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Waxing, waning West Indies

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West_Indies_cricket_board_playersI can't remember a cricket team dominating the way West Indies did from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, and I couldn't imagine that the same team would plummet down so fast it would be thrown out of the Champions Trophy within two decades of that golden era.

Call it a cycle of ups and down, destiny, or just sheer irony, but the sad decline of West Indies cricket has been nothing if not a nightmare. Not only for the Caribbean fans, but for Cricket in general.

I do not have any experience of that golden era. All the knowledge that I have has been passed on from the previous generation. But remaining unbeaten in 29 straight Test series over a span of 20 years is a feat that doesn't need any proof of greatness. Viv Richards was once quoted saying "the only sporting team of African descent that has been able to win repeatedly against all international opposition".

More than that, West Indies Cricket team was, and still is, the only successful attempt to keep the region united. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, the side has won only 14 test matches in the space of one and a half decades! That is lower than the number of test series West Indies had won from 1975 to 1995!

When West Indies were the ruling team in World Cricket, both their batsmen and bowlers were known for their brutality, brilliance and intimidation. With the likes of Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall, their height was enough to scare the batsman standing at the other end.

And the batsmen. Who can forget Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards? They still seem like household names in India.

As time progressed, the downfall of West Indian cricket became more and more evident. The team has produced gems like Lara and Chanderpaul, but the flow of the river has slowed down. West Indies have struggled to find a true pace bowler in recent times. The intimidation seems lacking, and the team stands less united than in the past.

 

Even if there's talent, it has only been worsened by growing corruption in the region. T20 stars like Chris Gayle choose to play in the IPL rather than for their home team. He is not alone. Name a player from the West Indies. Chances are, he’s followed in Gayle’s footsteps. WICB suffers from a lack of money, and the number of players going astray for T20 leagues is significantly increasing.

Moreover, it feels like the talent pool in the West Indies is a bit shallow. Take out a few top names from the side and you can see their team faltering to reach the likes of a Bangladesh team six years ago. Does anyone remember Bangladesh's tour to West Indies in 2009?

If anything, the T20 format has proved to be a consolation. The West Indies won the World T20 in 2012 and again in 2016. They are the only team to have won the T20 World Cup twice and are currently ranked No. 1 in the format. But then, the World T20 victory in 2016 was rocked by another revelation.

"We had no uniforms, no printed … he (team manager) left Dubai, went to Kolkata, that's where he started. The trouble he went to, to get us in this uniform … I got to give credit to the entire team here, it was us in our own little circle, this win we dedicate it to all our fans in the Caribbean", West Indies' captain Darren Sammy spoke during the presentation ceremony in the final.

He criticised the WICB for their lack of support all through the speech and how difficult it was for them to even get their uniforms printed! He also lashed out at the critics who gave the team no chance to win the World T20.

Payment disputes and diverted talent are not the only problems. With the fall of the mighty dynasty, some things follow automatically. As the team fields under-strength teams due to payment issues, many fans in the Caribbean now prefer to watch American sports on TV instead. Sparse attendance marks the matches in the Caribbean, and even the world champions (Australia) fail to draw a full-house. An English tour in the region does attract wide attention though and the stadiums remain filled during the matches.

However, signs of revival have been seen lately. West Indies won the Under-19 World Cup, the Women's World Cup and the T20 World Cup in 2016. A treble! This is a record I've never heard of in cricket before! Just when you think it’s all downhill, the West Indians always spring something to surprise you.

“You have seen young kids mature and show a great deal of awareness, it makes me optimistic about the future of West Indies cricket”, Ian Bishop said after the West Indies’ victory in the U/19 World Cup.

In the recently ended tri-series against the heavyweights Australia and South Africa, West Indies reached the final against Australia. They defeated South Africa twice, while the Australians were defeated once during the round-robin matches. This was despite the missing big names like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo or Andre Russell to name a few, from the squad. It does show that the West Indies have the quality and talent; it just needs polishing and a healthy environment to get on the right track.

 

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