approach and demonic in execution, must be mentioned when the history of the noble game and what gave it its spectator value is catalogued.
They came in all shapes, Wesley Hall; Charlie Griffith of suspect action; Keith Boyce, fiery fast for a single season (1973); the unsmiling ferocity of Andy Roberts; the silky smooth sprinter strides of Michael Holding; with Curtly Ambrose and world record wicket-taker in Courtney Walsh. They embellished the spectacle.
Also making the cut to win souls to the game were spin twins Ramadhin and Valentine, who mesmerised opposing batsmen on their day. Soon after, arrived the flighted, deceptive guile of bean pole Lance Gibbs, recalling memories of one of that great and picturesque in speech cricket commentator, John Arlott's favourite quotes: "Gibbs to Dexter, who gropes."
The vicious belligerence of Viv Richards, the elegance and charm of Lawrence Rowe, and the artistry and craft of a Brian Lara came later.
All these difficult-to-forget periods indelibly imprinted cricket as the game to be watched.
Is the oh so tolerant and patient cricketing public, having had the experiences, as cited, expecting a return of those days, or are they asking, as Marc Anthony did of a dead Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare classic of that name, "O mighty Caesar! Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?"
West Indies are unable to rise from the cellar of world cricket. Players of talent drift in and out as they succumb to the "dangled carrots" of 20:20 frolic.
Political leaders are locked in battles with the game's administrators as to who disrespected who first. This is close to anarchy in the once-loved game.
Dave Cameron is the top man and he should know the ills. Vilified and sidelined for one reason or another, even before he took the chair, he is expected to find the cure for all maladies - Simply because he is who the region has and he needs the filip of "a better day for cricket" to beef up his rÈsumÈ.
Fix it, Dave!