The West Indies dominated cricket in the 1970s and 1980s, then fell into steep decline. As the islands prepare to host the one-day cricket World Cup, an English cricketer tries to find out what went wrongby Ed Smith / March 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2007 issue of Prospect Magazine
Writing in Wisden in 1986, at the peak of the Caribbean’s cricketing supremacy, David Frith argued that West Indies cricket had inspired the entire Afro-Caribbean people: “In the pre-war depression years, Don Bradman stood for the powers of endurance of the ordinary bloke. His triumphs brought pride and inspiration to the masses of struggling Australians in town and bush… For ten years now Viv Richards has done something similar for the black man.”
In that winter of 1985-86, England had endured a brutal 5-0 defeat on their tour of the Caribbean, having also been “blackwashed” at home in the summer of 1984. An array of brilliant West Indies batsmen—led by Richards—and a seemingly endless battery of fast bowlers had once again blown England away.
Like most cricketing kids who grew up in the 1980s, I came to associate both success and style with the West Indian team. The most terrifying cricketer in the world was Malcolm Marshall, the coolest was Jeffrey Dujon, the best and most iconic was Viv Richards. Even the most passionate England fan knew that the West Indies were playing at a higher level. They were the masters now.
But their dominance had been brewing for decades. In 1950, the West Indies won a watershed victory against England at Lord’s. The Three Ws—(Frank) Worrell, (Everton) Weekes and (Clyde) Walcott—were a middle order that would have graced any team. In the 1960s, with an attack spearheaded by Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, the West Indies developed a reputation for fearsome fast bowling that survived for three decades. Above all, in Gary Sobers, they found the kind of genius who adds glamour to any sport. Having started his test career as a left-arm orthodox spin bowler, Sobers soon became one of the world’s great batsmen. As if that were not enough, he was a quick, left-arm swing bowler who could switch to “chinamen” wrist-spinners. He was lithely sensational in the field and a charismatic captain. There is much talk in modern cricket about having two dimensions to your game; Sobers had six.