The weight of history on depleted West Indies in Bangladesh

The weight of history on depleted West Indies in Bangladesh

Monday, January 18, 2021

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As is the case with most projects which last long, West Indies cricket didn't begin in a hurry. Rather, the idea evolved over time with twists and turns, dips and surges.

So when the regional team, comprising membership of several British colonies individual islands plus Guyana in South America gained Test match status in 1928, it was the logical product of a process dating back to the 1800s.

Race, class, as well as the sordid history of slavery and colonialism remained dominant themes even if often unspoken for decades after the West Indies achieved Test status.

Yet, despite the difficulties and tensions, West Indies teams with exceptionally talented players such as the legendary Mr George Headley gained international respect in a remarkably short time.

Therefore, while West Indies' triumph over hosts England in 1950 caused shock waves in cricket-playing sections of the world, it shouldn't have been unexpected, given the overall ability of the Caribbean tourists.

Success breeds success. West Indies cricket rapidly became an overpowering source of pride and unity for Caribbean people at home and abroad. That's not to say everything was hunky-dory. For, long after racial and class divisions disappeared as major factors in West Indies cricket, vulgar insularity remained.

Yet, cricket remained a powerful symbol of a “Nation Imagined” to borrow from Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.

But those with a discerning eye recognised that, for this unique West Indies cricket project to remain successful, the team had to keep winning.

Sadly, since the mid-1990s the West Indies cricket team has been on a downward spiral despite occasional outstanding success, such as winning T20 men's world cups in 2012 and 2016, the women's T20 World Cup in 2016, as well as the Under-19 World Cup that same year.

The inability to sustain on-field success against well-organised, resource-rich opponents, allied to chronically poor governance over many years, and dwindling, skeletal resources for development have had the knock-on effect of dampening corporate and government support for West Indies cricket. It's a classic catch-22.

So, in this virtually unprecedented time of global socio-economic crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, problem-plagued, impoverished West Indies cricket finds itself at what may well prove another watershed moment in its long, storied history.

This week, a squad weakened by the withdrawal of top players because of COVID-19 fears will face hosts Bangladesh in a three-match One-Day International (ODI) series, to be followed by two Tests.

The ODIs take on immediate significance since it is the start of a campaign to automatically qualify for the 2023 International Cricket Council's ODI World Cup.

Readers may well recall that three years ago the West Indies suffered the ignominy of failing to qualify automatically for the World Cup, eventually reaching the tournament after placing second behind Afghanistan from a group of 'lesser' teams.

Recognition of the immediate need to win in Bangladesh, plus the likely longer-term negative consequences of failure will have influenced the legendary captain and batsman Mr Clive Lloyd to write his open letter to the West Indies team urging self-belief and desire.

All those longing to see future glory for West Indies cricket will be of the same mind.

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