Watching England contrive lo lose a ODI they dominated last night, I tuned into an enjoyable conversation between Sir Ian Botham and Courtly Ambrose. They discussed Antiguan cricket, which once produced Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Andy Roberts and Ambrose. Those were the days when the Windies went 15 years without losing a test. The purists criticised their poor over rate and lack of spin bowlers, but it was the probably the most feared test side of all times. Based on the relentlessly intimidating quartet of Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. Speedsters like Wayne Daniel and Sylvester Clarke, who would have walked into another test side, could not make the team. The composition of a team always fascinates me. Speaking to a West Indian friend and cricket lover, he lauded the sheet anchor Larry Gomes at number 5. He did not have the brutal aggression of Richards or the dapper elegance of Dujon but, push and prod, he reached his 50: in short an indispensable run accumulator.
My mind went further back to 1963, when my father took me to Lords for the greatest test ever, when after 5 days of cut and thrust any result was possible on the last ball which Colin Cowdrey faced with his arm in plaster. This was the era of Gary Sobers, the most versatile cricketer of all time.
There are many reasons for the decline. Football and basketball was a more lucrative route out of poverty; its unusual status as a conglomeration of island and not a country made board control and exploitation of broadcasting revenue harder than in other countries; the shift in power to the sub continent; the unfortunate intervention of Alan Stansford; also significant was the denial of English country cricket oxygen. Almost all of the great West Indians were associated with a county: Courtney Walsh at Gloucestershire; Ambrose at Northants; Haynes at Middlesex;
Watching a team of overweight mediocrities trundling around the pitch in a half empty stadium made me think how great the decline has been.