25 years ago, tours to the West Indies were the most dangerous and most enjoyable for every top team. The opportunity to take head blows from arguably the fastest bowling attack ever, to bowl at some of the most interesting batsmen of all time and a chance to play in front of the most charismatic crowd the world has ever seen. Where have those days gone?
The West Indies now sit 7th in both the Test and ODI rankings, with the only recent success coming in T20 when they surprised the world to take home the T20 World Cup. A fairly recent success that has sadly already been described as a fluke after the dismal performances in Australia. Despite the lack of performances by this generations West Indian team, my greatest disappointment is the dismal performances from the West Indian crowd. It used to be the greatest game to watch, whether it be Antigua, Barbados or Trinidad the atmosphere was always the best in the world. Even games that I can remember had this atmosphere. But as it has been in the last decade, the eye has been taken off West Indian cricket and the lack of crowds was first globally noticed at the 2007 World Cup. Crowds were small, there weren’t ques of people outside the grounds trying to get in and that was with a certain Brian Lara entertaining the crowds!
In all honesty, I mistook the 2nd T20 against Zimbabwe in Antigua recently as an U17’s match, with just a few locals going down for a pint on a Friday evening and parents filling the vast numbers of empty seats. The odd horn went at a big boundary but nothing more than that. Not the carnival the Zimbabweans would have expected to introduce them back into International cricket. The sad thing about that game is that it was a fantastic all-round display from the West Indies. Batting was top class, the bowling was potent and the fielding electric. It had all you wanted from a cricket match that was always going to be one-sided. The West Indies are currently the 2nd best T20 team in the world. Chris Gayle, Kieran Pollard, Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Sunil Naraine and Shiv Chanderpaul are some of the most wanted names in all forms of cricket, with all but Chanderpaul involved in big money IPL contracts. A team a lot of crowds would flock to go and see.
Despite a wealth of talent, only four of the aforementioned seven have been made available for the 1st Test against Zimbabwe on Tuesday. With Chris Gayle available it has the potential to be interesting in parts. Sadly it will more likely be a disappointing spectacle for the neutral, with the Zimbabweans failing to show a single player that could really trouble any of the West Indians. Not the type of tour that will get the West Indian crowds back. The West Indian management will look onto the Champions Trophy in June for the next chance to cause an upset. Whereas the majority of the players will look to their lucrative IPL contracts which starts in April.
The disappointing state of West Indian cricket was over-looked for a brief period as their women reached the final of the Women’s World Cup, including defining the odds and coming past a strong England side in the Semi-Final. They were eventually beaten in the final by Australia, but will be very proud of their efforts as they were applauded for their crowd pleasing performances.