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Interview: Sir Hilary Beckles - 'Better must come for WI'

HOPEFUL: Sir Hilary Beckles (image credit: Dominica Vibes)

SIR HILARY Beckles was in an optimistic, even ebullient, mood when he addressed fans, friends and associates of West Indian cricket at King’s College, London last month.

And why not? He has as good a reason as anybody to be optimistic.

Among other honours, Sir Hilary is Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, founder and director of the Centre for Cricket Research there, and while being a director of the West Indies Cricket Board he designed and chaired its High Performance Academy. He is just about as involved in the recent past and present of West Indian cricket as anybody can be.

Yes – but why the optimism now?

The evening was sponsored by JN Bank and came after West Indies had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the one-day international match at the Kia Oval. Nobody else present – all of whom appeared to be 'of a certain age' - was particularly optimistic.

Sir Hilary pointed to his new book Cricket Without a Cause, the launch of which was the purpose of the occasion, and drew particular attention to the subtitle, Fall and Rise of the Mighty West Indian Test Cricketers. What had happened before could happen again. Beckles was there like some evangelist to proclaim the Fourth Rising of West Indies cricket, and his message was persuasive.

FOREMOST: West Indies legends Sir Garfield Sobers and Clive Lloyd (right)

The nation – throughout he referred to the Caribbean as a 'nation' and not as a region – started on its course of international cricket education with tours to Canada and the USA in 1886 and continued with second-class visits to England before the team was granted first-class status. There was a further twenty years of advanced learning from the initial Test match in 1928 to the First Rising of success in 1948.

That team had crashed in Australia, after which the Second Rising coincided with the all-round excellence of Garry Sobers in the 1960s. When that glory, too, had departed, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards led the triumphant Third Rising for two decades from 1975. And after 1995? That was what we were there to find out.

Sir Hilary regarded the tour to South Africa in 1997, for which so much had been expected, as being crucial to understanding the present situation. While he was in prison, Nelson Mandela had looked to the achievement of the multi-cultural West Indies team as an inspiration for the success of a multi-cultural nation. West Indian cricketers had been in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. When he was offered a million dollars to join the rand rebels Michael Holding had declared:

“I shall never sell my birthright for a mess of pottage”.

Yet the players who toured South Africa were cut from a different mould. They went on strike as soon as they arrived. Their attitude was a deep disappointment to Mandela, to South Africa and to the world. The team crashed to 5-0 defeat in the Tests and 6-0 in the one-day internationals.

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This may have been eleven men from the West Indies but it was not a West Indies XI. The nation did not recover from that debacle. There has developed too great a gulf between the heroes of yesterday and the stars of today.

Heroes, Beckles observed, fight for a cause, but stars want the light to shine on them. He cited Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall as being foremost among the heroes he admired, and recalled the last-named bowling with a broken arm at Leeds in 1984, continuing to strive through the pain for the sake of the community he represented.

In contrast, too many of the current generation of players consider their country to be their enemy and that their focus should be on getting the best deal for themselves. Sir Hilary was not without understanding of how the situation came about.

Today’s cricketers do not want to represent a nation that does not represent them. They have seen how Caribbean society, prone to the breakdown of the social fabric of health services and the urban network, has disrespected the heroes by letting them spend their latter days in poverty.

Consequently, West Indies is the only nation that does not field its best XI - merely the best eleven from those who have offered themselves as being available. The revival has started with young players connecting again with the heroes and culture of the past, and the transfer of experience and knowledge. Carlos Braithwaite's burst of scoring which brought West Indies triumph in the T20 World Cup was not a fluke, as some commentators have averred: it was the culmination of over 100 years of experience.


Sir Hilary was proud of the University of West Indies' role in taking cricket back in all areas to rebuild Caribbean civilisation. Nine of the present West Indies side were among his students.

He was not asked, however, whether the fact that the majority were Barbadian and middle-class was co-incidental or integral.

The role of the captain was critical. That was where Jason Holder has been so important to the revival.

The nation's cricketers need to know not only how to bat, bowl and field, but how to be Caribbean citizens.
The incomparable Frank Worrell has taken two years out of his career to graduate from university. No one epitomised the role of captain more than him. While the federation was disintegrating in the early 1960s Worrell, as leader of the only effective Caribbean-wide entity, had been de facto Prime Minister of the West Indies.

Buoyed by Sir Hilary's enthusiasm, I doubt it anybody left the hall without being convinced that the thread which bound Constantine, Headley, Weekes-Worrell-Walcott, Sobers, Kanhai, Hall, Lloyd, Richards, Marshall, Holding and so many others on the roll of heroes was not broken - just merely in abeyance.

Better must come. Indeed sir, it must.

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