From Calypso to Collapso: The Caribbean story

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Paris:They were once the world's deadliest cricket team.

With a battery of lethal pace bowlers and an 'A' list of batting stylists, the West Indies were kings.

But 30 years after their first World Cup triumph, they are in deep trouble thanks to an unseemly row between skipper Brian Lara and six of his teammates and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

As always, money is at the centre of the fall-out with Lara, the world record holder of the highest Test score, and his gang of six, dropped from the squad for the upcoming series against South Africa and Pakistan because their individual contracts were seen to be in conflict with the Board's principal backer.

But the game in the West Indies, where the World Cup is to be staged in 2007, has been in decline for a decade ever since a series loss to Australia in 1995 - their first in 16 years.

From that point to 2000, another 16 matches were lost while, in 2004, England won their first series in Caribbean in 35 years.

The onset of the rot was hastened when Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, the last two products of the conveyor belt of great fast bowlers retired to be replaced by a long line of mediocre trundlers.

"It was taken for granted because we were so successful," said Walsh who retired with 519 Test wickets.

"I don't think any infrastructure was in place for when the crunch came and the quality wasn't there anymore."

A lack of success on the field has caused many youngsters in the Caribbean to turn away from cricket with those able seeking out more lucrative careers in basketball and football - it can't be a coincidence that Jamaica's soccer players qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1998.

Poor performances on the field, and some poor pitches on which to perform, have also increased the bickering amongst the various disparate islands.

"Apart from cricket, everything we do is done as individual countries," said Jimmy Adams, one of a series of captains who have tried to rekindle the legend in recent years.

"We have our own flags, our own currencies. People tend to lump us all together as the West Indies but culturally there are huge differences between the islands."

Of the current team, only Lara, whose 400 against England last year meant he reclaimed the record for the highest ever individual Test score, would be assured of a place in any international XI.

But even then, selectors may hesitate to opt for a man whose history of dealing with officials has unsettled numerous teams down the years.

In 1995, Lara was fined 10-percent of his earnings for absenting himself from a tour of England while, in 1998, in a mood of rebellion, members of the team were marooned at a London hotel as arguments over pay delayed the departure to South Africa.

Lara was captain then as is he now having retaken the reins after the 2003 World Cup.

But the crisis has continued.

The rows over players contracted to Cable and Wireless and the Board, who are now backed by rival telecom firm Digicel to the tune of 15 million dollars over five years, overshadowed the build up to the tour of Australia at the start of the year.

The Board had to find 100,000 dollars of its own money to get the team out to Australia where it won just one match.

On their return, a leaked memo suggested that many of the team had paid more attention to Australian women than to opponents on the field.

That accusation has fuelled the current round of bitter in-fighting where the Board are at loggerheads with the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) over central contracts and match fees.

The Board has proposed a top pay bracket of just under 80,000 dollars a year while the WIPA have insisted upon 110,000 dollars.

Lara as well as Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Fidel Edwards, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Ravi Rampaul were all missing from the list of 22 players named by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for the series against South Africa which starts on March 31.

Lara said he was confident that the row could be resolved.

"If I can help, I am prepared to speak to anyone, anywhere and at any time, but positive action is needed now," said the 35-year-old.

There is another legacy to the mess - the prospects of the 2007 World Cup going ahead.

"Broadcasters and potential sponsors will be looking at this and thinking: 'If the WICB can't keep their own house in order, what chance have they got with the World Cup?'" Richard Bevan, the joint chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations told the London Daily Telegraph.

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