For Caribbean, not country

Darren Sammy’s 2012 tourists, currently competing for the Wisden Trophy, comprise citizens of eight countries. Much is made, for very different reasons, of the varied national backgrounds of the England team. A far more interesting task in building a cohesive team is that of the West Indies captain. Local rivalries are often the fiercest, yet taming or channeling those rivalries is the everyday job of the leaders of Caribbean cricket’s representative team.

This post explores the contributions of the different nations of the West Indies. When the team first featured in Test cricket, in 1928, nationhood was more than a generation away. One of the disappointments of the scheduling of this year’s tour of England by the West Indies is that it doesn’t coincide with the golden jubilee of Jamaican and Trinidadian independence, both of which will be celebrated in August 2012. Maybe that will spur them to deny the home nation a cricket victory at the time of its own jubilee, which is being celebrated during the tour.

290 cricketers have represented the West Indies. The pie chart shows the national origin of those cricketers (NB three players born outside of the region are excluded).

The next pie chart shows the recent official population figure for those nations. Comparing the two charts, Barbados stands out for providing a number of cricketers out of proportion to its size. Jamaica, on the other hand, has contributed fewer cricketers than is proportional to its population.

I have also looked at the contribution of each nation to the two major disciplines of cricket. I have compared the proportion of all test caps awarded to players of each nation with the proportion of all West Indies runs scored and wickets taken by players of each nation.

Guyana emerges as a source of runs (Clive Lloyd, Roy Fredericks, Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul). Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua have provided wickets out of proportion to their number of test caps.

The last perspective I have taken is to see how the make-up of the test team has changed over time. I have divided West Indies test match history into four blocks:

1928-49 – early years (31 tests 22% won, 39% lost, 39% drawn)

1949-73 – competing home and away (115 tests 33% won, 29% lost, 37% drawn, 1% tied)

1974-91 – the best team in the world (144 tests 46% won, 17% lost, 37% drawn )

1992-2012 – decline (191 tests 23% won, 47% lost, 30% drawn)

The numbers on the graph represent the number of debutants from each part of the West Indies in each period. It is notable that only a handful of players in the 80 years of West Indies cricket have played for a team other than the one that represents their birthplace. The transfer market seen in English and Australian domestic cricket doesn’t exist. But it wouldn’t: they are playing for their country in their domestic competition. The West Indies and international cricket exists at a level above.

The story of the chart is that West Indies cricket has become more diverse, in terms of homeland, over time. For nearly 30 years, all test players were from one of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica or Trinidad. The first man to break the hold of the big four was Alphonso Roberts from St Vincent, the 92nd West Indian Test cricketer, who made his debut in 1956 against New Zealand. IVA Richards was the 151st player to be selected for the West Indies. His achievements and his presence would have made it impossible for West Indies selectors to take a narrow view thereafter – whatever other local tensions were played out in selection meetings.

In the current period, 20% of debutants have come from outside the traditional tetrarchy. The wider sourcing has had the greatest impact on Trinidad’s contribution to the Test team, with Barbados and Jamaica contributing around 25% and 20%, respectively, throughout the test team’s history. The current touring team, shorn of some of the most notable names in West Indies cricket, including Chris Gayle and Andre Russell, is unusual for having a lone Jamaican.

I would be interested in the views of those closer than I to West Indian cricket on what accounts for these changes.

  • Is there perceived to have been something akin to the ‘home counties’ bias that affected England selection practices in the late twentieth century?
  • Has interest in cricket in, say, Trinidad, waned? – notwithstanding the emergence and dominance of Brian Lara.
  • Have there been great players from, say Grenada or Montserrat, who were denied cricket at the highest level because of their birthplace?

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

3 responses to “For Caribbean, not country”

  1. Brian Carpenter says :

    I can’t offer much on the specific questions, Chris, but, as you may know, the Leeward and Windward Islands didn’t take a full part in the Shell Shield (the original name for the WI regional competition) until 1970 (although it only began in 1966). Even then they only competed as a combined team until 1982, after they won it for the first time in 1981. Obviously, the rise of cricket among the smaller islands was driven by the emergence of Roberts and Richards from Antigua, and a few lesser, but still handy, players from the Windwards, such as Norbert Phillip and Winston Davis.

    There’s a good article in the new issue of The Cricketer which gives the numbers of players from all the individual territories and reminds you how sgnificant it is that the team’s captain now comes from the Windwards, when the region has still only produced sixteen Test players in total (plus one for England).

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I hadn´t realised the Shell Shield was such a recent institution. I´ll have a look at what preceded it – as well as at the article in the Cricketer. (Greetings from Barcelona, by the way). Chris

  2. Brian Carpenter says :

    A quick summary of the situation prior to the 1960s is that Guyana (then British Guiana), Barbados and Trinidad competed against each other in what was known as the ‘Inter-Colonial Tournament’ from 1891/2 until 1938/9, although there were a few seasons when the competition wasn’t played. After that, things seem to have been made up as they went along until 1965/6, with occasional ‘quadrangular’ and ‘pentangular’ tournaments involving Jamaica and the Combined Islands (first in 1961/2).

    Some seasons there were very few matches – I picked up the 1950 Wisden at random just now and there were only two f-c matches in the West Indies during the winter of 1948/9 (both between Barbados and Trinidad in Bridgetown).

    In his History of West Indies Cricket (1988) Michael Manley identifies the main problem as the distance between the islands – with Jamaica, especially, out on a limb – and the means of transport available. Prior to at least the fifties It seems players usually travelled on banana boats and because Jamaica was on the margins of their schedules (it was the last port of call before Europe) they tended to get left out simply because their players had no means of getting to the other islands.

    Very different days…

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