Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Where have all the Viv Richards gone?

On Sunday the West Indies lost a remarkably inept game of Twenty20 to Zimbabwe. Tellingly, it was not all that surprising.

The West Indies’ 20-year slide from being just about the most formidable, men-against-boys outfit in world sport to cricketing minnow has been one of the more depressing sporting plotlines in my lifetime. For much of that period its inevitability was slightly (though not really) obscured by the presence of Brian Lara, the world’s best batsman, but at the time of the 1984 ‘blackwash’ tour of England it would have been inconceivable that the production line of lanky, terrifying fast bowlers would simply break down, as it did after the retirements of Walsh and Ambrose.

I have strong memories of that Windies tour and the equally one-sided 1988 one. Well, I say strong, they’re largely hazy with strong bits, as is the way of things that happened when you were a boy. Little boys don’t really support teams - partisanship only comes later along with a sense of history and place – but they instinctively latch on to individual heroes. Boys know charisma when they see it. I don’t think I gave two hoots about who won the Test match or even really understood the concept of a series contest in 1984, but I did want to watch and worship Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge and Joel Garner (and Gower and Botham, I wasn’t biased against my homeland). But especially, the beautiful, brutal Viv Richards, as close to a real-life comic book superhero as cricket has produced.

These days the Windies have Chris Gayle (talented, flaky, irresponsible) and Shiv Chanderpaul (dogged, scratchy, ugly) but no Supermen. This of course was the real value of Flintoff for England, whatever the stats say.

Stats are for geeks; sport needs heroes, or what’s it for?

13 comments:

worm said...

Bring back Gladstone Small I say

Brit said...

The Windies would take Gladstone now. And Jarvis. And Pringle. Which rather poignantly illustrates the degree of the decline.

Gaw said...

You'll probably dismiss me for having a rosy rear-view mirror but I struggle to understand how kids can hold up any of today's footballers as heroes. Money-obsessed mercenaries.

Brit said...

Because kids have no idea what "mercenary" means. They just see goals and tackles and people holding aloft trophies.

We only start to really resent professional sportsmen when we get to the age at which we're older than even the 'veterans'. You can't hero-worship someone who wasn't even born when you got your first job.

Willard said...

Always a Dickie Bird man myself... ;o)

The Old Batsman said...

As an ex-pro said to me, 'there's two things that motivates this current west indies team: money and fanny, and not necessarily in that order'.

That said, they've got a tasty T20 side, who are as well equipped as anyone to win the world cup if they get on a roll.

Brit said...

Somehow the Windies being reduced to 'having a shot' at the Twenty20 just makes it more depressing. Still, nothing lasts forever.

West Indies are the team I want to win on all occasions except when they're playing England. This is a good recipe for gloom.

David said...

I have to admit that much of this blows right past me like Charlie Brown's teacher (waah waah waah, whaa?) but two points stand out:

1. I was 22 in 1984.

2. Brits (generally, and not just our genial host) spend a lot more time thinking about international sports teams then Americans do. Basically, 18 or 19 days a year I have to think about Toronto, and that's foreign more on a technicality than anything else.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes indeed, one of the abiding (and in some ways beautiful) memories of my boyhood is watching those panthers of the Windies team run in and skittle batsmen: Whispering Death, Big Bird, Magnificent Malcolm and The Bearded One.

Brit said...

David - yes that's because somewhere along the line you got stuck with Rounders and Wrong Rugby.

I suppose in some ways it is slightly odd that Americans have passed up the opportunity to engage in international sport, because they do love being patriotic and it's a good excuse for flagwaving.

Also, I wonder what the world would be like if Americans thought of other countries in terms of their soccer style rather than their political structure? A diverting thought experiment.

Gadj - indeed. The weird thing is that they don't even seem to be able to produce tall bowlers anymore; they're all midgets. It's very strange.

David said...

We don't need no foreigners to muck up our patriotism.

Ali said...

"Also, I wonder what the world would be like if Americans thought of other countries in terms of their soccer style rather than their political structure? A diverting thought experiment."

Henry Kissinger did just that.

David said...

Ah, the Vietnam War as soccer match makes a lot of sense. Interminable and point-less.