World Cup 2019: West Indies cricket on a terminal decline

When middle-aged fans summon nostalgia, it is replete with the swagger of Vivian Richards, the menace of the late Malcolm Marshall but those now look like memories of a distant past.

The lone relief was watching the exploits of Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Chris Gayle. Sadly, the last named is headed towards the twilight.   -  getty images

Defeat’s shadow has trailed the West Indies for quite a while. If India’s 1983 World Cup triumph against the men from the Caribbean Islands was deemed a miracle, the one conjured by Virat Kohli’s men at Manchester’s Old Trafford on Thursday was presumed to be a certainty. Such has been the inexorable decline of the West Indies, which is often everyone’s second-favourite team after their national squad.

When middle-aged fans summon nostalgia, it is replete with the swagger of Vivian Richards, the menace of the late Malcolm Marshall, the athleticism of wicket-keeper Jeffrey Dujon, the bruises inflicted by ‘Whispering Death’ Michael Holding, the audacity of Gordon Greenidge and the sheer domineering captaincy of Clive Lloyd. There are many more heroes but what overwhelmingly lingers is the aura that the West Indies possessed from the 1970s to the 90s.

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The Calypso beat

‘Whispering Death’ Michael Holding was part of a fearsome West Indies pace quartet which made batsmen shiver in their shoes.   -  getty images

 

For the opposition, they were foes on the field and friends off it, who laughed a lot, swayed to the music and nursed their rum-punches. If any team exhibited the primordial joys of playing cricket – hitting the red cherry hard or hurling it at an insane pace, it had to be the West Indies. However, a sport that bound different countries like a Jamaica and a Barbados together under a common umbrella, went into a tail-spin over the last few decades.

The lone relief was watching the exploits of Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Chris Gayle. Sadly, the last named is headed towards the twilight but this above-mentioned quartet is the lone link to greatness from within a string of teams that flattered to deceive. Yes, the West Indies did win the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy, and the 2012 and 2016 ICC World Twenty20 titles but overall its performance has been nothing but the flickers of a dying flame.

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Time running out

It is tragic and with Jason Holder’s men failing to stay alive in the current World Cup, the dirge got an extra stanza. The inability of the parent cricket board to pay adequate wages; the lure of basketball in the United States of America; the gradual waning of cricket as a tool for scoring brownie points in race-dynamics – Richards wore his ‘Black identity’ as a badge of honour; and the magnetic pull of global Twenty20 leagues, have all contributed to the free-fall, which, hopefully, won’t become the final full-stop.

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There were glimpses of the old regal touch over the last few weeks. Pakistan was swatted away with disdain, Gayle had his moments and Carlos Brathwaite tugged at tear glands after his incredible innings failed to get past the finish-line against New Zealand. But more often than not, these are stints that pump up the adrenaline, plaster awe on our faces before it is time to sigh deep and mull over the good old days and think about that iconic poster held in Australian grounds: “Rain, rain go away, come when the Windies come.”

Perhaps the Phoenix will rise from the ashes. The willow game needs the West Indies to be up and running, but for now, the sands of time are running out.