West Indies - Hearts Overcoming Minds In A Professional Era?
Prithvijit Roy examines the journey of West Indies cricket from 1975 onwards from the perspective of the battle between the mind and the heart.
1990s - The Changing of the Era?
It is often believed that to get a practical perspective or solution on situations, one should give greater weightage to the mind as compared to the heart while charting out a pathway for one's actions. In a day and age when results serve as perhaps the only parameter to assess one’s success; automation, analysis and other management jargons have become the necessary norms, not only in the corporate world but also in the world of sports.
The journey towards achieving success in any stream of life - be it human relationships, the professional treadmill or any sport, by listening and acting on your hearts impulse, is something that is diminishing rapidly in the fast paced society. From the point of view as an observer of cricket.
The West Indies cricket team make an interesting case study of not only the joy one experiences when success is achieved when one listens or plays with the heart, but also the excruciating agony one undergoes, when on hindsight one feels giving weightage to the mind would have been better instead of allowing the heart to prevail.
I have been an avid follower of cricket since the 1996 World Cup. For me, West Indies cricket was synonymous with Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop, Jimmy Adams, Carl Hooper and Brian Lara.
While these people achieved demi-God status for my generation, our parents’ generation who had seen West Indies cricket in its pomp and splendor during the 70’s and 80’s felt that this bunch was mediocre in its abilities in comparison to the West Indies of their generation.
But one essence remained the same which traversed across two generations: West Indies play their cricket from the heart!
The swagger of a Viv Richards had been taken forward by Brian Lara, the smooth run up of a Michael Holding was inherited by a Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose emerged as Joel Garner’s successor with respect to height.
Even today I recall their performances in the 1996 World Cup. They left the world stunned when they spinelessly lost to Kenya getting shot out for 93 runs while chasing a modest 166. Yet Lara left South Africa and the world gaping in the quarter-finals when he scored 111 of 94 balls on a spinning minefield in Karachi to knock them out of the tournament.
Yet they left many cricket lovers hearts broken, when they collapsed against Australia in the semi-finals as they lost their last seven wickets for 40-odd runs and fell short by five runs. The pained look of Courtney Walsh getting bowled and Richie Richardson giving a look of resignation to his fate remains as one of the goosebump moments of the 1996 World Cup.
But are not all these sequence of events synonymous with the crests and troughs that we touch emotionally when we act on our heart's accord?
Perhaps these were the signs of things to come for West Indies cricket as world cricket too was evolving and marching towards an era of professionalism. It was a changing time as cricket too was evolving from just being a hobby and a game towards a full-fledged profession which not only needed the application of the heart, but also the application of the mind.
In an era when the likes of Australia and South Africa were emerging as top teams, method and solid domestic infrastructures were becoming foundation tools for building cricket teams, rather than flair, talent and extravagance which were the hallmarks of Calypso Cricket.
Those Were The Days
Mary Hopkin's evergreen number 'Those were the days my friend we thought they will never end…' perhaps resonates the journey of West Indian cricket in its truest form.
If we take into consideration the timeline since the commencement of World Cup cricket since 1975, we would all feel in the corner of our heart that our life draws many parallels with the fate of West Indies cricket.
When we entered this world and were growing up as children, perhaps the world was at our feet. We could play as long as we wanted, undertake any challenge or any task, wear our hearts on our sleeves and yet emerge with flying colours.
As children we had nothing to fear since we did not know what the world has in store for us. A similar connotation can be drawn of the West Indies team of the 70s and 80s.
Being the first superpowers of world cricket, they were the ones who dictated the terms and conditions against their oppositions. The world was in awe of Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greniddge, Viv Richards, Clive Loyd, Malcom Marshall, Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and many more.
All these stalwarts had one common underlining when they entered the field - the pride of representing their nation, the flair of the Calypso music and the joy which comes from the heart while doing something you love the most.
The world at that time was perhaps at their feet because they achieved unbridled success in a sport where they excelled with effortless ease. Perhaps that’s why people hold the Kapil’s Devils of 1983 in high esteem for having gone through a batting line-up filled with legends from one to 11 to win the World Cup.
Embracing the Reality?
However, as we grow into adults from the age of childhood and adolescence, we start understanding the stark realities of life. The expectations of a demanding society can wear you down, especially if you come from a past generation that has tasted unparalleled success and excellence in a given field. Perhaps the West Indies team of the 1990s and 2000s has been a victim of the huge expectations that come from its people who had seen Clive Loyd and company at their zenith?
I was 10 years old when I saw West Indies getting ousted at the 1996 World Cup. Since then, for 18 years I have been waiting to see them bag a semi-final spot again in a World Cup.
Their ouster from the next four World Cups (1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011) at the league stage or the quarter-final stage brings sorrow to an idealist in me who still believes that in this materialistic era of cut-throat and ruthless competition, the heart can still win battles without resorting to nasty mind games and politics.
Nothing fits this situation better than the lyrics: Then the busy years started rushing by us, We lost our starry notions on the way.
When the West Indies won the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy and the 2012 ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka, the heart brimmed with joy to see that the joy of the Calypso way of life still holds relevant even today.
Chris Gayle’s Gangnam style dance brought an innocent joy to all the people who watched the telecast of that match live on their TV screens. Even today I watch Lara’s epic innings of 153 against Australia on YouTube, when I look for motivation to fight against the unforeseen circumstances that I might have faced during difficult phases of my life.
That ecstasy which I felt on Lara hit the winning shot of Gillespie to snare a one-wicket victory against Australia remains one of the most thrilling days of my cricket-watching journey.
Many Indian victories also don’t come close to the joy I felt that night when West Indies defeated Australia. The lyrics of Mary Hopkin's, again, perhaps aptly rings a chord with this state of affairs: Oh my friend we are older but not wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same.
From the point of view of the common man like me whose only religion is cricket, nothing remains more enjoyable than to see a West Indies cricket team on song. Be it their style of play or their victory celebrations; their childlike innocence and tom foolery warms the heart even today, when mind presides over the heart with respect to our decision making sensibilities.
My first memories of viewing the joy of the West Indian way to cricketing life was the series of Kingfisher ads that featured their 1996 World Cup squad.
These series of advertisements embodied the very essence of their cricketing ethos - "The King of Good Times who enjoys the fun during play".
Today, I would not be very sure, whether as professional cricketers that sought of a mind process is appreciated amongst cricketing circles or not, as parallels are drawn of the cricketing arena to a battlefield. The bottom line however is that the West Indies still approach it as a sport that is meant to be played in the truest spirit - the heart.
Maybe as cricket fans we must accept the fact that one reason why over the decades the aura of the West Indies team has diminished is due to the fact that in terms of abilities, the team of the 1990s and 2000s were not as gifted as their predecessors in the 70s and 80s. The effort still remains. Just that at times results are not in proportionality with one’s efforts as sometimes one’s best is not good enough.
We all experience these emotions in our professional lives too, when the sincere effort one puts in while preparing a presentation did not win our company THAT project. We experience such lows in our personal lives too, when no matter how much we love someone, our emotions do not get reciprocated because the person at the other end may have other priorities in life.
The West Indies team has often faced brickbats from the media on grounds of lacking effort and dedication. But we must consider the fact that they take great pride in representing their country and we all know that to represent one’s country in a given field is one of the greatest honours in someone’s life.
Fun At Play
In the last 10 years of my cricket watching journey in stadiums which has primarily been in the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium of Delhi, I have witnessed two games which have involved the West Indies.
The first one was in 2011 during the World Cup when they encountered South Africa. While Graeme Smith was facing Chris Gayle, he suddenly observed some disturbance at the side screen and asked Gayle to stop his action.
Gayle, on the other hand, fully aware of Smith’s message walked gently across the bowling crease halfway to the pitch and looped the ball over Smith’s head to the wicket-keeper.
Then with an expressionless look he widened his arms to the crowd. This act not only left Smith and the crowd in splits but also millions of viewers world over who were watching the telecast. The commentator Robin Jackman amused also remarked that "Chris Gayle is a good man".
The most recent game I watched was the second ODI in 2014 played a few days back. In the penultimate over while MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were batting, Kumar clipped a ball to Keiron Pollard at long-on, happily handing over the strike to Dhoni.
To the crowds amusement Pollard fielded the ball and threw the ball a few centimeters away from him, thus challenging Dhoni to take a second run. To the crowd's amusement and Pollard's amazement, Dhoni took the challenge and scampered for the second.
Not only the ground was left in splits but so were the West Indies fielders who were laughing at Pollard.
Their ability to make fun of themselves with a sporting spirit makes it impossible for anyone to hate them. The icing on the cake however came when the last wicket of Ravi Rampaul got out. While Rampaul went forward to shake hands with the umpires and the Indian fielders, the non-striker Suleiman Benn simply started walking towards the pavilion.
While most people might consider it to be unsporting, the crowd in the stadium again laughed their guts off as they saw Benn waiting for players and umpires near the dressing room as everyone went off the ground.
Call it his absentmindedness or another act of jest, no team entertains viewers and spectators as the West Indies. While the crowd were almost lulled to sleep during India’s batting display, they watched in amazement as to how the duo of Dwayne Smith and Pollard tonked sixes of the listless Indian bowling.
Another theatrical act that comes in my mind is an abandoned match between India and West Indies that was played in Rajkot in 2002. While India batted second, crowd trouble compelled the match officials and players to walk out of the ground.
Even amidst this gloom, suddenly Marlon Samuels stood in front of Sehwag jokingly obstructing his path. Sehwag too joined the tomfoolery session by poking Samuels with a bat who refused to budge.
Both Sehwag and the West Indies cricketers enjoyed a good laugh. It is perhaps these intricacies that make watching the Calypso brand of cricket a treat to watch for sports lover. Even today they treat it like a game and sports, and perhaps not a battlefield.
Fork In The Road
A bitter conclusion lies in the fact that perhaps that indeed is the fault with the stars as far as West Indies cricket is concerned. Maybe a practical world does not want a game to just remain a game.
That is why perhaps why the West Indies player are perhaps more inclined to play out in shorter formats all over the world such as the IPL (India) or the KFC Big Bash League (Australia) as the T20 platform gives them the full license to swing themselves without getting crucified or scrutinised for a false shot.
Of course people in West Indies have adopted other sports such as athletics and football as their favourite sport due to the decline of their cricketing aura. But still in our deepest of hearts, all cricket fans whether West Indian or not (like me) hope that someday, the style of playing from the heart will again triumph over the methodical assembly-line production approach of the so-called professional teams.
A time will come when Calyspso cricket will regain its rhythm.
An era will come when the heart will win.
© Cricket World 2014