THE TEAM itself has been confined to the Siberia of English cricket grounds; Chester le Street in County Durham four hundred miles from London and Lords. Even there they are struggling in the Second Test against England in front of many empty seats. West Indian cricket seems to have reached a new and low nadir; the mighty have well and truly fallen. Now one of the best historians of the game, Guyanese born Professor Clem Seecharan of London Met University has condemned them as ‘millionaires’ and ‘global artisans’ who now care little for the countries they represent. It shows on the field, writes John Mair.
Seecharan reserved his special ire for captain Chris Gayle who earlier in the week told the ‘Guardian’ of his general indifference “I wouldn’t call it a great West Indian team at all. As the present captain said, he is particularly interested in test cricket, and he isn’t particularly interested in the captaincy. He has just made a one million from Stanford for a days work, and £700,000 for 10 days work in South Africa’. Gayle had arrived in London from the IPL in South Africa just two days before the start of the First Test at Lords a week ago. The West Indies lost that match within three days.
Seecharan was speaking as part of the Coventry Conversations series at Coventry University in the UK. He has already published two books on West Indian Cricket ‘Muscular Learning’ (2008) and ‘Indo West Indian cricket’ (1988) and is about to launch his third ‘From Ranjitsinhji to Rohan Kanhai’. This one, be published by Hansib, looks at the crucial role played by Indo Caribbean cricketers in the team for much of the twentieth century and continuing today with Sarwan and Chanderpaul as the engine room of what currently passes for a Test team. The great Clive Lloyd team of thirty years ago an exception to that rule.
“When this great WI team devoured everybody, there was no Indian West Indian in that team’ Seecharan said. Today that has changed with ‘Tiger’ Shiv at the helm. Although a lot of these guys like Chanderpaul and Sarwan have made a lot of money themselves, they are very conscious of that they come from a minority group (in the Caribbean), and they make a greater effort because they want to be seen to be representing the West Indies in as genuine way as possible.”
For much of the twentieth century, cricket was crucial to the West Indian identity of all hues and to the dream of a West Indian Federation. It moulded the very different sovereign states together behind eleven men. That was the strength and the weakness “The island identity got in the way of the consolidation of the team effort, and this is the problem. When this team is brilliant, it is fine, and all the problems are subsumed under the triumphalism.’ Seecharan concluded ‘ Once it begins to falter, those ferriferous tendencies are magnified, and it remains very strong. This is the only international cricket team that represents 10 different sovereign states’ In the Caribbean, the game brought the disparate peoples together ‘ the game itself spoke to the aspirations and regionalism as it was to the British West Indian people. That has long gone’ was the sad conclusion of the Head of Caribbean Studies at London Metropolitan University.
Cricket within those ten states also exposed the chasms in those societies. One only has to look at Thomas Lands in Georgetown with its East Indian, Portugese, Mixed and African Guyanese origin cricket clubs to see that. As Professor Seecharan put it: “The game has always mirrored the society as a whole. It has reflected those divisions within the wider British West Indian society, so for a long time, both in Trinidad and British Guiana, the senior club teams invariably reflected the ethnic diversity of both of these colonial societies.” Today they still to some extent do.
But the game of cricket has very firmly lost its’ way in the Caribbean. Dying (or dead) at the grass roots thanks to the attractions of basketball especially to young African Caribbeans, the decline of King Sugar (the once great estate ground at Port Mourant -which produced Kanhai and Butcher inter alia -now overrun and left to wild animals) extremely bad administration by the WICB over many decades and greedy players whose pocketbooks and egos were bloated by the likes of the alleged fraudster Sir Allen Stanford for many years,
West Indian players have also lost their nursery slope training in the mother country-England –through joining the Counties and the Leagues there. That is no more. Cricket itself is ailing at root in England although his is seldom discussed in polite society. English Cricket now has no West Indian apprentices in its numbers. “For many years the West Indies team depended on the English infrastructure to develop their talents, whether in the leagues as in the olden days, or whether in the counties.”
The immigrant players determined to outshine the locals said ‘Seech’: “This made them professionals who depended heavily on the small earnings, and therefore, they were determined to be better than others’. Today they are travelling ‘global artisans”.
So lost in their homeland, lost in the motherland and the game there, lost in a high finance world of modern cricket. “They are all millionaires now, and they don’t see themselves as representative of anybody at all”, in Seecharan’s words it is hardly surprising that West Indian Cricket finds itself washed upon the far shores of Chester Le Street. The only way for it can be up?