Every four years we have cricket's version of the World Cup and this year the West Indies is hosting it. The premiere event in the cricketing world, the ICC Cricket World Cup starts this March and goes on for a month. The term West Indies is a quaint throwback easily recognizable to anyone familiar with British colonialism and cricket (these two entities are inseparable) and refers to the countries of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados to name a few of the former dozen English colonies. When one refers to the West Indies playing cricket it is these ex-colonies rather than other parts of the West Indies such as Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Martinique and Dominican Republic ruled by a host of other colonial powers where cricket is rarely played.
Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the British West Indies are all independent entities but form a loose confederation when it comes to playing cricket. A phenomenon very distinct from how these countries represent themselves separately in soccer or the Olympics. The Windies as they are called were at onetime considered the Brazilians of soccer, an unstoppable force. Anyone familiar with cricket will instantly recall legends like Garfield Sobers, Lance Gibbs, Rohan Kanhai and the three W's, Weekes, Walcott, and Worrell. Their dominance began in the 1960's and for the next twenty five years they ruled cricket. As with Brazil their talent was unbounded and unfettered. The beaches of the West Indies was dotted with children playing cricket just like the Copa is filled with Brazilians showing off their skills in soccer, hoping to be the next Zico or Pele. Growing up in India, where cricket is a passion we felt the truly awesome power of the Windies over the years. The steadiest opening pair in Gordon Greenidge and Roy Fredericks, the power of Viv Richards repeatedly hooking balls for six against an impotent Indian attack, the dancing feet of Alvin Kallicharan elegantly cover driving the ball, a diminutive Malcolm Marshall who could extract lethal pace from even the most lifeless of Indian pitches and whose vicious bouncers were one reason why batsmen wear helmets, the gazelle like grace of Michael Holding, and the spectacle of almost 7' tall Joel 'Big Bird' Garner swooping down and bowling from a stratospheric 11' . And we have not even mentioned Clive Lloyd who swat balls imperiously with the heaviest bat in business. It made no difference who coached the Windies or who faced them. Yep, in those days we were lucky if a test match went beyond the third day. Even a second rate 1980's West Indies team decimated by its stars leaving for the lucrative Kerry Packer league was streets ahead of any other team. West Indian cricket was bolstered by Michael Manley, the Jamaican PM, and a vocal proponent of Pan Caribbean nationalism who saw it as an important part in coalescing against US intervention in the region just as Kwame Nkrumah did soccer in the nascent rise of African nationalism against the British. But with Manley's death in 1997 the differences between these countries sharpened. Cricket took a nosedive as a group of disparate and incohesive West Indian players led by the supremely talented Brian Lara met with a series of defeats. The infallibility of the West Indies had ended.
At the same time soccer enjoyed an growing popularity since the 1970s when Jack Warner, Trinidad and Tobago's soccer association president promoted it as a sport that opposed the remains of a colonial legacy and identified it as a sport for the blacks and the dispossessed. In contrast, cricket was always the sport of the elite and the Trini Indians who saw themselves as outside of nationalist politics. Much of soccer's surge in the Caribbean can be attributed to Warner who is now one of FIFA's vice president and the president of CONCACAF. Warner's good work to promote soccer has been tarnished with charges of financial impropriety and nepotism for which he is being investigated. Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago also benefited by a strong diasporic representation in English and the USA playing for their leagues or in the varsity teams and coming back to do duty for their national squads. The Reggae Boyz squad took advantage of this phenomena with Robbie Earle, Jamaica's hero in the 1998 World Cup who scored his country's first ever goal against Croatia, also playing for Port Vale and Wimbledon. Ricardo Gardner, Dean Burton, and Frank Sinclair, members of the 1998 squad were either born in England or played for clubs there. Trinidad and Tobago's Shaka Hislop, a hero to his countrymen in the 2006 World Cup (who can forget his goalkeeping in the Sweden game) came to the USA and attended Howard University winning the NCAA title in 1988. As did Stern John who joined Columbus Crew after completing his college. Dwight Yorke, T&T's captain played for Aston Villa, Man Utd, and Blackburn Rovers. Carlos Edwards joined from Luton Town. There were a number of player from the Scottish League including Russell Latapy, Jason Scotland, Brent Sancho, Densill Theobald, and Collin Samuel. In fact, there is a great story of many Scottish fans making the trip to Germany to cheer T&T, their adopted team against their rivals England. Soccer appeals to many in tiny and isolated T&T because it helps connect with the world and its billions that follow the global game rather than follow what appears to be an echo chamber of ten nations playing a game that smacks of a protracted colonial hangover.
Soccer with its TV and merchandising rights has also proved to be lucrative to these players and the respective soccer federations. The cash strapped West Indies Cricket Board on the other hand has had to undergo a financial crisis after chief sponsors Cable and Wireless pulled out imperiling future tours by the players. The players supplement their meager salaries given by the board with the more substantial endorsements given by sponsoring companies. This sort of problem does not arise in soccer as the diasporic Jamaican and Trinibagoans play for the richer English and US clubs and the soccer federations are not responsible for their salaries.