What is the problem with West Indies cricket? The debate has raged among passionate fans of the game, and many explanations have been put forward over the past decade. Recently, Ernest Hilaire, the chief executive of the West Indies Cricket Board, claimed money and lifestyles were the biggest culprits.
"We as a region have some real issues and problems that are producing young men, in particular, that cannot dream of excellence," he said in May, while speaking on the topic "Nationalism and the future of West Indies cricket" at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. "Excellence for them is about the bling, and the money they have. Our cricketers are products of the failure of our Caribbean society, where money and instant gratification are paramount.
"I listen to our players speak, and they speak of money; that's all that matters to them - instant gratification." This materialist view has led to many disputes between the players, led by the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) and the cricket board over the past decade, with top players often deserting the national team. These wrangles, according to Desmond Haynes, have hurt West Indies' efforts to recover from their sorry situation, and the once- mighty Calypso Kings keep slipping with Test defeats at home even against the likes of Bangladesh.
In their last series, the West Indies lost all five one-day and two Twenty20 internationals against South Africa, and two of the three Tests. Since the turn of the century, they have won only 18 of their 111 Test matches and lost 61. "I think they were a bit unfortunate with the various disputes they have had," said Haynes, the former West Indies player, who was half of arguably one of the best opening pair in cricket's history; the other being the indomitable Gordon Greenidge.
"That disrupted a lot of the progress. Whenever it started to seem as though we are doing well, there would be a problem with WIPA and the West Indies Cricket Board." Money has also been responsible for many youngsters abandoning cricket and taking up sports like basketball, which could be a ticket to a better life in the United States with the NBA. Ian Bishop, a fearsome fast bowler, once said: "American sports have certainly played their part in the sense that a lot of our youngsters are now playing soccer, which is not basically American, and they are playing a lot of basketball as well. They watch a lot of American sports live because they get it on cable television."
Haynes, 54, disagrees. "That is one thing that we must try to dispel because I think that is a load of rubbish, where people are trying to make excuses for our demise," he said while in Dubai for a coaching clinic at Gopal Jasapara's GForce Academy. "We are not losing any cricketers to any American sports. A lot of our youngsters are playing all sorts of sports. What a lot of people don't understand is this is the abyss of West Indies cricket, this is suicidal. This is what is happening now in societies throughout the world, it's not only the West Indies.
"Guys are looking for the fast, the shorter version. They got the Nintendo, they got the computers, they got everything. So what you got to do is set up the various academies and create an atmosphere where you can get them trained." As the West Indies look for remedies, Haynes suggests the cricket board should begin using local coaches, instead of opting for those from Australia or England. A recent study by Dr Rudi Webster, a sports psychologist who has worked with various West Indies teams over the past three decades, suggests he could be right.
"The highly structured approach to coaching with its great emphasis on mechanics crept into West Indies cricket 10 to 15 years ago," Webster said in his report. "During that time, West Indies cricket plummeted from dizzy heights to new lows. In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s West Indies cricket culture was very different. In those days, players learned the game in less structured and more creative environments."
Haynes believes only a West Indian can understand the peculiar uniqueness of Caribbean cricket. "People like to hear people from a similar culture telling them how to play the game. And it is the comfort level as well," he said. Michael Holding, one of the fast- bowling greats from Clive Lloyd's team of invincibles in the 1970s and 1980s, has blamed the declining standards of Caribbean cricket on declining numbers at the grass-roots level.
"You don't have as many people playing the game in the Caribbean now, it's as simple as that," he said in a recent debate on West Indies cricket. He suggested the raw numbers of players today have fallen as much as 75 per cent to the levels of 30 or 40 years ago. "There are so many other games that are easily accessible, plus we are in the modern age of computers - kids just do what is easiest for them. What the cricket administrators need to do is make cricket just as readily available as the other sports and distractions. "