The name West Indies conjures up past images of cricket played at its expansive best. As India begin their tour of the Caribbean islands, nostalgia floods the mind, reminding one of some of the most glorious moments of international cricket.
The present may not mirror the past and it is a rude jolt to awaken to the reality of West Indian cricket no longer being a dominant force, the odd success, especially in T-20 cricket, notwithstanding. Yet, I know of no one, especially of a generation that followed cricket closely from the sixties, who does not hope and fervently wish for a revival of that past that symbolized the best attributes of cricket and sports.
In my early memories of cricket, the line, “the bowler is finding for himself how difficult it is to bowl to Sobers in this mood” from the BBC Test match special, still resonates in my ears, though the event took place in 1974. Gary Sobers then was almost a shadow of himself being in the twilight of his career, but his awesome legacy was taken forward by the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Brian Lara and a torrent of fast bowlers who could flatten the best team without batting an eyelid.
Among this great tribe, Richards, called the “Smokin Joe” for his intimidating boxer like physique, was the ultimate in combining arrogance with grace and power with delicacy, reminding the best of bowlers with his audacious strokes, who is the master. Wasim Akram, among the all-time best fast bowlers in the world, summed up Richards in these lines: “When you ran up to bowl to him, you feared humiliation as he could hit even the best ball of your life, even on the most difficult track, out of the park with complete nonchalance.”
The Lloyd-Richards era was also the most productive time for the West Indies, as no other team was a patch on them, in talent, self-confidence, winning streak and above all, in providing rich entertainment to the crowd.
Just as cricket as a sport needed more teams to expand its limited base, West Indies slumped. So dramatic has been the fall that sociologists and historians are grappling to find reasons for their decline. They range from the complete collapse of colonialism, where the Black pride against their White masters no longer being a major inspiration, the influence of American sports to the rivalries among the various island nations which come together as one team for the sake of cricket.
Whatever the reasons, no follower of the game, be he in India or anywhere else, does not bemoan this fall, with a tear in his eye. Even the worst critics of T-20 cricket celebrated when the West Indies won the World Cup this year. When Dwayne Bravo sang: Chompions, chompians, we are the chompions,” with the verve and vigour only a West Indian can bring to life, the world was once again reminded of the awesome legacy of their great past and what we have missed in recent years.
Even at the risk of being called anti-national, I am sure there would be many who wouldn’t mind India losing the present series, if it leads to revival of the great tradition of West Indies cricket.