West Indies Cricket

West Indies Cricket

Isobel Bond - June 18, 2020

It all began in the 1880s, when the first combined West Indies team formed and The West Indies Cricket Board joined the sport’s international ruling body, the Imperial Cricket Council. Since that time, one of the most recognised, respected and revered teams in any sport anywhere in the world has been established.

Having started off as a buccaneering, free spirited team with a huge amount of natural talent but lacking the discipline and focus to consistently challenge for the top honours, by the late 1970s, the West Indies had a side recognised as unofficial world champions.

In that time, one of the most fearsome, relentless teams of all time had emerged; built on a culture of skill, dynamism, aggression and most of all – a deep will to win. 

You can be a cricketer for the West Indies, but that is rarely all you can be. When you don the famous maroon cap, whether you like it or not, you are not simply a batsman or a bowler. You become a code and a cipher, an ambassador and a messenger, a custodian of tradition and a vessel for hope. Partly this reflects the unique status of Caribbean cricket over a century and a quarter. It is a wagon to which many more are invariably hitched: cultural cachet, social symbolism, racial pride. But partly, it is a status imposed from the outside, and not without a certain intellectual laziness. People have always imposed onto this team their own agendas, their own prejudices, their own narratives.

The West Indies are no normal sports team. They carry not only the hopes of their own nation but have also become the barometer for cricket as a whole, not to mention wider political issues far beyond the field of play.

A West Indies defeat is never simply a defeat, but a “surrender”. A lean spell is never simply a lean spell, but the “sad decline” of a “once-proud” cricketing nation. The hand of history, the might of memory, weigh heavier upon this team than any other. Whether for nostalgia, poetry or politics, people want, even need, the West Indies to mean something more, in a way that simply does not apply to England, Australia, New Zealand or Sri Lanka.

Michael Holding, one of the all time West Indies greats sums it up with the comment

"Every time you play you have to play to win, because every time you win we can hold our heads up high. Cricket in the West Indies runs deeper. It matters more than just sport”.

The racial element within the history of West Indies is undeniable. "Here in England the West Indian locals felt like outcasts," says Holding. "And when West Indies came here and beat England on the cricket field they then felt, 'OK, if my cricket team can do that, why can't I do that?'" In 1976 Holding took 14 wickets for 149 runs at the Oval in the Fifth Test against England. It was one of the finest displays of fast bowling ever seen in the sport and somehow represented a broader evolution in society.

A political component of the West Indian team has underpinned the team since that great team of the 1970s.  If any player was politically aware, it was Viv Richards, who would later write in his autobiography:

"I believe very seriously in the black man asserting himself in this world, coming as I do from the West Indies at the end of the colonial era. I identify with black power, Rastafarianism, and all the movements of black liberation."

"Viv was always talking about his fathers and his soul-fathers," says Holding. "But a lot of people have misinterpreted that, they see it as meaning black power. It was not about black versus white or any of that rubbish. I bowled bouncers at Indians, I bowled bouncers at Pakistanis, I bowled bouncers at everyone." So did Croft. "As a bowler Mikey was a sniper," Croft chuckled. "He used to line people up in his sights. I was more of a machine gunner. I'd shoot you, him, everyone, by the end you'd all be dead."

Whatever the background and motivations, the great West Indies teams of the past didn’t like losing. Arguably the greatest cricket team of all time, the Windies side of the 1970s and 1980s - this side was forged in the space of a 90-second tongue-lashing the side received from Kerry Packer after they had been bowled out for 66 by Australia in World Series Cricket in 1978. Some suggest that it was the pasting the team got from Lillee and Thomson in Australia in 1975-76 that persuaded Clive Lloyd to start picking four fast bowlers.

Turning a negative into positive, failure into success, challenge into opportunity. This team represented characteristics that people all over the planet could relate to. 

The deep will to win is the defining character of West Indian cricket. The pantheon of great Windies players is long and includes names that have illuminated cricket far beyond their own shores – Sir Viv Richards, Garfield Sobers, Brian Lara, Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Clive Lloyd, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle. Cricket lovers of every generation will not only remember these players but have emotional experiences of their sublime skill, bravery, aggression and passion for the sport. These players have collectively instilled in the West Indies a culture that remains to this day - been built on great and exciting middle order batting and hostile fast bowling.

 As well as some of the most memorable batting performances in the sport – the sight of Ambrose and Walsh sending down the ball at 90mph plus from a height of 10 feet towards batsmen with barely any protection can send chills through the bones of all who watch it.

The Windies bowlers specialised in fear,

shredding opposition batsmen techniques as they made them contort into S-shapes to fend off his steepling bounce. Remorselessly precise lines snuffing out their scoring shots and the spectre of a devastating yorker arrowing towards their toe-caps kindling their insecurity. All the while, the threat of taking a blow that could end a career simmered beneath the surface. Its hard to think of another sport that has brought such sheer terror to the opposition as West Indies bowlers have throughout the years.   

The West Indies team from the 1970s and 1980s is now widely regarded as one of the best in test cricket’s history and remains deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of cricket fans around the world. The 1980s saw this great team set a then-record streak of 11 consecutive Test victories in 1984, which was part of a still-standing record of 27 tests without defeat (the other tests being draws), as well as inflicting two 5–0 “blackwashes” against the old enemy of England in a highly emotional and racially charged series.

This team inspired such a sense of wonder throughout the world of cricket with their potent combination of beguiling grace and beauty and sheer aggression, power and desire to dominate.

With access to a population that is under 0.1% of the world’s largest cricketing nation (India – population 1.34 billion), the Windies continue to punch far above their weight in world cricket on a pound for pound basis and remain one of the most successful cricket teams in history. In 2016, the Windies became the only team in history to be World Champions simultaneously in three ICC World Cup tournaments, the Men’s ICC World T20, the Women’s ICC World T20, and the ICC Under-19 World Cup.

Castore are deeply honoured to be partnering with the West Indies, a nation with such pride and who have given so much to the world of cricket.

The next generation of great Windies players is emerging and we will ensure they are wearing the highest quality kit as they look to write their own names into the next chapter of West Indies cricket.