Mohsin Zeb admires the strengths of West Indian cricket.
The last decade or so has not been a happy time for West Indies cricket. The team that for nearly two decades bestrode world cricket like an unbeatable colossus has fallen far from those lofty heights. The decline has seen the West Indies fall right to the bottom of test cricket’s pecking order, save for the pseudo test teams of Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.
Yet, amidst all this doom and gloom, there have been moments of delight, moments to celebrate. A hard fought champions trophy win in 2004, and the odd test win against proper opposition, including the record breaking chase of 417 against Australia in 2003 and an unexpected test series win against England in 2008/9.
However, this piece seeks not to clutch at glimmers of hope. Its scope is much broader than that. Yes, these are hard times for West Indies cricket, fans and well wishers have gotten used to the team losing. Despite that sad reality, there remains much to celebrate about Caribbean cricket and this article hopes to do just that.
I grew up watching cricket just as the baton of the world’s finest side was being passed from West Indies to Australia. My earliest memories go back to the very early days of the 1990s when the maroon cap represented power and formidable opposition. I grew up watching and idolizing the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop. On the batting front, I was left in awe of aging giants such as Desmond Haynes and Richie Richardson and then there was that man Lara. I was fortunate enough to see some of his greatest knocks, his 375, his 153* etc. The style, the class, the dismissive arrogance of the world’s finest batsman, no wonder then that the West Indians quickly became one of my favourite sides, as they seem to be for so many cricket lovers.
Now that class of player is missing from this West Indian side, but the flair and style are still there. The wonderful, laid back approach towards their cricket still endears them to millions. Yes, there is no Lara or Richardson today, but flamboyant stroke play remains with much lesser players.
As too does the dazzling fielding. One of the characteristics of the great sides of yesteryear was fielding well beyond its time. Those of us who caught the end of that era – and indeed watched and studied all we could about the heydays of that great side, remain in awe of the diving Richards at slip, the likes of Roger Harper anywhere in the field and many other top fielders. Today, not even half the side they once were, the likes of Dwayne Bravo and Kemar Roach continue to dazzle with athletic fielding.
However, not even the continuation of a certain flair and style is the key celebratory point. Today, as always, the West Indies play this wonderful game of Cricket in a delightful spirit. Not for them the sledging of the great Australian side of recent vintage, nor the over the top antics of current English players. They play this game like gentlemen, smiling and laughing in good times or bad. The first to congratulate a player passing a mile stone, the first to apologize should any event on the field be against the spirit of the game, this is Cricket as it was meant to be.
Now I regard the Caribbean cricket tradition as the finest in the world, with only Australia offering any real competition in that regard. As a student of the game, I loved watching and growing up enjoying West Indian cricket, and thanks to personal study, endless reading and the age of digital media, I have been able to familiarize myself with the players going back several decades. It helped of course that my eldest brother is a cricket tragic much like me and that my late father was too shared a similar passion for the game. Indeed, the first team I saw live was neither England nor Pakistan, rather it was the West Indies of 1991.
So this piece hopes to keep the flame of maroon capped glory alive by celebrating that which is right with West Indies cricket. In these tough times, a test win is a rarefied occasion and it is easy to lose all hope. I am not sure when the Windies, as they are affectionately known, will return to winning ways, but I am sure that Cricket is better with a strong Caribbean outfit and more than that, that the West Indies represent all that is great about this marvellous game on the field of play.
So from me and countless other well wishers for West Indian cricket, may the team rise once again to the dizzy heights it once enjoyed. In the mean time, we will keep cheering and praying, whilst quietly enjoying the giants of bygone times to remind us just what Cricket has gained from a small group of cheerful and laid back islands.