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?