The following is the second part of 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.
I was hoping to find that acknowledgment in the book, especially as there is strong suspicion of a Barbados first policy being practised by the selectors. It is good for West Indies cricket when Barbados does well but with humility.
I agree with Professor Beckles that there was a concerted attack on West Indies cricket by world cricket—and the English in particular—by changing the bouncer rules, reducing the number of our players contracted for county cricket, manipulating the seating in the grounds to prevent West Indians from sitting together and changing the financial arrangements for tours and in other insidious ways.
A little jab at the Professor: you criticise the English quite rightly for banning musical instruments from grounds in England but you were on the WICB World Cup company which imposed the same ban in our grounds during the 2007 World Cup. That was a big issue here.
I would place greater emphasis on competition from other sports as a contributor to the decline. Up to the 1980’s, cricket was the game of choice throughout the region but football began to grow in popularity certainly in the smaller islands as did athletics and basketball. Maybe that is where all our fast bowlers went. As our cricket declined and opportunities for professional contracts in the other sports grew, the competition grew. I believe that, with our small base, the growth in popularity of other sports has affected cricket. For too long cricket did not think that it had to compete against the other sports for players and it suffered as a result. It will be a huge task to reverse that. I think that we reacted too late to the use of technology and science against us. Many were ambivalent about it.
I remember attending in Barbados a meeting convened by the WICB for past cricketers in 1996 or ’97. Hugh Gore of Antigua and I were the only two present who had not played for West Indies. Quite a few of the Legends—not including Viv—were there. The general feeling among them, with which I disagreed, was that we don’t need academies and the techniques that the other teams are using; we have natural talent.
I agree that we must re-establish within West Indies cricket a “country first” commitment from players, as happens in most other Test-playing countries. I do not, however, agree with Professor Beckles’ approach to a solution. I quote him: “The conversation in the region about “citizen before society” must be addressed and the ideology eradicated. It will be Test cricket today and everything else tomorrow.”
I agree that there should be a conversation and that stable societies have a good balance between citizen rights (including the right to earn a living) and societal control, with the former being often protected because of the power of the latter. But eradication is a strong and dangerous word in this context. Framing the argument in that way will not, in my respectful opinion, bring the desired results unless the Governments can effect the eradication.
That might work as a political platform in Barbados; it certainly will not work here. I note also by way of critique that, while Professor Beckles inexorably attacks Pat Rousseau (former President of WICB) for his commercialisation of WI cricket, which he says was a sale of its soul, I do not get from the book a well laid out financial recipe for the recovery of our cricket other than lengthy arguments by Professor Beckles for more money by way of reparations or “payback” from the ICC. I must say that argument is enticing but a little academic.
I too wish that the ICC would make us a special case but we have to be honest and ask whether we are doing enough ourselves. Calling the ICC ‘racist’ and “former cricketers of modest records” and calling for its “ethical and ethnic cleansing,” as Professor Beckles does, will not help the cause. I note too that he calls for the West Indies to lead a “counter-revolution” against the injustices and inequitable revenue distribution of the ICC. But our dear President Cameron was one of the first to play ball with the India/England/Australia cabal who took over the ICC in 2014. I guess he felt if you can’t beat them, join them.
In my view, the ICC ought to act more sensitively and generously to the West Indies but we must, to extract that concession, put our house in order, starting with CWI. Our governments must play a meaningful but not governing role and, as the book promotes, a grassroots and cultural revitalization of cricket is needed.
Professor Beckles refers to a retreat from regional unity as one of the heads of decline. I agree entirely but I add the negative impact which the politics of our islands has had on attitudes, including the attitude to cricket. In all the islands our politicians have created an entitlements mentality that rewards political loyalty over competence and effort. That political culture has helped to spawn the mercenary cricketers whom Professor Beckles berates. Our young people have watched the politics and cynically decided that they do not need to make personal sacrifices for their country.
Professor Beckles did say that he was putting no special emphasis on any of the ten theories. I assume, therefore, that it is a pure coincidence that he puts at No. 6 and not No 1 the heading “WICB/CWI Mismanagement.” He ends that section with the following words: “The CWI is considered the cause of the tempest and only its removal can restore the calm.” I say touché. Let me, however, go further and say that the Caricom Heads, having seemed a year ago to agree with the statement, appear now in typical fashion to have washed their hands of the subject.
What did Chalkdust say? “When they drink they whisky, the treaty dead already.” Touché to that too. And you can be sure that Cameron and Nanthan et al are enjoying the ride in their high positions too much to back down voluntarily.
What then can be done to avert the slow suicide that is inevitable if the impasse remains and all stakeholders will not come together to advance the Fourth Rising? I had hoped that elder statesmen like Professor Beckles and PJ Patterson (who has some influence on Dave Cameron) would be able to exert their goodwill and influence to talk truth to power on both sides. I hope I am wrong but his book suggests to me that Professor Beckles is taking a different tack. He is taking his cause to the people and is bowling bouncers at those he blames for the catastrophe. I wish his efforts well.
Let me end with a general comment which I throw—or, I should more appropriately say, bowl at Professor Beckles. I note that you refer repeatedly to the Windies, from which I deduce that you support the change of name of our team from West Indies to Windies. You may be surprised to hear that I too support that change but maybe not for the same reason as you do.
I support it and would give it retroactive effect to 2000 because that would allow us to recognize the teams as separate and to disconnect the statistics of the West Indies from the abominable statistics of the Windies, leaving us to glorify our heroes without the pain and pollution of the current century.
Or maybe they can further change the name to Windies 2000 or whatever else would boost Cameron’s ego.
Editor’s note: Click HERE to read Part One of this two-part article.