ONDRIVE BY SHAM SAMAROO
What a disgrace! The once mighty, all-conquering West Indies must now compete in the ICC Associate division for a chance to play in the 2019 World Cup.
West Indies failed to gain automatic qualification for the World Cup coming in below Afghanistan in the world rankings. This disappointment comes on the heels of the West Indies missing out earlier this summer on the Champions Trophy played in England. It was the first time in its storied history that the West Indies failed to qualify for a major world event.
So where did it all go wrong for the once proud and mighty West Indies? Of course, if you were to ask Brian Lara, his answer is simple. Lara does not believe that the 80s West Indies teams were that great. According to Lara, West Indies dominance in the 80s was fake; was based mostly on non-cricketing reasons. The West Indies team of the 80s won because they played the game “in a way that it should never ever be played”, said Lara.
Lara credited West Indies success to bad sportsmanship and intimidation – to what he termed “shameless gamesmanship” – and added that he was personally “embarrassed” at the way the team played. Addressing the large audience at Lords a few weeks ago, Lara confessed that it was a time that he “was not very proud of”, and that seeing West Indian players behave in such a way was “one of the saddest moments in the world”.
Is Lara being somewhat of a hypocrite here? While there is some truth to what Lara is saying (some of the players have since confessed that there were times when the team did transgress the spirit of the gentleman’s game); there is also this: during his time, Lara was arguably the most disliked player on the West Indies team precisely because of his selfishness, and atrocious conduct both on and off the field. In fact, across the region and the cricket world, there is widespread consensus that Brian Lara was at the centre of the complete breakdown in player discipline in West Indies cricket. Hence, Lara talking about being “embarrassed” and “not very proud of” players’ conduct, is as fake as Hillary calling someone out for not speaking the truth. That said; let’s take a closer look at the possible reasons for the sorry state of the regional game today.
The West Indies is currently ninth in the world rankings losing seven of the last 14 tests away from home. In fact, discounting Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the last time West Indies won an away series was 1995. So where and when did it all go so wrong? The problems began in the 90s, and seem to be two-fold: a breakdown in player discipline and an incompetent, inept, and outdated cricket administration that has mutated into a command and control style of leadership. The breakdown in player indiscipline can be traced back to the 90s with Lara repeatedly accused of undermining his captains (Richardson, Walsh, Hooper), and recklessly sacrificing the fortunes of the team on the altar of his selfish, self-serving, egomaniacal obsession for captaincy.
On Lara’s first tour to England in 1994, he was charged with breach of contract, and for absenting himself from the team. In his book, Time to Talk, Curtly Ambrose summed up the entire sordid affair this way: “This unpleasant incident left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I told coach Andy Roberts and manager Wes Hall that at the end of the tour I would no longer play for the West Indies”. This decision, Ambrose wrote, “had nothing to do with my cricket” and “centred on a higher regard for one man [Lara] than the team”. This breakdown in discipline is closely intertwined with the second reason for the current state of West Indies cricket – a spineless administration that for years chose to turn a blind eye to Lara’s atrocious conduct.
The Board’s failure to act would lead to a complete breakdown in player discipline as one player after another began to follow in Lara’s footsteps.
In the last few years, the Board has made a complete one eighty. Today there is a command and control style of leadership that is more interested in confrontation with the players rather than compromise. The region’s best players have been involved in an endless dispute with the Board that came to a head on the 2014 tour to India. The tour was eventually cut short because of a pay dispute, and a year ago, Dwayne Bravo said the board was “the most unprofessional” in the world. Will things change anytime soon? No, regrettably.