Where’s The Caribbean Calypso?

 by Eshwar Sundaresan (Reproduced from DawnBlog)

Photo Credit: Allsport Hulton/Archive

In the 70s, my father spent many nights glued to a radio or a transistor, following the commentary of Test matches between India and the West Indies. Yeah, he was a big fan of cricket, but a much bigger fan of an infinitely more exciting sport: Caribbean cricket. It seemed perfectly natural for him to take half a day off work to catch a BBC broadcast, on a static-ridden shortwave signal, of a 1973 Test match between England and the West Indies. Why would a middle-class working man, reporting to a demanding boss, do such a crazy thing? Because when stalwarts like Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd and Gibbs performed their latest magic tricks, you wanted to be amongst the first to know. Is that so difficult to understand?!

Of course, in the next couple of years, ODIs became a format to reckon with and Caribbean cricket got even more exciting. A young Vivian Richards sauntered into the global arena and taught us that it was possible to hit towering sixes with a swagger. Simultaneously, gentle giants like Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding showed us how entire stadia could be hissed into silence with venomous bouncers. Through the rest of the 70s, other teams pretty much showed up for the honour of losing to the West Indies.

If there’s a better way to play cricket than the way the West Indians did in the 70s, we haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps the Ozzies dominated the late 90s and the early naughties more than the West Indians ever did, but they felt it necessary to swear, sledge and spit in anger to underline their domination.

The Caribbean folk, on the other hand, dominated with a velvet touch. They smiled good-naturedly when their opponents sledged, certain in the knowledge that the next delivery would stamp their authority on the game. They were children of the sun and surf, blessed with humour and the instinctive understanding that both cricket and the Calypso demand a dash of flamboyance.

To their credit, the Caribbean cricketers of today retain the ability to celebrate with signature moves, just like their predecessors. Unfortunately, the comparison ends there. Barring a surprising win in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy, and Brian Lara’s routine exhibition of individual brilliance, the West Indians have done nothing in the past fifteen years to claim inheritance to a glorious legacy. Why is that really? There’s certainly no dearth of talent on the Caribbean tectonic plate. The problem probably lies in the leadership – the way talent and the game are managed. The current Test series between India and the West Indies proves this point.

Darren Sammy isn’t the first newcomer to be handed the captaincy of a national side. In recent times, Lee Germon (New Zealand), Adam Hollioake (England) and Graeme Smith (South Africa) became captains before they had established themselves in the international stage. While Germon used his natural leadership skills to overcome his mediocre batting abilities, Smith scored prolifically in his early years to demand respect from his team. Hollioake, on the other hand, had a brief stint at the top, leading England to a rare tournament victory in Sharjah in 1997.

The jury is still out on Sammy, but he appears to be a fighter, a man who wears his game face for the game, whether he’s game or not. But so far, he has chosen to be safe and unimaginative as a leader. If he really, really wanted to send a strong message to his team and the selectors, then he should have dropped vice-captain Brendan Nash from the team for the first Test. Since the WICB has been making noises about rebuilding the team, it had no business selecting a 33-year-old batsman who has scored a mere 53 runs in his previous six outings. And he seemed so uncomfortable out there that I wished somebody would give him a Valium to go with his Gatorade.

One of the reasons Sammy probably has his job is that he won’t throw the spotlight on the selection bloopers. But it’s quite remarkable that the selectors promptly omitted Nash from the second Test and his replacement in the playing eleven, Marlon Samuels, top-scored for his team in the first innings. The episode highlights the meandering, indecisive manner in which the West Indies team is selected. Wiser selectors won’t have had a public spat for four long years with the temperamental Chris Gayle. They would have reluctantly accepted that the man will shoot his mouth off time and again, and that their job was not to rein him in, but unleash his fury out on the field of play. Instead, they’ve opted to keep him out in the cold. Go figure.

Meanwhile, Sarwan and Chanderpaul – known previously for their grit and character – now resemble ballerinas without their blushes. Age has gnawed at their prowess, yes, but the political drama in WICB too has played its part here. Also, the West Indies has the most unsettled team amongst the Test-playing nations. Isn’t this a sign that too many undeserving guys are getting the nod, and that some of the gifted youngsters deserve more patience from the WICB?

And finally, a word about Andre Russell. This true-blue all-rounder singlehandedly transformed a snooze-fest ODI series into an exciting show. Were the WICB selectors not tuned in? Did they decide that he was too young or too raw for Test cricket? Or did they feel that his Mohawk haircut won’t go well with white flannels? In cricket, a pound of form can substitute for an ounce of class. And Russell has tons of both, class and form. After all, he came close to scoring a century while batting at number nine. What more do the selectors need to “Test” him out?

If cricket in the Caribbean must again reach the dizzying heights of the 70s, the WICB needs to discover more Andre Russells and nourish them with optimism and the spirit of the Calypso. Shall we hold our breath?

Eshwar Sundaresan is a Bangalore-based writer, freelance journalist, ideator and entrepreneur. His works are Googlable.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

26 thoughts on “Where’s The Caribbean Calypso?

  1. While I am no great cricket fan, reading this made me glow to see how our cricketers are still admired abroad. Refreshing and well written critique by the author. Hope the members of the WICB is reading this.

  2. Fantastic synopsis of our cricketing world….I got all worked up again about the wonder of West Indies cricket and then perhaps a little sad (*trying to be nice*) as we moved into our last fifteen years. But then…we have become so complacent in so many things…we scream and shout and behave bad for a couple of hours, and then move on to the nexx ting without having totally finished on the last.

    Cricket is our life. We taught the British how to really play it in its entirety. We want it back. We need it back. And if it means making a whole big fuss about it…and giving the West Indies Cricket Board a good shout one way or another…then let us please do it. There must be an answer to this mess we are in. Ahhhh…cricket. Come to think of it last match I went to at the Kensington Oval, there was no calypso..no David Rudder and Rally Around the West Indies…I guess there is no joy left….

    • Rosemary

      The use of the word ‘calypso’ is used endearingly to capture something unique which West Indies brought to the cricket.

      Even when we were losing we played the game with a panache which still encouraged spectators to the stands, created an excitement.

      Now we have no problem scheduling games starting on a Monday because it is not about the ‘feeling’ and how we want to play the game any longer.

      It is about others dictating and money.

  3. The calypso was the raw talent that dominated West Indian cricket in its heyday. Did they have all the trimmings that are available today? NO but they had a passion and a hunger for the game. Money was secondary, it was all about the game.

    • Watch this spell by Holding at the Oval in England in 1976.

      There is an inevitability judged by his reaction after he took the first 2 of 8.

      Such was the confidence he had in his game.

      Pure joy to watch as a West Indian.

    • Words cannot* describe what Alvin Kallicharan does to Dennis Lillie in the over captured in the video.

      Check out the fourth ball of the over when he pull hook Lillie, bear in mind he does this to the fastest bowler in the world at the time with no helmet!

  4. Not the West Indies Team, but an example of the easygoing nonchalance which was a hallmark of our cricket in the past.

  5. Nostalgia is fine, and the memories are pleasant, even though I think some of you are forgetting that “calypso” was also used pejoratively in respect of our cricket when some batsmen would play a shot at every ball, make a sweet 30 and return to the pavilion. But there is really no legacy in cricket except the name of the team…in fact it is all cyclical. Look at the Indian and English dominance now. Could either touch Australia of 5 years ago? South Africa of 10 years ago? Pakistan of 15 years ago? Or the West Indies of 20 years ago? Our turn will come again. I hope that we prepare better for the fallout next time.

    Incidentally, the writer is unfair to Sammy in part. Captains cannot drop players. Sammy could not have dropped Nash!

  6. @jack spratt

    Yes you are correct that when others used the term there was a negative connotation. It does not remove the fact it described a flair West Indians brought to the game which was the envy of others.

    On the Sammy issue it is not unusual for a team selection to be influenced by the Captain. not remove the fact it described a flair West Indians brought to the game which was the envy of others.

  7. @David. I understood how the word “calypso” was being used….I just as a by the way mentioned the lack of calypso music at the last cricket match I went to…as perhaps again showing the lack of interest in the little things that made up the whole shebang. That something is direly wrong with cricket and its players today is obvious. How to fix it? Surely someone who remembers and loves the game could. I have no idea. But there is, as I said before, no joy in being at the bottom of the barrel with no ‘freedom light’ in sight. Rally around the West Indies seems to have gone out de window even ‘though as Caribbean people we still hope and pray with every run that “this time we gine win”. Does not happen usually…but we still back the nexx and hope again.

  8. THAT WAS THEN…..THIS IS NOW…..Cant touch the English Team now….Windies gotta keep up with the times……”swagger” cant get yout through a cricket match anymore….BARMY ARMY 4 LIFE…ENGLAND RULES!!

    • What does it say that England is threatening for #1 position in the ranking with no discernible world class player in the fold?

      What does it say that Barbados is #7?

  9. lol IslandGirl246……wait til next year……when the Windies come to England……”Wash In Licks”…lol

  10. Saint Tina Cockroach…..what is your problem? Where have you been resurrected from? Your hole under the rock?. Lemme get some more Baygone fuh yuh. Doan let Bonny ketch yuh , remember when she reads yuh posts yuh does remind her of a coonoonoo. So leff muh puleeeze.

  11. @MME

    Thanks and your comment is a reminder we forgot to thank islandgal for bring the article to our attention.

    Your appearance will likely give BT a heart attack.

  12. Today is the 75th birthday of living hero Sir Gary Sobers. Perhaps the greatest tribute to salute Sir Gary on this day is Sir Donald Bradman publicly acknowledging that the 250 he scored in Australia was the greatest innings he had ever witnessed played on Australian soil.

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