The West Indies cricket team is a diverse mix of players representing 15 English-speaking countries and territories surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.
While at first glance this may sound like a big advantage for a cricket team ranked fourth best in the world – look again.
Without Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, which have their own respective cricket teams, the West Indies countries and territories have a combined population of only eight million. This makes them an underdog to win a world championship in a team sport where a bigger population naturally translates to more choices of players and better chances of winning.
How could such a diverse mix of people living in separate islands, divided by cultural practices and traditions, and controlled by different governments with dissimilar priorities come together to come up with a formidable team?
Jamaican Michael Holding, a cricket legend who played for West Indies, admits to this handicap but is unfazed by it. “We have different flags, different currencies, different accents and different national anthems, but still cricket is the only thing that puts the West Indies together”.
Ian Bishop, an iconic sportscaster, has another way of putting it. “The players on the field make these moments happen”, he said as the broadcast journalist discussed the influence of T20 cricket on the Caribbean people on Betway’s blog.
The West Indies has a tradition of performing better together and winning big time. In 1975 and 1979, the Windies, the team’s nickname, won the ICC Cricket Cup. Then in 2012 and 2016, it sprang another surprise by capturing the ICC T20 World Cup.
Will the Windies unleash another bombshell with the staging of the quadrennial ICC T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman this November? The games, originally set in 2020, were postponed last year due to the pandemic. Sports pundits are not counting them out for sure and are no longer using the word “surprise” for this possibility.
Interestingly, the West Indies is not in India, nor anywhere close to the Indian Ocean. Neither is it a team consisting of Native American Indians. The West Indies banner is proudly flown by Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Antiqua, the US Virgin Islands, and a few other territories in the North Atlantic backdoor of the United States.
Most of them, like the United States, were British subjects before they acquired their independence and their respective seats in the community of nations.
While they agree to play together on the international stage, each country or territory in the West Indies team has its own separate national team in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), with everyone fiercely vying for top honors. Unsurprisingly, the best and brightest players are selected to join the Windies.
As former British colonies, the Caribbean nations were introduced to cricket by white settlers. In the 1890s, players from various islands in the Caribbean were selected to play against visiting English teams.
Not surprisingly, the locals were the whipping boys on the pitch until the 1950s, when Frank Worrell became the first black captain of a local cricket team. Worrell laid the foundation for a local cricket team destined to metamorphose into one of the world’s best.
The 2012 and 2016 teams represent the biggest transformation of the West Indies team in the sport of cricket. They have become a symbol of pride and unity, and a rallying point for the people of countries and territories who call the Windies their own.
As it embarked on another journey to defend its title and honour for a possible three-peat, the Windies renewed the services of Kieron Pollard and other key players in the victorious 2016 team. However, there have been serious questions and controversies in the selection process.
They know it’s not going to be a walk in the park with fierce rival England, the only three-time World Cup holder, out to reclaim its old glory. The rivalry will not be only between the West Indies and England, as Australia, India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka are also stepping up to claim their respective share of the limelight.
After setbacks against England and South Africa in the group stage and a lone victory over Bangladesh, the Windies have a slim mathematical and almost improbable, if not impossible, chance of making it to the semifinal round. Suddenly, they are no longer in the running. They need to win by sizable margins against Sri Lanka and Australia to stop an impending embarrassment.
England is presently on top of Group 1 with a 4-0 win-loss slate, with one game to play. South Africa and Australia are tied at 2-1, with one of them likely to make it to the cross-over semis along with England. West Indies is at 4th with one win and 2 losses (1-2), followed by Sri Lanka, 1-3; and Bangladesh, 0-3.
In Group 2, Pakistan, 3-0, has locked in on the first semis slot with the second and final slot still being contested by Pakistan, 2-0; New Zealand, 1-1; and Namibia, 1-1, as of this writing.
After creating their own heartaches through expectations and errors of judgment, the Windies may have to do some soul searching to rebuild their hopes and expectations for the next World Cup and regain the strength of their diversity.