By the time you read this, the West Indies could be double champions in World T20, men and women. Or double losing finalists. Or either one of the men's or women's teams could win the championship. However this plays out today, Darren Sammy's men and Stafanie Taylor's women have given us great cheer these past few weeks. Work was put aside up and down the region in the middle of the day on Thursday as Johnson Charles, Lendl Simmons and Andre Russell hit India out of the game in Mumbai, to deafening silence from the crowd. For long stretches of the match, the only sound, it seemed, was that of the ball thudding into the stands. It felt like a wake at the Wankhede.
It feels great to be rooting for a successful West Indies cricket team, I have to tell you. Our test team has been so bad for so long that some of us had probably forgotten what it's like to support one that is at least halfway competitive, let alone beat England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. The few moments of joy in the long, barren period has been in the short game. The Bajans Bradshaw and Browne hauling West Indies over the line in the late summer evening gloom of south London in 2004 in the 50-over Champions Trophy final, and the T20 Championship win in Sri Lanka four years ago. Those West Indian championship wins, like Lloyd's teams' in England in 75 and 79, were more than sporting wins. But Lloyd's men excelled in both the long and short games.
Sammy's men look happy in India–as if they're enjoying their work, and each other's company. As painful as this is going to sound to many Caribbean people–and it hurts me to suggest it–the time may have come to question and perhaps even end our participation in test cricket. It's not simply about being competitive and in with a chance to win a tournament. It's not about chasing the new shiny object that is T20 and forgetting one of the things, test cricket, that helped define who we are as a united Caribbean people. It's more about asking whether we should remain wedded to an old, stale romance that breaks our heart every time. It's over. It's unhappy. The marriage has appeared to be irretrievably broken down for decades. Let her go?
West Indies have gone from first to nearly worst in test cricket in two decades. In tests we are ranked eighth out of ten, ahead of only Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In ODIs, the Windies are ninth out of 12, but second in the T20 rankings behind India. Maybe our players are trying to tell us something. Maybe we should stop trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Is it that the West Indies are in decline as a test cricket playing nation, or is our team following the trajectory of test cricket itself, which, with the exception of the Ashes and a few other contests, is suffering from a flight of spectators? The Caribbean's talent pool is shallowest at six million, and our best players don't seem to have the appetite for tests anymore, a development Chris Gayle hinted at in 2005 shortly after scoring a test triple century in Antigua.
Test cricket is deep in the souls of those of us in the Anglophone Caribbean. One of our greatest sons, Brian Lara, is defined mostly by his exploits in the long game. Want to know how good Lara was? Watch a YouTube video of his 153 not out against Australia in Barbados in 1999, chasing down 308. I cried, with what I imagine was joy and pride, watching that game on TV, from a BBC Sports newsroom in West London. I was the only Caribbean person in that vast West London office. Everyone had stopped working to watch. I understood, then, how newly arrived Londoners felt when Ramadhin and Valentine beat England in 1950.
So I can't quite bring myself to say we should forget about tests. Not with our history. Not with Headley, Worrell, Lara, Richards, Gibbs, Ramadhin, Walsh, Kanhai and many, many more great West Indians. I can only suggest that we think about it, and we should. Say you were manufacturing three products, one of them iconic. The new products were good quality ones, but you could no longer guarantee the quality of the oldest, most iconic one. Would you continue to make that thing? Or are some things irreplaceable?
Orin Gordon is Editor-in-Chief of the T&T Guardian. He has written for Wisden Online, Wisden Cricket Monthly, and has done test and T20 international cricket commentary.
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