Two months after a hectic but forgettable 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, Dave Martins of the band Tradewinds recorded a calypso called “Take a Rest” and mailed it to radio stations across the Caribbean. Typically, calypsos celebrate the good times and honor the greats, like “Gavaskar” by Lord Relator or “Vivian Richards” by King Short Shirt. But this was satirical, intended to criticize the West Indies cricket board for all its evil deeds that had tarnished the name of a sport that once united the countries of the region. Criticizing the board for financial mismanagement, for making “Holding and Viv Richards” cry, and holding her responsible for the breakup with Chris Gayle at the time, this calypso was an emotional outburst that almost wrote its own lyrics, asking everyone responsible for the disaster to ‘take a break’.
In the 16 years since that World Cup, the West Indies have slipped and fallen to no ground, ultimately ushering in an era in which an ODI World Cup without them is no longer unthinkable. This is the first World Cup without the Windies team.
It was entirely his doing, ignoring two formats that gave everything to West Indies cricket at the altar of T20s; depriving themselves of everything necessary to remain relevant as a team. The decline was notably evident in 2019 (they reached the tournament via the qualifiers) as the West Indies crawled from place to place, managing just two wins in nine league matches.
An inspiring period of pace bowling decimated Pakistan for 105 before the West Indies fell 15 runs short of Australia’s innings in the next game. However, a defeat against South Africa at Southampton heralded a strange sequence of games in which the West Indies simply did not feature. Towards the end, the campaign came down to more of a farewell for Gayle, who was also not in the best of shape. There was also a palpable indifference that made it even more difficult to understand how exactly the players reacted to a spectacular fall from grace: failing to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2003.
Which is all the more baffling because this coincided with a time when Caribbean players were proving formidable in T20 cricket, winning back-to-back World Cups in 2014 and 2016, achieving outrageous victories in franchise cricket, redefining the format and promising a very different but still acceptable world. revival of West Indies cricket.
Perhaps it is simply how the game is now perceived in the Caribbean. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was all about pride, a sense of collective identity that Clive Lloyd and Richards fought so passionately for. But in the last decade or so, money has had a fascinating effect. It was inevitable that the once mighty West Indies would slowly become a group of boxers who would get together every now and then for an ICC event. In a mediocre format like one-day, the incentive would surely diminish one day.
Which is unfortunate because West Indies players have built a unique audience in India thanks to their historic participation in IPL. At the heart of this fame is his free approach to cricket. Batting was either defense or attack, without grafting or boring runs between the wickets. The bowling was rarely fast – it was all cutters, yorkers, slower balls and mystery spins. Fielding was as calypso as possible: on the one hand, Gayle stood like a post at slip or fine leg, while on the other, Kieron Pollard, bigger if not taller, was willing to risk his body on the rope to catch him. But they were also entertainers. If Gayle’s version of “Gangnam dance” became every Indian’s go-to hook step, Dwayne “DJ” Bravo made the IPL faithful swoon with “Champion” at every venue. They played hard, they partied harder. What was there not to love about them?
Cut through the noise, however, and you will find that West Indies cricket is mired in problems that should have been addressed long ago. Divisions between players and board have persisted since the 1970s, but even then the West Indies found a way to prove something, sometimes to the world, sometimes to their own. The reaction has come from within, no less than from the greats. Some of them, like Joel Garner, even joined the administration, but West Indies cricket continued to find ways to get into trouble.
“The West Indies board is a boys’ club,” Richards had told HT six years ago. “They haven’t had the best advice. Michael Holding was always critical. If you say something critical, they push you aside. And I’m not going to stop saying it.”
Uniting small countries for a sport is always an arduous exercise. And once existential questions start to arise as a club or nation, it becomes difficult to focus solely on the game. To that end, the West Indies did magnificently to carry a common identity in cricket for over 100 years and remain at the top for almost forty of them. For now, however, one-day cricket will have to deal with a hole in West Indies form.