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IN THE CRICKET world, Peter Roebuck, former Somerset captain, and Scyld Berry, editor of Wisden, the game’s Bible, are deservedly well-respected and very often correct in their pronouncements. In their contention that the West Indies national cricket team should be allowed (even encouraged) to splinter into its constituent island teams and have the smaller, purportedly more strongly motivated teams seek Test-playing status on their own, however, they are simply wrong; and that remains true whatever happens in the second Test against Australia starting – and, perhaps, finishing – this weekend.Assuming Roebuck & Berry have the best interests of the West Indies and cricket itself at heart, they – and the International Cricket Council, and anyone making any contribution to cricket in the world – should exercise whatever ingenuity they possess in devising ways forward for the poor West Indies we know now (and the great one we all remember still, even after 15 years of prolonged collapse).
It is West Indies cricket, not island cricket, that the whole cricket world misses. The enthusiasm shown for Darren Ganga and his Trinidad & Tobago team in the recent Airtel Twenty20 reminded us all just how much these small, troubled islands have given to the world’s most elegant sport – but not even the Trinidad & Tobago captain would say his island team was better, more important – or more worth playing for – than the West Indies.
In the Airtel aftermath, Roebuck wrote a particularly elegant piece, the language of which I unstintingly admire, but the chief premise of which is entirely flawed. Trinidad & Tobago did not play better last September than the West Indies do nowadays because they have a stronger national motivation than the same players would have playing for the West Indies; they played better because they are a better team. Domestic cricket in Trinidad is run better, at the moment, than any of the other islands. The team has been together for a long time, relatively, and its management and support are strong. Any well organized team will play better than a poorly organized one.
And the West Indies is now the worst, and worst-run, team in the world. Several players are lazy, almost all lack discipline, many are egotistical and too many have their eye, not on the ball, but the main chance. To make matters even worse, that poor team is administered by people who know nothing or nearly nothing of cricket. Indeed, the only really strong component of West Indies cricket – the West Indies Players Association, led strongly and well by Dinanath Ramnarine – has exacerbated the team’s and the nation’s problems. With far better representation than they deserve, the current crop of indifferent players have hung their wallets several pegs higher than they ought; and the distraction of the conflict with the board has become the team’s principal focus.
So there are very many reasons why the West Indies is performing poorly now; but that does not mean that dismantling the team is the right thing to do. Indeed, if pressure from English writers or the ICC forces the West Indies to split up, it will be another act in a long line of decisions dictated from afar that will have a devastating effect upon these islands.
Though it is saddled with and hampered by 15 separate Independence days, the West Indian nation does exist, in the same way and with the same vitality the German or Italian one did before formal unification; and cricket is our Bismarck, our Garibaldi.
Without the West Indies cricket team – no matter how badly it might be playing now – the West Indian nation, and the process by which it will formally be brought into being, is considerably weakened. Cricket is our one great idea. It has always been. In the great old days, the world was thrilled by and basked in our glory; in these long, cold days, we alone know the extent of our pain.
We are not a people given to reflection or self-analysis, for the very good reason that, there was nothing at all to be gained from and practically everything to be lost by considering our position at any given point of most of the last 500 years. The bulk of the occupants of these islands have, for half a millennium, been kept down by extreme, ever ready violence; and that violence was exercised by the remaining minority population. That is simply a fact. And it has had prolonged, pervasive effects.
One of them is we look to symbols with an expectancy and optimism that is way out of proportion to their own worth. When the West Indies were the world’s best team, we did not understand why; nor do most of us understand why the team is so bad now; but, at all times, we have looked – and will look – to those XI in the middle as the symbol of ourselves. Take away the West Indies XI and you take away Magna Carta, Nelson Mandela, Galipoli and Gandhi.
To be sure, we’re in a bad way now. New Labour has just saddled Barbados, Little England, and all the West Indies with a supposedly “green” airplane ticket tax from which it has somehow exempted the farther distant United States. There is very little money in the region. We teeter on the edge of collapse, as viable economies and as a people; there is no reason the cricket team should not reflect that catastrophic reality.
But to split the West Indies will make things worse for the West Indies, no matter how convenient it might be for everyone else. The West Indies cricket team, like the Beatles or the United Nations, represent a far greater whole than the sum of its parts. The acid test is made in our hearts repeatedly and that will not change. Ask any West Indian: for all his success, would Darren Ganga prefer to play for Trinidad & Tobago or the West Indies? We all know the answer. Let us not forget it; and let us not, in our zeal to be good analysts or administrators, cease to be good neighbours.
BC Pires is batting to save the Test team