It did it again. Every time I decide to give up completely on West Indies cricket another thrilling drama drags me back into the camp. In 1999 it was the magnificence of Brian Lara at Sabina Park and Kensington Oval. Last year it was the thrilling one wicket win over Pakistan (though the umpires really gave that match to the Windies). And Saturday it was Ridley Jacob’s last ball heroics at Sabina Park.


Coming as it did in a limited overs match however, this latest win will probably not linger in the mind like the test victories. For while one dayers draw bigger crowds than test matches, their results don’t seem to matter much. After all it is still the test series that determines who wins a tour. Exciting as it was, the Sabina victory will probably be forgotten before this series is over. While that astonishing win over Australia in Barbados two years ago will be talked about as long as West Indies cricket.


In a sense this curious cricketing dichotomy reflects a great modern paradox – we find the easily accessible excitement that surrounds us ephemeral and ultimately unsatisfying, but have lost the patience for matters of lasting worth. Movies for instance instantly stir the emotions, yet are generally so forgettable that ten minutes after leaving the theatre you can hardly remember the title. Books on the other hand demand a lot of time and effort, but a great novel stays with you forever. Yet how many people have time to read literary works these days?


Similarly, limited over games have few nodding patches. But their continual excitement can become all of a piece, and their constantly breathtaking finishes sometimes seem like vague replays of the same familiar scene. Test matches in contrast often flatter to deceive and dissolve into meaningless ritual. But when the gods allow all dramatic possibilities to develop fully, the result is the most memorable experience sport can provide. A great test match comes as close to the artistic as a game can get.


Cricket’s true magic lies in test matches. If financial constraints ever bring about their complete abandonment, as some predict, cricket will become just another game.


Now it could be merely the sentimental attachment of having grown up on the game. But every time I see the way in which Jamaicans and Barbadians and Trinidadians and Guyanese and Antiguans respond to a victory I am convinced once again that West Indian cricket is an irreplaceable cultural treasure.


No people take more sheer pleasure in being alive than West Indians. And nowhere do they celebrate life with such pure joy as at a Windies cricket match. Here is displayed in all its glory that truly unique West Indian exuberance, that laughing exhilaration, that full blooded ability to savour life’s bright moments which the rest of the planet can only envy. World Cup football and Olympic track may unite Jamaica as a nation. But cricket makes us feel part of a larger yet still special culture which exists nowhere else on earth.


Of course if we continue to be as careless as we are all this will soon be lost. It is hardly a secret that cricket in the English speaking Caribbean is in danger of being completely eclipsed among the young by football and basketball. Indeed anecdotal evidence suggests that the game is virtually dying in our schools. And if no youngsters play cricket today where will the West Indian players of five or ten years time come from?


Some throw up their hands and pronounce the cause hopeless, maintaining that the cultural changes wrought by cable television cannot be resisted. But those who truly love something do their utmost to defend it. And our cricketing authorities are certainly not doing their best to nurture the game.


Take for instance Kwik Cricket, a low cost way of attracting youngsters to the game which has proven immensely successful in Australia and England. Here is an excerpt from the September 27 1998 London Sunday Times.


“Schools were no longer teaching or playing cricket. It was clear to anybody who cared that something had to be done to attract new blood to the game. The innovative solution was Kwik Cricket, launched 10 years ago with the aim of getting children to enjoy the game in as many schools as possible. If this could be achieved, then maybe the death knell being sounded for the summer game would be silenced. So has it worked?


The answer is emphatic, says Stuart Robertson, Kwik Cricket development executive with the England Cricket Board (ECB): “Yes, no doubt about it. We have distributed 50,000 kits, and it is being played in 50% of the primary schools in England. Nearly one million primary-school boys and girls play, and 600,000 secondary-school pupils participate in one form of cricket or another.”


Why has a program like this has not been set up all over the West Indies? Sponsorship and government funding should not be difficult to attract. A few years ago there was an announcement that ScotiaBank would be sponsoring a Kwik Cricket program in Jamaica. But nothing seems to have come of it.


Now the greatest threat to the future of West Indies cricket is that fewer people of all ages are actually playing the game. It is becoming a sport watched by many but played by very few. A big problem naturally is that cricket requires time, a commodity nobody has much of these days. Even a limited overs match takes an entire day.


But ten over six-a-side games take only an hour, and are a perfect way to both introduce impatient youngsters to cricket and give busy adults a way to keep in touch with the sport. One obvious way of making sure that bats and balls get into enough hands to ensure the game’s future would be to develop six-a-side school, club and business house leagues throughout the region.


Six-a-side house games would encourage youngsters intimidated by the idea of a sport taking hours to at least give cricket a try. And six-a-side club and business house leagues would enable adults to play and watch a bit of cricket after a regular day’s work. Western Sports Danny Senior currently runs a thriving after work six-a-side business house cricket league in Manchester where matches are watched by hundreds every day. There is no reason it could not be duplicated throughout the island. All it would is interested organizers and sponsors.


It would be tragic indeed if an institution that gives so much joy to so many was to die from sheer carelessness and indolence. And is it not time that all those businessmen who fill the executive boxes at cricket grounds around the West Indies do something to help save a game they all profess to love?

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