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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
Mihir Bose view
BBC sports editor Mihir Bose gets inside sport
By Mihir Bose
BBC sports editor

On Saturday, England will play the West Indies in the World Cup, a meaningless match where there is only pride at stake.

Viv Richards
Viv Richards hits out during the 1979 World Cup final

However the match does have some significance - because it mirrors how cricket has changed in the West Indies and this country and in particular the role of Afro-Caribbean cricket in the English game.

Nearly 30 years ago, in 1979, England played the West Indies at Lord's in the World Cup final.

Vivian Richards hit a marvellous match-winning century. England lost but were not disgraced and there were so many West Indians at Lord's it must have felt like a Caribbean home match.

Today West Indies cannot even qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup held in their backyard.

England have been humiliated in the tournament and what is more the English team has no Afro-Caribbean cricketers, as they did in the 1980s. Their place in the main has been taken by Asian cricketers.

There are complex reasons for this but interestingly one is the decline of West Indian cricket.

This is certainly the view of David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

He told me: "When immigration was peaking in the '60s and early 70s, we had 20 or 25 Afro-Caribbean cricketers playing in our county championship.

"It was also at a time when West Indian cricket was right at the top of the tree. But since then there has been a decline in the fortunes of the West Indian cricket team."

What really clicked for me growing up was seeing Norman Cowans and Roland Butcher play for England -all of a sudden I had great hopes

Devon Malcolm

Morgan and his fellow administrators at the ECB are concerned about this decline.

They want a strong West Indies team, or at least a stronger one than at present, as this would help create the sort of role models so essential if Afro-Caribbean cricketers are once again to take centre stage in the English game.

Devon Malcolm knows all about the importance of having black role models to encourage youngsters to take to cricket.

Born in Jamaica and brought up in Sheffield he had to struggle to make it as a cricketer. He grew up in Yorkshire when the rule in the county was that if you were not born in the county you could not play for it.

At that stage no non-white had ever played for the county. Malcolm played with the likes of Ashley Metcalfe and was told he had reached a certain level but that was it.

Then as he recalls he saw Afro-Caribbean cricketers play for England and suddenly he knew he could make it.

"What really clicked for me growing up was seeing Norman Cowans and Roland Butcher play for England -all of a sudden I had great hopes. I said, 'Ah, these guys can get a chance to play for England then there must be some hope'.

"It actually sowed the seed in my head really and from there a massive gate opened."

We know how massive the gate proved to be, particularly on that marvellous day at the Oval in 1994 when Malcolm took nine wickets in an innings against South Africa to engineer a brilliant England win.

Devon Malcolm
Devon Malcolm leads England off after taking 9-57 against South Africa

But in the decade since Malcolm's magnificent feat, role models like him have disappeared. There have also been other changes in society.

Malcolm speaks of the distractions young black people now face in this ipod generation. Also how cricket is more time consuming and expensive than football which makes football more attractive to many Afro-Caribbean youngsters.

One man who can chart how life has changed for the Afro-Caribbean cricketers is Milton Samuels.

Since 1964 he has been involved with the Sheffield Caribbeans. As the name suggests this was once the home club for West Indians, created at the height of West Indian cricketing greatness.

But now while there still are Afro-Caribbean cricketers at the club, the majority of young cricketers are Asian.

Samuels said: "Up to a few years ago the club was all Afro-Caribbean but now young Afro-Caribbeans are not playing cricket.

"We have a lot of young Asians who are into the sport. They can see their role models and they want to play cricket."

There are of course efforts to try to reach out to young black cricketers.

Malcolm is involved in the Chance to Shine project, where cricket is taken to inner-city schools.

However, when I visited one such project in Coventry with Malcolm it was noticeable that there were more Asian youngsters than Afro-Caribbean and many of the role models mentioned by the young Asians were from the sub-continent.

There can be no denying the efforts projects like Chance to Shine is making but whether it can reverse the changes in society and in cricket that has seen West Indian cricket decline and the Afro-Caribbean cricketer being replaced by Asians is very debatable.

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