Is the Caribbean swagger back to dominate world cricket?

first_imgAs Marlon Samuels swaggered into the media conference room at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, still clad in his pads and with a massive gold winner’s medal around his neck, he swung his legs up onto the table and demanded respect from all who had dissed him.As Darren Sammy, West Indies,As Marlon Samuels swaggered into the media conference room at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, still clad in his pads and with a massive gold winner’s medal around his neck, he swung his legs up onto the table and demanded respect from all who had dissed him.As Darren Sammy, West Indies captain, prepared to mount the podium to claim the World T20 trophy for the second time in three editions, he first unleashed a speech that read like a glorious insurrection, accusing the West Indies Cricket Board of deserting his team of champions.As the Windies players cavorted through the stadium-before, during and after the pulsating final, and then long into the night at the team hotel-it was clear we were witnessing the zenith of international cricket’s first T20 dynasty. But was it the beginning of something beautiful or simply the end of an improbable journey?The writer is the UK editor of ESPNCricinfoAll tournament long, the West Indies have danced to their own beat, not that of cricket’s prevailing rhythms -quite literally so in the case of their victory anthem, Champion-and they have, to a man, dedicated their wins to the West Indies people, whose devotion to their sport has been tested beyond measure by the collapse of standards in governance and competence at both regional and international level.And yet, in light of what they have achieved, and as sacrilegious as it may seem, players such as Sammy, Gayle, Samuels and Russell have earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Lloyd, Richards, Greenidge and Roberts. The first West Indies team to claim two major one-day trophies in the space of four years, in 1975 and 1979, is also recalled as one of the greatest sporting teams of all time; an outfit with the skill and swagger to explode preconceptions about what their island nations could achieve.advertisementThe second? Not so much. And yet, eight of the players who claimed the spoils in Kolkata were also in the side that beat Sri Lanka in Colombo to seal the 2012 World T20 title. Then, as now, their achievement has flown in the face of all socio-economic assumptions.In 1975, the cricket world wasn’t ready for what West Indies were about to achieve-the sport’s staid, imperial rhythms would be exploded by a raw and testosterone-fuelled aggression, with players like Viv Richards openly hitching the team wagon to the wider cause of Black Power. They were an emancipatory movement as much as a cricketing team, giving voice to their people and fight to the cause. Though hindsight adores the star quality of their legendary fast bowlers and unfettered batsmen, attitudes at the time weren’t anything as enlightened. Editorials during their ‘Blackwash’ Test tours in the mid-1980s railed against their liberal use of the bouncer, in particular.Likewise, the heady cocktail of joy and fury with which the latest Windies campaign has been conducted raises some similarities between the two eras. Partying the pain away has been a staple of the Caribbean tradition-Sunday night, in fact, was Jamaica carnival, and a friend who heard the roar at the moment of Carlos Braithwaite’s fourth six confirmed it was the crowning moment of the night.But the raw emotions that poured out in the moment of victory in Kolkata weren’t those of a league of party animals. They were angry, direct and urgent, as Samuels tore off his shirt and taunted England’s dugout, before reawakening his feud with Shane Warne and reiterating the team’s disgust at being described as “brainless” by commentator Mark Nicholas. “Respect us!” was the crie de coeur, and that message is as timeless as it gets.And so, those who see only the playboy lifestyles of Chris ‘Universe Boss’ Gayle and his cohorts miss the point about West Indies’ current megastars. They have withdrawn their services from the dysfunctional WICB, which did nothing to harness the glories of the Caribbean’s heyday in the ’70s and ’80s and has even less respect for the current generation. For wanting to be paid the going rate for their skills, they are dismissed as mercenaries by the very people who seek to benefit from their achievements. When the exact same thing happened in the ’70s, the entire team pledged allegiance to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket instead.It may be harder to warm to the cause of a group of players whose primary motivations are financial, but the importance of their struggle isn’t remotely diluted by that fact. After all, West Indies’ slide down cricket’s pecking order has been intensified by the region’s overall inability to compete in a globalised world. Any achievement that strikes back at the status quo has surely to be applauded.advertisementWhat it may do to cricket in the Caribbean in the long term is less clear. Though WICB president Dave Cameron responded to Sammy’s comments by finally agreeing to a meeting, he did so through gritted teeth and in the midst of an e-mail titled: ‘WICB President has high praises for World Twenty20 Organisers’. Never mind the fact that both the men’s and women’s team won their respective competitions.The likelier future for West Indies lies in the format with which they have landed such a shattering blow. If the Board was slow to react, then the Caribbean Premier League most certainly was not. Its representatives hailed the achievement of the region’s stars within minutes of the winning hit, and were instantly ramping up local interest in watching their heroes in action when the competition resumes in July.All tournament long, West Indies have played like a franchise team-utterly at home in Indian conditions thanks to their myriad contracts in the Indian Premier League-and utterly unconcerned by the challenge of picking up their dressing-room relationships despite, in some cases, not having played a competitive fixture for West Indies since the end of World Cup 2015.There is no chance whatsoever that this achievement will lead to a grand revival of West Indies across all formats. Test cricket is dead to Gayle & Co, not because they don’t want to play it or are no longer any good at it-Gayle himself has two triple centuries-but rather because the rewards no longer balance out the risks, given that there are million-dollar contracts spread across several 20-over tables, and peanuts for five days of hard yakka.And likewise, the World T20 champions will not be attending next year’s Champions Trophy in England, because they failed to finish among the top eight teams during the qualification window. No situation better highlights the absurd paradoxes currently tearing world cricket apart. So kudos to Sammy and his men, they’ve done it their way. And it’s been a thrill to be able to watch.last_img read more