“As far as I can tell there are not many other people working effectively to [restore the soul of West Indies cricket and point the way forward] as the political directorate is missing in action and the current board charged with responsibility for our cricket is a waste of time and unsuitable for that purpose.”
The following is the text of a speech delivered by Charles Wilkin on the occasion of the launch of the latest book by Professor Hilary Beckles towards the end of last year. The book carries the title “Cricket Without a Cause—Fall and Rise of the Mighty West Indian Test Cricketers” and Wilkin was, in the lead-up to 2007, the Chairman of Cricket World Cup St Kitts and Nevis Ltd.
Wired868 is of the view that, at a time when the Windies have, for the first time in our cricketing history, been forced to qualify—albeit successfully—for Cricket World Cup in England and Wales next year, it is appropriate to remind our readers of the road we have travelled since the West Indies lost the 1983 World Cup final to India after having captured the first two in England in 1975 and 1979.
I am honoured to have been invited to comment on the latest of many significant contributions to the region and its cricket of Professor Sir Hilary Beckles by way of his book being launched here tonight. Professor Beckles is eminently qualified to chronicle the current woeful state of West Indies cricket and its prior glories.
Firstly, he is a lover of the game and of West Indies cricket and a dedicated regionalist. Then, of course, he is a distinguished and world renowned writer and historian and understands as well as any the importance of cricket in the history and culture of the region.
It is significant also that he is an influential thought leader, who tells it like it is. And he has had varied perspectives in the middle of the fray for many years. His signal contribution to West Indies cricket was forging the links between West Indies cricket and The UWI in the founding of the Centre for Cricket Research at The UWI and the design and motivation of the Sagicor High Performance Cricket Academy, both in Barbados. His unrelenting efforts in that regard are well catalogued in chapter 12 of the book.
I share his distress at the dismantlement of the Academy. I commend him also for his commitment generally to excellence and productivity in our Caribbean societies, which talk but do not sufficiently practise those qualities. The book is written in the very passionate, direct, thought-provoking, hard-hitting and outspoken style that we have become accustomed to from the Professor.
Who can blame him for showing such intense feelings on so moving and controversial a subject?
I am pleased to see the unequivocal assertion by Professor Beckles in the name of the book and throughout that Test cricket is the quintessence of the game; the rest, as I am sure he will agree, is noise and entertainment. Test cricket to me is Sparrow. The rest is what in St Kitts is called “wuk up” or “nursery rhyme” music.
The name of the book also reflects the underlying and undeniable premise that the rise of West Indies cricket was rooted in a cause which has disastrously been lost in what Professor Beckles describes as “the greatest sporting catastrophe in modern history.” He envisions, however, with commendable optimism the restoration of the soul of West Indies cricket and points the way forward. As far as I can tell there are not many other people working effectively to that end as the political directorate is missing in action and the current board charged with responsibility for our cricket is a waste of time and unsuitable for that purpose.
The book describes four risings of West Indies cricket, the first being the era of the Three Ws, Ramadhin and Valentine. The second is the era of Sobers, Gibbs, Wes Hall and Kanhai and the third that of Lloyd and Richards, Greenidge and Haynes and the fast bowlers too many to mention here. The Fourth Rising is yet to come. The Professor is confident it will.
I found that his very optimistic arguments make interesting reading and urge you to have a read even if you have given up on West Indies cricket or, like me, are close to doing so. This is a tale in much detail, supported with statistics, of two centuries with vastly differing results.
In the 20th Century, after a period of initiation before the Second World War, the Test team quickly established itself as often the best and always the most attractive team in world cricket. Then came the glory days and absolute dominance of the 1980’s which lasted until 1995. The writer gives the Test results of the 1980’s—44 wins and only eight losses, making the team in his words “as dominant a team as has ever played any international sport.”
Just before the 21st Century began, the tide changed. Professor Beckles gives with lament the gory results. Following the recent losses to New Zealand (after the publication of the book) the position is 33 wins and 94 losses in Test matches since 2000. If you take out the wins and losses against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, that makes only 18 wins and 92 losses.
Allow me the licence to quote three additional sets of updated figures. Our win:loss ratio over England remains in the positive column at 55 won and 48 lost. Even that proud record which saw us unbeaten by England from 1969 to 2000 (so glowingly and pleasurably described by Professor Beckles) will soon go. And the overall win:loss record updated last week is 168 won, 187 lost.
Also after this week’s update, we remain in eighth position on the ICC Test Team Table but now have the same ranking of 72 as does Bangladesh. Less than three years ago, our ranking was 76 and theirs 47. In other words, they are about to overtake us in Test match status, as they have already done in ODIs—unless, of course, the recipes for revival of West Indies cricket set out in the book kick in super-quickly.
I was asked to highlight one chapter of my choice. I have selected chapter 1 because it is the chapter likely to stir up the most arguments. Let me interject here, however, that my favourite chapter is chapter 2, which is brilliantly written even if it makes sad reading. The reminder of the quotes from Sir Garry Sobers is moving. Let me say happily that Sir Garry is—and always will be—my idol as the greatest sportsman ever.
Now for my comments on Chapter 1 headed “Ten Theories of Decline.” These theories have been commonly expounded and argued ad infinitum in every nook and cranny of our islands. They are well assimilated and described in the chapter. Professor Beckles begins with an expression of confidence that, with reform, the West Indies can arrest the decline. He attributes this confidence to the collective capacity of Caribbean people to adapt to changed circumstances. I too recognise that collective capacity but I have no confidence in the politicians or in CWI to leverage it. I think that the blame the Professor puts on economic conditions and globalisation is exaggerated.
In the early days of the free fall, the West Indies bid for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 and Governments spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cricket infrastructure. While I admit that more than infrastructure is needed to develop the game, globalisation and a favourite target of Professor Beckles, the IMF, did not prevent Governments from finding the money. Forgive me if I get a little insular and say that St Kitts became an international cricket venue in 2006 because of the World Cup and that has proven to be a very wise investment.
I had the honour of leading the St Kitts LOC from bid to tournament. We surprised quite a few people in the region with the strength of our bid and with our performance otherwise. Forgive me also if, in the same vein, I remind you that, for 45 years after West Indies played its first Test match, there was discrimination against the Leeward and Windward Islands. When the discrimination ended, players from the Leewards were at the forefront of the invincible teams.
Editor’s note: Part Two will be carried on Sunday 25 March.