Calypso, Kingfisher and the Willow…

“….It was a nail-biting end to the one-day cricket match. The stadium erupted as the gritty batsman won the game in style with a boundary. All over India, people had sat glued to the television through the tense final overs, and now greeted the win with cheers. Quite a few friends phoned me to share their joy, and I called some for the same reasom.

Many, many others must have done so, too, across this cricket-crazy country.Had India won? To ask the more predictable question, had India beaten Pakistan? No and no. It was a victory of the West Indies that the country celebrated last Sunday. Brian Lara’s boys had won the tournament, in which the “men in blue? under Saurav Ganguly did not make it even to the semis. Still, the Indians watched the final at the Oval to what to many of them must have been the exhilarating end.

I daresay it would have been no different for many Pakistanis. They may have lamented the loss of Inzamam ul Haq’s team to the West Indies at the Rose Bowl, but would still have rooted for the latter in the final.The winning of the ICC Championship trophy, a quarter century after they won their last World Cup, was indeed a great moment for the West Indies.

But, why does the Caribbean calypso strike a chord in India and, perhaps, Pakistan and the rest of the cricketing world? I suggest two inter-related answers, one of them has a significance beyond the game beloved of the subcontinent’s millions.The first reason why Indians, and possibly the rest of the cricket-playing and cricket-watching world, would welcome the return of the West Indies as “kings of cricket? is that it promises the return of cricket as a noble game. It is an instinctive recognition of what their successors have done to the spirit and style of the game in the intervening years.

Take just two aspects of the matter.When the West Indies ruled cricket, sledging was denied sanction as a legitimate tactic aimed at the “mental disintegration? of the opposition, as Steve Waugh once put it. The famous West Indies fast bowlers could and did break bones, but never resorted to verbal intimidation or distraction. They did not need to. Little wonder they were loved by spectators everywhere and respected, not resented, by the opposition.Not something one can say of the currently reigning Aussies, noted at least as much for their on-field crudity as for professional competence.

Ask anyone who remembers — and who, in India or Pakistan, doesn’t? — a towering McGrath trying to bully Ramnaresh Sarwan in a game during the Aussies’ tour of the West Indies last year. And you will know why so many wish the return of the “kings? from the Caribbean.And they were “kings? of a largely clean cricket. Not a whisper of match-fixing was and has been heard about the wizards of the game. No wonder that Lara triggered off tremendous nostalgia, especially in a country like India where cricket has just survived scandals.

The second reason for spectators’ readiness, particularly in India, to roll out the red carpet to a returning cricket royalty is less obvious but of larger significance. It lies in the way the West Indies of the seventies and eighties played and won without needing the spur of national animosity. They just had no natural enemies in cricket. India and Pakistan had each other; England had its Australia (of “ex-convicts? as Ian Botham once sneered at unfriendly spectators Down Under). The West Indies, however, pulverised all opposition without passions of a petty kind.Consequently, no “incidents? of the kind that have been common during contests between the “traditional rivals?, as they are euphemistically described, have marred the matches featuring the West Indies.

In the days before neutral umpires, Sunil Gavaskar once led his team out of a Pakistani ground in protest against some leg-before decisions. Even in those pre-Narendra Modi days, Imran Khan once had to lead his boys out of a stadium in Ahmedabad to protect them from stone-pelting spectators. With the West Indies in the field, the play was the thing to everyone concerned. It was cricket, no crusade.

Behind the celebration of the West Indies’ win last Sunday was also a yearning for cricket of that kind. Things have changed a little in the subcontinent. Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena today may not send his men with spades and shovels to queer the pitch for an India-Pakistan match. There was no mass hysteria in Pakistan when they lost a home series of Tests as well as ODIs to India. Saurav has not lost his captaincy after losing a game to Pakistanis.There is a long way to go, however, before India and Pakistan can play against each other as either can play against the West Indies.

We Indians cannot be understood entirely without a reference to our obsession with cricket….”