*Clive Lloyd’s prestigious cap
They are to this day remembered as demonic and destructive by one and all, People of the affected generations still feel the aura that the invincible, untouchables and unyielding possess. West Indies’s entry in the world circuit was subdued in 1928. It was as difficult to manage those 15 Caribbean countries then as it is now. They did come up a long way from winning their first test series in 1933/34 against a touring English side.
George Headley was the first superstar of the colourful islands and then followed by the 3 W’s Walcott, Weeks and Worrell. These superstars paved way for the array of legends that came through post 1950’s.
As a unit the West Indies started putting their feet down in 1950’s, before which the performances were patchy and the 60’s was the time when the winning streaks got massive with series wins in England and even clinching the Frank Worrell trophy(featuring the tied test match) apart from thumping all touring sides and the likes of the minnows then where even India and Pakistan featured along with the Kiwis.
*The first tied test match-Frank Worrell trophy 1960/61
Late sixties and early seventies could be seen as a period of consolidation when new stars were identified and groomed and the BLUEPRINT or the magic formula was prepared which was to mesmerize and overpower the cricket world. During this period of consolidation they were handed defeats by Australia and England in plenty and even India chipped in with their first win in the enchanting islands in 1970/71 tour that saw the legend of Sunil Gavaskar appear out of nowhere allaying the might of the Windies.
The world cup win over the favourites Australia was a big breakpoint for them, but then the joy was short-lived as they were thrashed 5-1 in Australia’s backyard later that year in what was the contest for the numero-uno. It was the pace of Lillee and Thomson that did them in as recalled by the players then and the guile of the newly appointed captain in Greg Chappell who took the reigns from his brother Ian. This was the series that probably went a long way in making the West Indies stronger rather than affect adversely. The first major step here was Clive Lloyd taking responsibility for the debacle and then looking forward to rebuilding than to mull over the past. The first major step was inducting eight authentic and effective pacemen and more in the preliminary pool of players of the reckoning group and then reinforcing the batting line up with mentally and technically sound players. It was during this time that the roles were made very clear among the team mates. The confidence that players had in their abilities and the backing that they had from their captain was evident from the basic fact that the players were not asked to change their basic instincts which was playing attacking and aggressive cricket throughout and their home-grown specialities which was to play better off the backfoot ( even the defence shot!) and tendency to bowl short .
Sir Gary Sobers deserves a special mention here as he was the grandest jewel in the crown, regarded highest world over(even garnering a knighthood in those days) and topping batting charts and contributing heavily with the ball as well….even the great don acknowledged his might…..the 254 of his against the Aussies for the assorted World XI in 1971 is still considered amongst the finest of them all…..not forgetting the six sixes.
*Finest batsman of his time-8 time wisden cricketer of the year
*A more than handy bowler too
*The biggest cricketing icon of his time
Then came the likes of Kanhai, Kalicharran, Richards, Haynes, Greenidge, Holding, Roberts, Garner, Croft, Richardson, Marshall….and the more recent ones like Walsh, Ambrose and Lara who kept the dominance intact. Such was the level of dominance that Imran Khan came out of his well-timed first retirement to just compete against the prestigious toppers(in all departments) and push the then rising Pakistan side to the top drawer(incited by Gen. Zia-ul Haq)….drawing against them was nothing short of a win to mention the least.
From then on till 1994/95 they were beaten by only India that too in India in 1978/79-a fact strong enough to demonstrate the dominance that lasted over two decades. The domination included white-washing England twice in 1984 and 1985/86 (both 5-0) and beating everyone else everywhere in the test arena and drawing a few of the series with India(once), Pakistan(twice) , Australia(once) and New Zealand(once). The one drawn series with New Zealand was known for all sorts of wrong reasons though (racial bias and bad umpiring kind of stuff) that threatened to split the cricketing fraternity into two halves-Whites and non-Whites(not forgetting the atrocities borne by the sub continental nations).
They were dominant even in the fiercely competitive World Series Cricket and not to mention the One Day format as well.
They were successful because they had players for all occasions and especially fast bowlers to bowl on all sorts of wickets and get the desired results…..and yes unlike the other great teams from various times they did not have a mention-worthy spinner!
The four pronged pace attack started to get very much one dimensional and the popularity of the helmet weakened the sting and the fear factor of course. The opening slot was the first area of concern after the Greenidge –Haynes partnership expired followed by the middle order worries after Viv Richard’s retirement….though Lara gave a lot of hope and promise, but the team as a unit could never be what they were in the purple patch……and as they say there is one moment that can be associated with a cricketing dominance’s fall just as there is the moment of reckoning and that sadly in this case came from Australia who were instrumental in sparking the dominance once, but this time it was Mark Taylor’s side with the likes of Steven Waugh, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath firing all cylinders.
The scene post the retirement of Ambrose, Walsh and Lara is hopeless and the poor administration and grooming makes every ray of light dim and then dimmer….will the empire revive itself is the question that has been asked and will be asked.