IT’S now almost 22 years since the West Indies was dethroned as the champions of world cricket. An entire generation has grown up not knowing and thinking of the West Indies as world beaters in a sport that holds pride of place in the cultural psyche of our society.
This is in stark contrast to the previous generation, which was socialised in a Caribbean which dominated the sport for almost two decades — the longest any team has dominated a team sport. Here was the Caribbean, the smallest region in terms of land-space and the poorest in terms of economic indicators, beating the world and controlling the content of a game which was originally intended to subjugate its peoples. The West Indies cricket team of that time showed the world that when the playing field is even, our people could compete and win, despite our structural socio-economic challenges.
But this very society that produced cricketers who were able to combine physical skills with nationalist consciousness has for the last two decades failed to reproduce that brilliance. Our team has fallen from grace so badly, that we now languish at the bottom of the heap in the longer formats of the game and “blow hot and cold” in the shortest version. This past year we began with a rare triple-triumph—our male Under-19 team won the World One-Day championship; our male senior team won the World T20 Championship; and our female team matched their male counterparts by winning their own world title. The Caribbean society was on a high– justifiably so.
But in a matter of weeks, it all came tumbling down. The T20 captain was fired for using his victory speech to draw attention to the dire state of West Indies cricket. He has since been banished from the team. The coach was also summarily fired. Many fans agreed with the skipper’s stance, but the rulers of the game in the region thought that he had embarrassed the region.
In the end, it is they who have the final say while the rest of the society helplessly looks on. The lesson here is that despite our climb to the top of the cricketing world, that success was not translated into a change in the authoritarian structures and relations which govern our cricket and other institutions.
Here in Guyana, we have a board which is unrepresentative of the country, nor is it accountable to anybody outside of itself. We have the tragedy of a small clique of governors which has been entrenched in power because there have not been any proper elections since 2009. Neither the West Indies Cricket Board nor successive Guyanese governments have mustered the courage to settle the impasse. In the meantime, Guyana’s cricket, as is the case with West Indies cricket as whole, continues to decline. Not even charges of financial improprieties during the 2007 World Cup have caused any shift in the status-quo.
The crisis in the governance of cricket in the region has been a major factor in the decline in the fortunes of our team. Relations between the board and the players on the one hand and between the board and the support staff on the other hand, have deteriorated to the point where the public is frequently treated to public quarrels among the various sides. Clearly, the present leadership has failed the region and should be removed. But as we have seen in the past, a mere change of personnel has done nothing to stop the rot.
But the crisis has also been exacerbated by the attitude of the top players who often place money before service to the region. In an era of boundless individualism, our cricketers have not been shy of openly showing preference for playing in the financially lucrative private leagues, rather than for the West Indies. Often the unreasonable demand for more money coupled with the desire to play for the region only when they are off-duty from the private tournaments have been the major reasons for the clash with the board.
So, we have to agree with Professor Hilary Beckles, that responsibility for our cricket problems lies with both players and administrators. The inability of both sides to acknowledge that truth is a major stumbling block. We are never going to improve if our senior players do not participate in the local and regional competitions—such participation is critical to lifting the standard of our domestic cricket. Similarly, if we do not make our boards more accountable to the people of the region by democratising their structures and practices, there will always be tension which in turn impedes progress.