By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
The captain of the West Indies Test team is more powerful that many Presidents and Prime Ministers. The West Indies is the only place on the planet where eleven players are chosen from different countries to represent a nation. This creates its own problems and also has its advantages. The nations became the nursery for future talents. In the old days, insularity and individualism were common themes in West Indies cricket. But a smart captain was able to bring out the best in the players and to instill in them the importance of playing for country.
Frank Worrell articulated this vision. The Caribbean was more than a geographical expression, a collection of territories separated by the Caribbean Sea and trapped by the tides of insularity. Eric Williams argued that the destiny of the far-flung territories lay in its ability to speak with a common voice. Cricket became that voice. Worrell saw the potential and power of unity in cricket. It was under his leadership that West Indies thrived and became unofficial world champions. When his team left Australia in 1961 there was a parade of thousands to bid the players farewell. No other team had since received such an accolade. Worrell ‘the jolly good fellow’ had rescued cricket from the doldrums. He had brought the Caribbean closer.
The plantations in the Caribbean became the treasure trove of many famous names. There were Learie Constantine, George Headley, Garfield Sobers, the three W’s, Rohan Kanhai, Collie Smith, and others, that put their stamp on the game. By the time West Indies toured England in 1963, many knew that West Indies was a cricket nation. It may have its own forms of government but the people of the West Indies looked to the team to bring glory
As Clive Lloyd aptly puts it, when the West Indies cricket team does well there is a spring in the step of the Caribbean. There is nothing like victory to reinforce bragging rights and open a floodgate of goodwill. The Caribbean is more at ease talking about the performance of the West Indies team rather than discussing the latest GNP per capita or immigration in the region.
Cricket then is the glue that binds the West Indies. There is no doubt that social media has brought cricket closer to the fans. Gone are the days of a scratchy transistor pasted to the ear to listen to the commentaries. If only John Arlott could have teamed up with Tony Cozier and Alan McGillivray in the same box with wi-fi and skype! Cricket fans in New York were treated to a rare event when some of the West Indies legends teamed up to play in two T20 games. It was the brainchild of Trinidadian and Florida businessman Pooran Ramnanan to invite the legends in New York, to meet and greet, and to show glimpses of the skills that once mesmerized the cricketing world.
Pooran promised and he delivered and the fans are grateful. There was Sew Shivnarine sitting next to Gordon Greenidge and Joe Solomon while Shivnarine Chanderpaul swapped stories with Alvin Kallicharran, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Clayton Lambert, Pedro Collins and Mahendra Nagamootoo. At another table Merv Dillon, Gus Logie, and Larry Gomes talked about old times while Faoud Bacchus was gracious to a young cricket fan Rusat who sought autographs. But all eyes were on the gentleman in the far corner. He had come straight from JFK Airport to the banquet and was prepared to play a long innings! He was Sir Garfield Sobers, simply the greatest cricketer ever. Dr. Donna Hunte-Cox, the Consul General of Barbados to New York, and a relative of the great Sir Conrad Hunte, greeted the guests. She reinforced the importance of cricket as a unifier in the Caribbean.
Sir Garfield Sobers spoke in the same vein. He said, ‘for me it was not about individual scores. Every run I scored, every wicket I took, was done for the West Indies. It was never about me. It was always about the team. In my cricket career, I have never ever made a run for me. It was for my team and I believe that is the way the game should be played. Records I have broken, some I have set, but the game is far bigger than the individual. I believe that we should always play as a team and we should never be selfish in whatever we do. The game is bigger than all of us. When we understand what the game is all about West Indies cricket will blossom again.’
Sir Garfield addressed the importance of the team. He said, ‘whatever I have achieved it was done through teamwork.’ Was Worrell’s team greater than Lloyd’s? Sir Garfield said that the yardstick for judging greatness in a team must not be based on how many matches were played by them or how many victories they won. According to Sir Garfield, ‘Worrell had a great all-round team. The Lloyd team had the greatest fast bowlers in any era in one team. They could be called express bowlers. They caused many problems for the opposition. But when it comes to leadership, I would say that Frank Worrell, in my estimation, was the better leader. He had a team that he had to nurture and he did it well.’
Alvin Kallicharran (Kalli) played many great innings in his distinguished career. Which was his greatest? Surely, the innings in which he demolished Dennis Lillee in the 1975 World Cup must be high on the list. But Kalli had a totally different answer. He went down the philosophical path. Cricket for him was not about records. It was about life and offering respect to those that set him on the path. Kalli said, ‘I don’t think about my best or greatest innings. I think about the people that have created my destiny. You can make records and big hundreds. But records are only temporary. In my career I looked up to the people that have helped me and motivated me. My role models are Sir Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall and Rohan Kanhai. There is also Lance Gibbs. He was my first captain when I was sixteen and played for Guyana. When I made my debut, I was sitting in the same dressing room with these great men. No innings can beat that!’
Shivnarine Chanderpaul has served West Indies cricket for over twenty years and he has played with some of the greatest names in the game. His exclusion from the 2015 West Indies team that faced Australia started a controversy. Public opinion seemed to suggest that his exclusion was premature and some, including Joe Solomon, questioned whether Chanderpaul was axed for racist reasons. He was not given the send-off that WICB President David Cameron had promised for cricket heroes.
Chanderpaul was reluctant to comment on these matters. Is he writing a book that will include everything about the controversy? What was the special relationship between Chanderpaul and Lara at the wicket? According to Chanderpaul, ‘It was a pleasure to bat with Lara and to be at the other end watching him. I have never seen any player with the skills of Lara. He would sometimes hit a ball to the boundary that I would choose to leave alone. He was that good. It was unbelievable the power he would get in his strokes. Brian is the best batsman I have seen.’ Chanderpaul has a lot to offer and a Test-playing country will do well to have him as its batting coach.
The legends brought glory to the West Indies. Their performances made us realize that astute leadership is essential for regional cooperation and that cricket and politics is a mix that extends well beyond the pavilion.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.