West Indies Cricket: A Score to Settle

The World Cup in Australia is cricket's Olympics: what are the West Indies' chances of regaining the world title this year?

Australians (left to right) Mark Waugh, Ian Healy, Geoff Marsh, Bruce Reid, Craig MacDermott. Photograph by Caribbean SportCurtley AmbroseDesmond Haynes (West Indies). Photos by Caribbean-SportsGus LogieJeffrey DujonWest Indies captain Richie Richardson

January to April is the cricket season in the Caribbean, when countries of the region do battle against each other. The West Indies take on one of the major international cricket teams, and just about everybody is listening to the action with radios to their ears, if they are not playing cricket themselves on the beach or wherever there is space to clear a pitch.But this season (1992) there are no big international test matches in the Caribbean. Instead, it is the time of deadliest battle, cricket’s equivalent of the Olympic Games, as the major cricketing nations of the world gather in Australia and New Zealand in late February to decide who is cricket’s king for the next four years.

The World Cup tournament is played every four years between full members of the International Cricket Council (Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies and — returning to the international game after 21 years — South Africa), with one associate member (this year Zimbabwe).

The World Cup matches are not like the five-day test matches in which countries normally meet each other, with time to develop long-term strategies. These are one-day matches, limited to 50 overs, challenging all comers to produce their flamboyant best with no time for subtle tactics or long-built innings. This is cricket at its most extrovert, and the format should tend to favour the game’s most flamboyant and extrovert players, the West Indies.

It was indeed the West Indies who dominated the early competitions.

But the current cricket kings are the Australians, who won the title in Calcutta back in 1987. And the West Indies would dearly like to have it back.

The first World Cup tournament was held in England in 1975. The West Indies, then captained by Clive Lloyd, were at the beginning of their dominance of the game, which lasted more than a decade. Their revival had begun just two years earlier, after a long dry spell in which they had failed to win a single test match in seven years. But in 1973 they won a three-test series against England and found their confidence in the one-day games. By 1975 they were ready to beat all comers, and won the World Cup final against Australia by 17 runs.

In 1979, also in England, the West Indies retained the title and the Prudential Cup, beating England in the final at Lord’s by 92 runs. The team that year included six of the triumphant 1975 squad — Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Deryck Murray and Andy Roberts – joined now by other players whose names were known to every West Indian: Desmond Haynes, Colin King, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Michael Holding.

By the time the third World Cup tournament came around in 1983, the West Indies had been dominating the one-day game wherever they played, and were clear favourites to win the title for a third successive time. They reached the final against India with ease. India had scored only two wins in the two earlier World Cup tournaments; they had defeated the West Indies in the first round in 1983, but had lost the return match. It looked like a walkover.

What followed was one of the greatest upsets in modern sport. Clive Lloyd sent the Indians to bat, and they managed only 183 runs, an easy target for the West Indians. Richards alone had made 119 in the return match against India. The West Indies’ supporters discussed how soon the match would be over and prepared to celebrate carnival-style

West Indies started their innings in fine form, but quickly lost the wicket of Gordon Greenidge. Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd fell too. The West Indies went from 50 for 2 to 66 for 5. It was still a retrievable situation, but, as has so often happened since, confidence was punctured and the batting collapsed. The West Indies managed only 140, the lowest total of any team in World Cup finals, and the lowest score but two in the entire 1983 tournament. India became the new world champions, and the stunned West Indies were left to lick their wounds.

In 1987 the World Cup tournament moved out of England for the first time, not without controversy, and was played in India and Pakistan. The West Indies played with little of their early distinction and confidence; they won three of their preliminary matches (against Sri Lanka and Pakistan) and lost the other three, and for the first time failed to reach the semi-finals, let alone the finals. There was a tendency to panic in tight situations, and the team was missing fast bowlers Holding and Garner, batsman Larry Gomes who had retired from international cricket, and Greenidge and Marshall who had opted out of the World Cup. In the final, Australia beat England by seven runs in a keenly fought match, and it was the Australian captain Allan Border who brandished the Reliance Cup above his head on the last evening.

So what are the prospects for 1992? Who is going to claim the World Cup (now sponsored by Benson and Hedges)?

Australia, the defending champions, must start as the favourites. They have the most formidable batting line-up, and Dean Jones is considered the best one-day batsman in the world. Since December 1989 the Australians have won 28 of their 32 one-day internationals, including a 4-1 mauling of the West Indians on their Caribbean home ground in 1991, the first time the West Indies had lost a limited-overs series at home.

Pakistan will certainly fancy their chances, with a penetrative bowling attack that includes three of the world’s best swing bowlers, and they won the controversial Sharjah Cup series late last year. England, who humbled the West Indies last year and made a clean sweep of the three Texaco one-day internationals, have been the losing finalists twice, and will surely feel they can’t be three times unlucky, especially if they are fortified by Mike Gatting and Neil Foster. India has a powerful batting line-up, well suited to the one-day game, and is still a strong contender, while New Zealand will be missing Richard Hadlee, and their bowling looks threadbare.

Keep an eye on the controversial South Africans, who are returning to international cricket after a 21-year ban and are out to prove their worth. On their first international outing since being readmitted, they were beaten 2-1 by India. But their opening batsman Kepler Wessels has played test cricket for Australia, pacer Alan Donald plays professionally for the English county Warwickshire, and in 1989-90 their other opener Jimmy Cook, playing for Somerset, set a new record in England for first class players in their first two seasons.

And don’t count out the West Indies, who under their new captain Richie Richardson would dearly like to settle a few scores; as he puts it, “It is our mission to put West Indies back at the top of the one-day ladder.” West Indies are the most successful one-day team ever, having won 147 of their 217 matches. They have won four of their five outings to the World Series Cup (the annual three-way tournament in Australia, unconnected with the World Cup), though they put up a disappointing performance in the early rounds of the latest contest in December.

The West Indies may well look to younger talent as they seek to restore their one-day supremacy. But they will also rely heavily on the experienced one-day opener Desmond Haynes; and if former captain Viv Richards joins the team they will have the support of a batsman whose influence could be important in this toughest of contests.

The elegant Carl Hooper, talented Brian Lara, stylish Keith Arthurton and vice-captain Gus Logie, injured last November in a car accident, will be key figures in the middle order. Richardson was in fine form last year and loves to bat in Australia, and the West Indies still have a formidable bowling attack with Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and newcomer Anderson Cummings.

But only one thing’s for sure. It’s going to be a hard-fought contest.