West Indies revival continues but Calypso cricket has gone
There was a romance about cricket in the West Indies but this England tour confirms that Caribbean cricket culture has been dealt a heavy blow by the decline of the local team,commercial interest and post-colonial inequalities.
The Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados is to West Indian cricket what Lord’s is to the English game but for this test match it is being occupied by the army of travelling supporters.
Cricket lovers from England have spent thousands to fly out to the islands and enjoy the tests. They have been treated to some exciting cricket at times but nothing they couldn’t experience at Trent Bridge.
Calypso cricket has gone. The game is no longer accompanied by the rhythm of steel drums and the witty cat-calls from home supporters have been replaced by the monotonous football-style chanting of the ‘Barmy Army’. No great roars greet flamboyant West Indian drives, or fearsome bouncers, while characters such as ‘Gravy’ watch quietly in the stands instead of strutting around the boundary.
Those Bajans who do still attend — and their numbers were higher on Saturday — tend to observe rather than participate. The years of defeats have knocked the confidence that previous generations showed off with such relish.
There is no shortage of cricket lovers in Barbados. Old-timers will spend ages talking about the great games of the past, their favourite players and memories but more often than not they will dismiss the current West Indies team as impostors, unworthy inheritors of a great sporting tradition.
It is an understandable attitude. The stands at the Oval are named after the local heroes, and heroes they were — Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. Bowlers come in from the Joel Garner or Malcolm Marshall ends, the batsmen walk out from the Sir Garfield Sobers pavilion.
Ramnaresh Sarwan’s form is impressive as he moves up the batting rankings, Shivnarine Chanderpaul is one of the hardest batsmen to remove in world cricket and Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor are the best West Indian opening bowlers found since Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose retired, but they can never match the achievements of those names that surround them.
A decade of decline has taken its toll on the support for the game and it will take more than a surprise win at Sabina Park and a bravely fought draw in Antigua to convince the Caribbean public that Chris Gayle’s team are a marked improvement on some of the lame outfits that have worn the maroon cap in the past ten years.
Even so, there are other factors at play. Ticket prices, set at $40 are not astronomical on one of the region’s more wealthy islands but still high enough to deter the working man in Bridgetown.
When thousands of English fans are prepared to pay such a charge then it takes a brave administrator to reduce the prices — and therefore the profits — in a bid to lure the local fans to the ground. Yet next year, when South Africa tour the region with just a fraction of the travelling support, those same administrators will bemoan the empty seats and the lack of local participation.
In the glory days, the cricket ground was a welcoming and familiar place for local fans, where they could picnic and knock back a few rums. These days, everything in the modernised venue seems geared up for servicing tourists. In a region which is sharply divided between low-income locals living in modest conditions and the luxury lifestyle of those who fly in for beach access, the cricket ground is in danger of becoming another area that feels off-limits.
The English crowd is generous in its appreciation of good play from West Indies but politeness is no substitute for passion and surely even those sitting behind the flags of St George would have more fun if there was a more authentic Caribbean flavour to the day’s cricket.
West Indies, it is often said, are ‘everyone’s second favourite team’. The danger is, unless local support is encouraged back, they’ll end up being nobody’s favourite.
PHOTO: England fans jeer West Indies’ Jerome Taylor (L) after he dropped a catch from Kevin Pietersen during the fourth cricket test match at Bridgetown February 26, 2009. REUTERS/Philip Brown