T20 World Cup - What happened to West Indies cricket?

In the 1970s and 1980s, the West Indies were the dominant force in world cricket. They won the first two World Cups and had an almost limitless supply of fearsome fast bowlers coming off the production line, coupled with an array of attacking batters and brilliant all-rounders.

However, forty years later, the picture is very different. They struggle at the test level, especially overseas. They failed to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, did not win a single ODI between 2015 and 2019, and were knocked out of the 2022 T20 World Cup at the preliminary stage. Only the fact that they were co-hosts for the 2024 T20 World Cup guaranteed their place in it.

Meanwhile, many of their best players have chosen not to play for the national team in recent years, preferring the allure of T20 franchise cricket. What has happened to West Indies cricket?

There is no such country

It should be noted that there is no such country as the West Indies. That is just an umbrella term for the more than 7,000 islands that stretch from the southern coast of Florida in the United States to the northern coast of South America.

Whilst many of these are scarcely populated, others, like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua, have large resident populations swelled yearly by thousands of tourists visiting them for the beaches and sunshine.

Each island has an identity and character and, in some cases, a language of its own. It fiercely guards its independence (a number of them are actually separate sovereign states). There needs to be more than cricket alone as a unifying force.

The disparate nature of the islands means that it takes a strong character as captain to get a team composed of individuals all pulling in the same direction.  Crowds refuse to turn up for West Indies matches if the team does not have players from their island.

During their era of tremendous success, Clive Lloyd, who was from Guyana, captained the side, leading both by individual example and by his ability to unite the different egos in the changing room for a common cause. Although he was a fine player in his own right, arguably his greatest strength was how he managed to get the best out of all the players at his disposal, regardless of their backgrounds.

Whilst some great players have held the captaincy since, none has managed to have the same success in the role as Lloyd. 

Chaotic administration

The divided nature of the islands is reflected in the composition of the West Indies Cricket Board, which consists of representatives from each of the major islands. All of whom are primarily concerned with their own best interests rather than trying to find a common cause.

That can lead to parochialism in selection decisions, with players sometimes picked on nationality rather than merit. It has also seen players make their debuts at a comparatively advanced age with little to justify their selection in terms of domestic form.

At the same time, there has been chronic underinvestment in infrastructure. There are not enough coaches, pitches, or training facilities.

Periodic attempts by the Board to impose its authority have back-fired. In 2005, an insistence in a tour contract on exclusivity for one sponsor for promotional and licencing arrangements led to a dispute in which significant players refused to answer national call-ups. 

And four years later, there was another dispute over pay and conditions. 

Lack of television money

Cricket tends to be dominated by the big three – India, England and Australia – in terms of television revenues, with the rest of the nations left to pick up the scraps regarding TV distribution money. In particular, India has become the governing force in the game, and it now claims the lion’s share of revenues generated from television.

They have shown little interest or motivation in diverting some of that money to poorer boards like the West Indies – and if they did so, there are no guarantees that it would be wisely spent.


The lack of money in the game means that, unlike some boards, what a West Indian player can earn with a central contract is not comparable to what their Indian, English, or Australian equivalent gets.

That means that West Indians are particularly vulnerable to the attractions of franchise cricket tournaments like the Indian Premier League, SA 20, or their homegrown Caribbean Premier League.

Players like Nicolas Pooran have found that there is very good money to be made as a gun for hire, moving from one franchise tournament to another.

Cricket, after all, is a short career, and only some can deny the individual the chance to maximise their earnings if they have a family to support.

However, because they tend to ply their trade overseas, some players are relatively unknown to home crowds, leading to a lack of identification with them.

Young people are turning to other sports

At the same time as the West Indies have declined as an international force, there has been a diminution of interest in the sport among young people. When the likes of Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose, Viv Richards or Brian Lara were in their pomp, there were role models in plenty for young people to admire and want to emulate.

But as they began to dry up, West Indian children began to find other heroes from other sports.

Now, sports like the NBA, which most people can watch via satellite TV, are increasingly popular, as is football, which is as much an obsession in the Caribbean as in much of the world.

Aspiring athletes also know that they can earn far more money playing these sports than cricket. Consequently, a whole generation of talent needs to be recovered for the sport.

All is not lost

Despite these many negative factors, all is not lost.  Following the 2022 World Cup failure, a committee, including Lara, was constituted to examine cricket in the region from top to bottom. They produced a long list of recommendations for how it can be reset in the area.

The chief amongst those was the establishment of a centralised West Indies Cricket Academy and a High-Performance Centre in Antigua.

This will address the failure to develop talent between the critical ages of 19 and 25, and this will eventually bear fruit in the form of players able to play all three formats of the game.

There has also been an increase in the number of accredited coaches at the grassroots level. That should help produce more players for domestic cricket over the coming years, although that may take years to come to fruition.

World Cup success would help

It would also be a major boost if the West Indies could achieve some success at this World Cup by reaching the Super 12 stage and, ideally, the semi-finals. That would give the region an excuse to get behind the team and help make some of the players heroes.

However, should they fail to do so, all the efforts for improvement might come to nought.

Instead, the sport in the region will see more bickering between its leading participants, fewer youngsters playing the game, an increasing talent drain to other, more lucrative sports, and a general decline in interest.

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