Cricket Australia, we have a problem and the problem is this. Almost nobody in Australia has heard of any of the West Indies players who will take on Australia in Thursday’s first Test in Hobart.
As we all know, the West Indies were once mighty. A collection of 15 different Caribbean countries and dependencies together became the dominant force in the game in the 1970s and 1980s.
Name of that era roll off the tongue of anyone with even half an appreciation of the game. Clive Lloyd. Viv Richards. Haynes, Greenidge, Garner, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, Walsh. The list goes on -- all the way up to and including Brian Lara, who has a very good case for being regarded as the second best batsman of all time after Don Bradman.
As for the crop who take on Australia this week, forget it. As the video above proves, they’re anonymous to pretty much everyone bar their own parents.
Huffington Post Australia interviewed some average Australians on busy city streets this week. Of two dozen or so people we approached, only three could name a single player who is currently on tour with the West Indies. Just two successfully named their current captain Jason Holder.
For the record, Holder is a 24-year-old Barbadian bowling all-rounder who bowls fast and bats aggressively. He’s played just 10 Tests, and his batting and bowling averages are both mediocre. Yet he’s pretty much the best of a very, very average crop.
Australia beat the West Indies easily 2-0 when we the two teams met in April on the Windies’ home turf earlier this year. They’ve not improved since then. It’s a far cry from the ’60s, ’70s, ‘’80s and ’90s when Australia vs West Indies series were the most anticipated in world cricket outside of The Ashes.
So why the decline in West Indies cricket? Partly, and this is not a particularly sexy reason, it’s because of awful administration.
There’s also a case for indulgent players looking after their own interests. This case was put forward by the late Peter Roebuck in this interesting article. In the modern context, the West Indies’ best player Chris Gayle (who is not on this tour) best fits the bill as a man concerned primarily with Number One.
The decline is also partly due to the increasing pull of American sports. College scholarships and the potential big bucks of a career in U.S. pro sports are just too enticing to many young men from low-income Caribbean families. A lucrative cricket career is a longshot by comparison.
Things are so dire that a report this week suggested the West Indies could disband as a combined cricketing power within 10 years. World cricket would be the loser.
For now, the loser looks like being the coffers of Cricket Australia. Despite a big CA publicity push for locals to turn up at the game, it’s doubtful that Hobart will see decent crowds. Great sport is about narrative. It has always been about the story behind the action on the field. There’s not much of a storyline this week. It’s more your classic David and Goliath narrative.
Problem is, it’s unlikely the David of the West Indies has a slingshot capable of slaying the Aussie Goliath now, or perhaps ever again.