Last week, West Indies cricket turned 500 Tests old while playing Bangladesh to near-empty stands at the Beausejour Stadium in St Lucia. The quality of the opponent and the conspicuous lack of fanfare surrounding the occasion was a fair reflection of how far a once mighty force has fallen. For, even till around a 100 Tests ago, the motley crew assembled from the smattering of tiny islands, was the most desirable team in world cricket. They filled cricket stadiums to the brim not just in the Caribbean but in every country they swaggered into.
The West Indians made playing cricket “cool”. They showed that cricket was not just about runs and wickets. It was about winning hearts. Long before businessmen with burgeoning pockets thought about marrying cricket and entertainment, the West Indians had pioneered a cricket revolution built on panache, unbridled flair and joie de vivre. Of course, this is not to say that their players didn’t rake up records or didn’t win Test matches. In fact, they were the most indomitable unit ever for close to two decades, remaining unbeaten in 29 series — their win-loss ratio between their 200th and 300th Tests an improbable 53-13. It took a Trinidadian with a flashing blade to be the first to score 500 and a Jamaican to breach the 500-wicket mark in Tests. Then there was the Calypso. They sang about the loveliness of cricket, about Bedser bowling out Australia and how Gavaskar was the real master.
From Headley and Sobers to Richards, Holding, Marshall and even Lara, Ambrose and Walsh, the Caribbean Isles produced superheroes in every era. And it was apt that 41-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the only semblance of greatness left in the present mix, should illuminate a significant chapter of the most charming feel-good story in the history of world sport.