Cricket has written certain pages of its history in a way that purists would have loved to live through. Few such pages would belong to West Indies of the bygone era — carved so well by the likes of Worrell and Richards that its echelons continue to stand apart.
Conglomerate of island countries on the Caribbean Sea with each island having its own shore formed West Indies. Such was the influence of cricket on Windies during those times that if there was something which had the slightest of possibilities to bring the islanders together, it was the game of cricket. After being halted by World War II, the game resumed in the Caribbean from 1948 and there started the arrival of some eye catching talents from the islands. Among those, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell made impacts straight away.
It is believed that the three Ws were delivered by the same midwife, but irrespective of the truth behind the same, the way they conducted themselves on and off the field with their Barbadian camaraderie made everyone believe so. They bludgeoned any attack with the due respect to the bowlers, and did the Himalayan of scoring during those times. This situation prevailed until another genius from Barbados who could do anything humanly possible on the cricket field made his debut — Sir Garfield Sobers.
The Windies were not short of talent, but lacked a captain who could lead the islanders as a team irrespective of their differences. Owing to colonial ruling, the whites too had their reservations against a black captain. It took a long fought pen war headed by the legendary C.L.R. JAMES coupled with some dismal performances from the then White captain Gerry Alexander which led to Frank Worrell being named the first black captain, a moment of pride for the blacks. Worrell tried to unite the islanders as a team and even had reasonable success in his short tenure before passing the baton on to the hands of Sir Gary Sobers.
Hitherto, West Indies had moderate success as a bunch and so often they were written off as Calypso boys which didn’t go well with their descendants. It was not an easy task to bring them under a team and make them play like one. If Jamaica was 1230 miles from Barbados, the distance between the characteristics of a Jamaican and a Barbadian was certainly more. Adding to that were the extensive island rivalries.
Lack of direction? Enter Lloyd.
In stepped skipper Clive Lloyd, who saw in them the potential, and the lack of direction and discipline. Being forced to be the bread winner of his family from a very young age, he had it in him to make them play as team and provide the much needed usher. Borders were erased in the dressing room and one voice led the way.
On the back of winning the inaugural Cricket World Cup at Lord’s in 1975, Champions West Indies stepped into the land of machismo with their confidence sky high.
But what followed, made them to think twice before entering the cricketing field again. The Aussies, with their fierce pace attack of Lille and Thompson broke them to bits and pieces. They were bounced, terrorized, and humiliated.
“The crowds wanted more than that and chanted Lillee.Lillee..kill…kill..kill…. Lillee..Lillee..kill…kill..kill”, remembers Andy Roberts. 5-1 was the margin.
They experienced what it was to be defeated in the testosterone capital of cricket. They wondered if cricket can be played in that way, but soon were convinced why not. The Australians highlighted them the need of the hour — intimidating fast bowlers. Holding and Roberts were never the same after that.
The timing of the tour couldn’t have been any worse for the Indians. The West Indian bowlers practiced against them what they had learnt from their Australian contemporaries, which didn’t sit well with the visitors. The Windies never worried and were waiting for an even bigger massacre. It was the time when they got motivation from the most unexpected source, Tony Greig, the then English Skipper. “We’ll make them grovel” were his exact words before West Indies arrived in 1976. With the fire of racism burning high, deep down, the tourists were focused on teaching their colonial masters a lesson. In simpler and uglier words, it was blacks versus whites. The English have a history of losing the game even before a toss on hearing of any fiery fast bowler in the opposition camp. If it was Mitchell Johnson in 2013, it was Holding who took care of their predecessors.
Decimating the whites
It was nothing short of mercy killing from the England management when 45 year old Brian Close was asked to open in the third test. The gutsy old man was left to battle with no luxury against cold blooded Holding and Roberts, with Wayne Daniel and Vanburn Holder for support, which ended as one for the ages. They ended up making Greig grovel and the series was clinched 3-0 by the tourists. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that Holding and Roberts forced the bouncer rules to be implemented.
The timing of their victories was perfect to stamp their authority around the world, but then raised another dispute at their door step. The West Indies board doesn’t seem to have changed over the decades in the matter of paying their players, and back then, it caught the attention of Australian businessman Kerry Packer and there formed the Packer’s series in mid-1970. The board turned against their players, but was forced to lower down their guard as protests broke out in support for their heroes.
Joel Garner and Colin Croft joined Holding and Roberts and things got worse for whoever stood with the bat. Holding in particular, had already created considerable waves of fear across the cricketing world, and if nicknames could send shivers down the spine, nothing ever did so like whispering death. With aggression camouflaged in his stone face, Andy Roberts led the pace attack and boy, he did!
Their batting too was taken care by the charismatic Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Kallicharran and their leader Clive Lloyd. And now was the time to implement something which they had planned before the packer intervention.
Back to where it began
Wouldn’t their mission be incomplete if they didn’t promote their brand to those who were the very reason for their upsurge? The next stop was Australia and the wounds of their previous tour were fresh. They stepped in to the field with a purpose and more importantly, had the pace in them to rip the Aussies. The Australian pace attack was no match to the Wndies’ pace quartet this time and were given the taste of their own medicine. Nothing was more soul cleansing for Lloyd’s men than decimating the Australians in their own back yard. Precisely, the West Indies’ dominance started from the very place where they been left to the ruins.
From then on started the period of the West Indies Invincibles which extended to over a decade. Though they lost their limited over supremacy to India in ’83, the longer format remained their forte. As the greats exited the game one by one, their team too saw the downfall from which it still hasn’t been able to recover. But more than the glories and accolades, an anecdote behind the Green-Yellow-Red band with which Viv Richards stepped in to bat sums up the players’ impact on the Caribbean and vice versa. Green represented his land that was erstwhile under colonial rule, yellow for the gold that was looted, and red for the blood that were shed.
Cricket was seen as the way to freedom, and it gave a sense of belonging to the blacks. It was an era of uprising — of writing and rewriting history — when cricket was truly more than just a game.