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Saturday, May 8, 1999 Published at 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK

What next for Windies cricket?

Trouble in paradise? Bajan local cricketers in action at the Crab Hill club

The days of worldwide dominance are over, but why has West Indies cricket suffered such a slump? Tim Mansel reports from the Caribbean for BBC News Online.

There is no patch of earth that has produced more great cricketers than Barbados.

Clyde Walcott talks to BBC Radio 5 Live about the chances of the West Indies in the 1999 Cricket World Cup
In recent years the island has provided the West Indies team with the likes of Greenidge and Haynes, Marshall and Garner.

In a previous age Walcott, Worrell and Weekes.

And in between, the greatest of them all, Gary Sobers.

Sir Frank Worrell's face adorns the local five dollar note. Sir Gary, as he is popularly known, is one of the island's ten officially designated National Heroes.

But Barbados is not producing great cricketers at the moment.

The fifteen-man West Indies squad contesting the World Cup contains only two Barbadians, the opening batsman Sherwin Campbell, and the virtually unknown fast bowler Hendy Bryan.

[ image: Cricket is a declining cultural force in the Caribbean]
Cricket is a declining cultural force in the Caribbean
The most recent headlines from the island concerning cricket related to events peripheral to the field of play - the bottles thrown by an angry crowd at the Kensington Oval in protest at an umpiring decision in a one-day match with Australia.

"When I grew up everybody played cricket. During the summer holidays we would play cricket from morning until night," says David Holford, a Test cricketer in the 1960s and now chief executive of the West Indies Players Association.

"There was nothing much else to do, there was no television."

But today's youngsters have plenty of choices.

Basketball boom

At Harrison College, the top school in Barbados, one of the games teachers, Ryan Leacock, says that basketball is more popular than cricket among teenagers.

[ image: View from the stands: Australia take on the Windies in Barbados]
View from the stands: Australia take on the Windies in Barbados
"Nobody wants to watch cricket on a Saturday afternoon, but the girls follow basketball so that's what the boys want to play," he says.

Sport always goes in cycles. It would be unreasonable to expect any team to dominate their sport as did the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards.

Yet the decline in the performance of the West Indies team, and the declining calibre of the players breaking through into international cricket in the Caribbean are deeply felt - for a number of reasons.

Loose union

  • Firstly, the "West Indies" as an entity is cricket and little else.

    The West Indies is not a country - it is a fragmented group of former British colonies, which, briefly, at the end of the 1950s, came together to form a federation with a common prime minister and parliament.

    Jamaica, the largest island in terms of population, is 1,000 miles from Guyana, on the South American mainland.

    Cricket is what unites them in common endeavour.

  • Second, cricket has a deep symbolism in the Caribbean.

    The game was introduced to the region by the white man - the British soldier and plantation owner - for the white man.

    The privileged black might be allowed to field, occasionally to bowl.

    So blacks began to form their own clubs, and produce their own cricketers, players who could compete with the best in the world.

    Gradually cricket became the black man's game in the Caribbean, the game learned from the colonial master and ultimately used to dominate him.

  • Third, cricket has been a catalyst for political change.

    For instance, in the early 1960s it was clear to most people that Frank Worrell should be captain of the West Indies team. Yet Worrell was black, and the captain was always white.

    The Trinidadian writer CLR James conducted a successful newspaper campaign for his appointment to lead a tour to Australia.


    Hilary Beckles, Professor of History at the University of the West Indies, and founder there of the Centre for Cricket Research, remembers how politically important the issue was.

    [ image: King Curtly: The veteran Ambrose prepares for the World Cup]
    King Curtly: The veteran Ambrose prepares for the World Cup
    "There is a wonderful letter from CLR James to Worrell in which he says, in effect, 'You must go to Australia and demonstrate to the world that we are capable of managing our own affairs, and if you can demonstrate that, then we will go to 10 Downing Street to discuss independence in this region', " says Beckles.

    "We lost the tour, but in many senses we were the moral winners.

    "And within a year Jamaica was independent, and subsequently Guyana, Barbados and other territories. Sir Frank Worrell emerged as a hero, not only of the cricket, but also of the independence movement."

    Burden of expectation

    So the West Indies team carries a responsibility not perhaps borne by others competing for the World Cup.

    It has of late failed to live up to that responsibility - although the recent series against Australia represents rehabilitation after the humiliation of the tour of South Africa.

    Their ability to maintain the momentum during the World Cup depends on the ability of batsmen other than Brian Lara to make runs, and bowlers other than Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh to take wickets.

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