For those of us who grew up on the game, it is painful to even contemplate the thought. But any honest observer of the West Indies’ abysmal capitulation to New Zealand must ask the question. Is cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies dying?

Worrying signs of decay abound. Once it was common to see young boys playing cricket. Now it is as rare a sight as a guava tree. A few years ago regional games were avidly followed by the public – thousands were turned away at the sold out 1990 limited overs final at Sabina Park. Nowadays not even free admission can get spectators into Sabina for anything but a test match. This year the Busta Cup is not even being carried on radio. Even the West Indies players sometimes seem unconvinced that what they are doing is of any real importance. In South Africa and New Zealand they merely went through the motions like uninterested workmen earning an unhappy living.


Those emotionally attached to the game and bewildered at its withering naturally seek someone to blame, and the captain is a natural target. “Only relieve Brian Lara of the captaincy”, many proclaim, “and all will be well!” But that is wishful thinking - Walsh’s team in Pakistan did no better. Lara is merely an unfortunate man in the wrong place at the wrong time. In retrospect only his heroic efforts prevented further humiliation on the last Australian tour. He averaged over 90 in the tests and no one else more than 30. But Lara, overweight and unfit like many team mates, seems a victim of the general malaise and is able to raise his game only sporadically.


What has caused cricket’s demise? Cable television is likely the chief culprit. Television is unquestionably the dominant social force in today’s world, and to most people, especially the young, nothing which is not on TV regularly matters. Which is why basketball, on constantly during prime time, is the game of choice for so many youngsters.


But the turning away from cricket to basketball and football is part of larger changes. Cricket has always especially appealed to the gentler sensibilities of the countryside. Football and particularly basketball are city games, and the modern world is primarily an urban one. Grassy fields are in short supply in Kingston, Portmore and Montego Bay. But concrete driveways are everywhere. Then too in our ever more rushed era of constant gratification, who has time for the leisurely contemplation which cricket, or poetry for that matter, requires?


Yet many think this is not the whole story. Yes they say, the world has changed and cricket is no longer the overwhelming focus of interest that it once was in West Indian society. But it still passionately loved by millions in the region, and still remains the most beautiful game on earth. To them cricket is not so much dying as being murdered by incompetent administrators.


And they may be right. The lowest point in West Indies cricket history was not the New Zealand whitewash, South African massacre or 51 all out at Queens Park. It was the moment at Sabina Park when, for the first time ever, a test match was called off because of an unplayable pitch. If the Cassandra like predictions are indeed fulfilled and cricket in the West Indies does dwindle into a minor sport like hockey, future historians will surely pinpoint this as the moment when the irrevocable decline began.


For there the West Indian and Jamaican Cricket Boards revealed themselves to the watching world as fatuous and incompetent profilers. No one stepped forward to accept the blame - it was as if the pitch had self-destructed. Some administrators even petulantly denied there was any problem and blamed the umpires for stopping the game, despite unanimous agreement among commentators like Michael Holding that their decision was correct.


The ineptitude and lack of shame displayed by the WICB put a nail in the coffin of a game already experiencing trouble by alienating fans, players and sponsors. Even those who disliked cricket as a game used to respect it as an institution of intelligence, honour and integrity. But the behaviour of the WICB and JCB was utterly disgraceful. Who can respect men who not only refuse to accept responsibility for mistakes but try to put the blame on others? Can anyone admire a game which allows persons so bereft of common decency to dictate its future?


Tony Becca, Jamaica’s most knowledgeable cricket writer, maintains that the seeds of the present decline were sown in the days of four prong glory, when players were pampered and their indiscipline ignored. And he puts the blame on the highest authorities, because only those with ultimate power can maintain order. “There is nothing wrong with West Indies cricket which strong, decisive action at all levels cannot cure. But do those in cricket have the guts to do what must be done?”


Mr. Becca is right, but on present form there is little hope for the future. The regional boards have done virtually nothing to address the most pressing problem in West Indies cricket today, the reality that fewer and fewer youngsters are playing the game. If no boys play cricket today, there certainly will be no men playing it in ten years.


One big factor here is that cricket equipment is very expensive. A bat alone costs over $3,000. Stumps, balls, pads and gloves mean it costs $10,000 just to start a game. No wonder football and basketball are so much more popular with the young. One ball, often free in a promotion, and they’re off.


But a low cost way of attracting youngsters to the game is Kwik cricket, widely popular in Australia and England. Kwik Cricket sets, comprising two bats, two balls, two stumps and bases, cost only about £50 in England. Made of plastic, the sets are rugged and durable, and never have to be replaced.


The West Indian Cricket Boards should make it a priority to get Kwik Cricket sets into every school in the region, and should encourage sponsors to make them available at subsidized costs to interested parents and children. But despite being prompted many times by interested fans to institute such a program, nothing has been done.


Sir Frank Worrell once said that ‘Only cricket unites the West Indies. To us it is more than just a game, it is a way of life.” Is this way of life then to be lost forever? If those in charge continue to do nothing, it surely will be.

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