Vaneisa: Feeling the feeling—why I’m optimistic about West Indies

The rains have come. The poui blossoms have gone. Burnt browns have given way to verdant green. What is the colour of the rainy season?

This time round it is maroon. The mercurial maroon that has been bringing us to the edge—as it has so often done—and now rewarding us with a season of more highs than lows.

The West Indies Cricket Team prepare for action against New Zealand in an ICC T20 World Cup contest at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Here we are, midway through the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, and as I write this on Thursday, the West Indies team has just won their third consecutive match and qualified for the Super Eight round.

We’re having a good year. Starting with the historic Test victory against Australia, when Shamar Joseph burst onto the scene, then the 3-0 victory in the T20 series against South Africa, and this time, playing the aggressive, intense cricket that once defined West Indies to soften even the cynics.

It hasn’t been all wonderful; but there has been evidence that we have a team that is working together. It reminds me of what had emerged when Daren Sammy was captain, and I believe his presence as coach has had the same nurturing role.

If you think back to the two times we hoisted that World Cup trophy with him at the helm, you might remember the camaraderie he had fostered within a unit that had been riven by a multitude of negative forces.

West Indies coach Daren Sammy (right) congratulates team captain Rovman Powell after their thrilling winning over New Zealand at the ICC T20 World Cup in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Recall the toxic environment that existed when Dave Cameron was the president of the cricket board, and Sammy’s emotional speech in 2016.

There’s something distinctly different in the level of confidence, not in the swagger-to-the-wicket kind of way, but in the determination to keep fighting.

In this last match against New Zealand, the batting was injudicious. But the bowling was splendid. Badree and Bishop’s only squabble must be about which form is superior, because we have bowlers whose calibre is excellent and exciting.

True, some shot selections are appalling and fielding efforts fall short, but not in the way that they had come to characterise the team.

Brandon King scurries in the field for the West Indies during the ICC T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

I hope that as the tournament goes on, we find the balance that Afghanistan and Australia seem to have found. Our real test will be Afghanistan on Monday.

I am optimistic, and it is not impractically based on the notion that all is well and we have turned the elusive corner—it is because I think we have got some crucial things right, especially in the realm of leadership.

I don’t think we truly appreciate the value of nurturing, supportive, thoughtful leaders, who genuinely want to help their players to grow. Neither have we fully grasped the backgrounds of turmoil that these youngsters have had to struggle to emerge from.

West Indies spinner Akeal Hosein (centre) celebrates a wicket during T20 World Cup action against Uganda in Guyana on 12 June 2024.
Photo: ICC

When one shines, we get a glimpse because their stories become the news.

Many of the cricketing nations that are not full of resources to provide ideal training environments and opportunities to youngsters are full of wondrous tales of perseverance and discipline, that have propelled their stars beyond true hardships.

That’s why the cruelty of the comments after a poor showing is one of the baser aspects of sport, any sport. It’s not that criticism is not due when you see nonsense, but there has to be some semblance of intelligence for it to be constructive and not destructive.

West Indies cricket fans rally behind their team during their contest with New Zealand at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

What do we feel when we lift our heads and proclaim our allegiance to those resounding words: Rally Round the West Indies?

Have we absorbed the history behind David Rudder’s lyrics?

I want to digress a little.

Throughout broadcasts generally, commentators repeatedly remarked of West Indian spectators that they really love their cricket. It hit me that in these small spaces, a high proportion of the older generation grew up playing the sport. Not playing casually, but competitively.

West Indies supporters watch their troops in action against New Zealand in an ICC T20 World Cup affair at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Cricket and football were everywhere, and in societies with relatively tiny populations, the percentage is high for those who invested themselves deeply in these activities.

Looking at the crowd at the Brian Lara Stadium (when will it become an academy?) you could see the tension in the expressions on the faces of the older ones—male and female.

It’s different from the inebriated bursts from those who retain their party mood, despite the ebbs in the game.

A West Indies supporter cheers a big shot during their ICC T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Yes, people know their cricket because they have formed intimate bonds with its intricacies. In those spaces that are lush with resources and huge populations, the kind of communal learning that we have benefited from is taught in more formal environments.

We have lost that traditional way of passing on knowledge because we have lost those community connections. If technology has transformed lifestyles so dramatically, we cannot rely on those ways of the past to inform how we prepare our youngsters for their future.

I am not advocating that we abandon the human elements; not at all. I believe that technical competence is only one element of the components that develop complete athletes.

West Indies captain Rovman Powell (left) and Brandon King lead the players off the field during their T20 World Cup encounter with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

We cannot lag behind in the use of modern technologies to build skills, but we should never forget that it is humans we are engaging. We have an inordinate number of young players who have to get past the complications of negative influences on their childhood experiences.

It’s about helping them to believe in themselves and their right to walk into any room without trepidation, because they belong.

There is still work to do, but it seems we’ve made a start.

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