For those of a certain age, anything short of intimidatory dominance and Calypso flair in one day cricket is about as unthinkable as it gets. The thought that the great West Indies would not even be present at a World Cup is almost staggering to so many who have grown accustomed to a very particular presence with each iteration of the storied tournament.
Built of the doubtless skill and guile of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and a series of the fastest, deadliest, most awe-inspiring fast bowlers cricket fans had ever deigned to lay eyes on, the tradition and history of West Indian cricket managed to combine the carefree, wanton approach of island life with a cutthroat, win-at-all-costs attitude that took the obvious skills and abilities within the playing group and made them not just the very best in the game for a long period of time, but something to aspire to for millions around the world.
From initial success to defining the game
From ground-breaking success in 1975 to Joel Garner’s dominance just four years later, from the emergence of the great Brian Lara, the World Cup is in and of itself, a story of West Indian triumph against overwhelming odds.
Australia, for all their bravado and dashing efforts in the Cup have compiled the trophies, but it has been the flair, fight and grace of those who represented a small band of islands in the gorgeous Caribbean that has captured the hearts of minds and installed a certain style amongst the great traditions of the cricket World Cup.
The only issue, at least in the short-term, is that the rebranded Windies have left themselves in an almighty struggle to simply make up the numbers at the next staging of the Cup.
As flashy and extravagant as their rise, the fall of West Indian cricket happened sharply. Precipitated by Australia’s rise to dominance in the Test arena in the mid-90s, an extended run of mismanagement, in-fighting and the bleeding of talent to franchise Twenty20 cricket of the last few years has impaled the short-form efforts of the once proud nation as well.
Missing the cut
As last year’s September 30 deadline came, the Windies found themselves in ninth on the ICC’s ODI rankings, excluding them from the automatic qualification expected as part of every cycle. With that drastic drop off the big boy’s table comes the need to qualify for the World Cup via a qualification tournament held in Zimbabwe.
While they’ll head into the tournament against the likes of Papua New Guinea, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, host-nation Zimbabwe and Scotland as the favourites to progress and join the eight teams already qualified for the World Cup, the process ahead of them seems almost beneath a once proud team.
While legends of the sport refuse to entertain the possibility that the Windies won’t successfully navigate the qualification tournament and book their spot at the big dance in England and Wales next year, the fact remains that inconsistency and unexpectedly poor showings are part of the DNA of the current crop of Windies players and chickens should not be counted until they’re officially through.
Some stars return, others opt for Twenty20 riches
Household names like Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, two of the Windies’ brighter stars over the last decade or so will strengthen the hopes of a proud people but that a handful of established performers like Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell have opted instead to pad their bank accounts with Pakistan Super League dollars perfectly illustrates the chasm between management and a playing group disenfranchised by backroom politics and power squabbles.
The noble Jason Holder leads a squad which boasts Jason Mohammed, Devendra Bishoo, Carlos Brathwaite and Kemar Roach but the loss of talent to the PSL will weaken the team put on the field.
As things stand, the qualifying tournament gets underway in earnest at the end of this week and, within a month we will know who joins the eight qualified sides at the 2019 World Cup. The Windies should be there, by almost as much as by right, but, should they fail in their bid to secure passage through to the tournament proper, the malaise and dereliction within the management structure behind the scenes could be worse than ever before.