Can’t anybody here play this game?

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Sports aficionados from around the world are familiar with those words, born out of frustration. The question is the title of a book by sportswriter, Jimmy Breslin, chronicling the hapless New York City Mets, in their first year as a major league baseball team. According to the introduction to the book, by Bill Veeck, Breslin was “preserving for all time, a remarkable tale of ineptitude, mediocrity and abject failure.” It is widely acknowledged by the cognoscenti that that team – the 1962 Mets, was the worst major league baseball team ever to take the field.

Of course, the sad question was first asked in exasperation by the unlucky manager of that forlorn Mets team, the famous Casey Stengel, who presided over a dreadful season where the team lost 120 out of a possible 162 games. Talk about getting one’s butt kicked, over and over again! Talk about a ‘lollipop behind!’  Sadly, the recent performances of our West Indies Cricket team is not far removed from the pathetic performances of the 1962 Mets!

Fast forward to the here and now, and behold similar exercises in futility. What a sorry bunch! Our boys! “Everybody so shame,” at the disconcerting way in which our mens’cricket team always seems to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Unbelievable, especially since we hail from a grand tradition of winning; we are heirs to the Sobers – Clive Lloyd – Sir Viv – Sir Andy – Michael Holding legacy of kicking butt. Unfortunately, we just can’t seem to muster the smarts, the talent, the will, the testicular fortitude to kick anybody’s derriere! Nay, au contraire, we have become the whipping boys for all and sundry!

The great American rock band, Queen, sang the song, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, that has become an anthem of sorts for winning teams around the world. It is usually played at stadiums etcetera when the winning team is about to be crowned. It speaks to the way that winners fight, and claw, and refuse to give up. Here are some of the lyrics from that song, which this current crop of West Indies players know nothing about! After all, they are unfamiliar with the glorious ways of winning. I’ve paid my dues / Time after time / I’ve done my sentence / But committed no crime / And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few / I’ve had my share of sand, kicked in my face / But I’ve come through / And we mean to go on and on and on and on / CHORUS: We are the champions, my friends / And we’ll keep on fighting ‘till the end / We are the champions, we are the champions / No time for losers / ‘Cause we are the champions of the World . . . I’ve taken my bows, and my curtain calls / You brought me fame and fortune / And everything that goes with it, I thank you all / But it’s been no bed of roses / No pleasure cruise, I consider it a challenge before / The human race, and I ain’t gonna lose / And we mean to go on and on and on and on . . .” Hmmmm!What an inspiration! We’re talking about taking a beating, but still staying in the fight to the bitter end, refusing to lose!

This writer, and I dare say that many of us, are familiar with just such a team. It was legend. We’re talking about the indomitable West Indies teams from 1975 to 1995.  They administered beatings like they were handing out candy. They simply could not lose. Indeed, they refused to lose. Even when they were staring at a loss, they would somehow manage to save the day. The heroes and the heroics were numerous and varied, and on any given outing, and on any given day, a different hero would emerge – making the stunning catch, throwing the unbelievable run-out, starring in an undefeated partnership at the crease, hitting the mammoth six, bowling the unhittable maiden over, snagging the big hat-trick, and striking terror into the hearts of trembling batsmen. Those were the real ‘Dream Teamers!’

For example, here’s what our very own Sir Andy Roberts had to say after the West Indies beat Pakistan during a nail-biting encounter in the 1975 World Cup: It was a very important game. After I hit the winning runs during the great partnership with Deryck (Murray) and I ran off the field, the mood afterwards was that if Pakistan had beaten us, we would not have won the 1975 World Cup. I definitely batted better in other matches, but it’s definitely my most favourite innings for the West Indies. A couple years after that (1976/77), both Deryck Murray and I held up the same Pakistan team in Trinidad for about four hours. I always enjoyed batting with Deryck as a lower order batsman. You see, I say lower-order because I was better than just a tail-ender.” Oh, yes! If there were big sixes needed to save the game, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner or Michael Holding could be relied upon to make the massive hits. These bowlers could hold their wickets for four hours, indeed forever, if that was what the team needed.

And don’t talk about the bona fide batsmen on the team – they demoralised the opposing bowlers. Here is what King Short Shirt had to say of Sir Viv’s prowess with the bat: “Vivi is de name, cricket is de game / Brother, I don’t know how he could play cricket so / His battin’, bowlin’, fieldin’, catchin’ is breathtaking / Sometimes I does wonder if he’s a next Sobers in de makin’ / Dat man Richards could really bat / Is someting to see him on de attack / Plunderin’ bowlers again and again / It’s remarkable how he does dictate de game. CHORUS: No bowler holds a terror for Vivian Richards / Not Thompson, not Lillee; not Bedi nor Chandrasekhar / Perfect coordination of body and mind / Dat brother is really dynamite / Pace or spin, he don’t give a damn what yuh bowlin’ him / Fast or slowly, yuh goin’ back to de boundary.”It was a thing of beauty!

Sadly, the West Indian players of today do not seem to be made of the stern stuff that imbued the 1975 – 1995 teams. These players today are pussycats! And seems that they do not much care! That enormous sense of pride, that indefatigable will to win, that recognition that they are representing millions of people in the Caribbean Basin, that sense of history and our grand and noble tradition of winning, is manifestly absent in today’s players. Sigh! So they find a way, new and depressing ways, mind you, to break our hearts, over and over again! Have they no shame?

Of course, West Indians are none too pleased with how these modern-day teams play with our emotions, and a recent image on social media speaks to out annoyance. It depicts three men, hiding around a corner with huge rocks in their hands, waiting for the West Indies team to arrive so that the pathetic players can be pelted. It is meant to be a bit of sardonic humour, with us self-deprecatingly poking fun at our feebleness. That is what we have come to – a sad, sick joke! Oh that our men would play more like the women (Gasp! never thought that I’d say that!), who always seem to find a way to win. They have what it takes to face down their opponents! They have the grit and the determination! Much as did those 1975 -1995 teams.

Here’s what Maestro, in his enduring favourite, WORLD CUP, had to say about that West Indies team a few months after its triumph at the 1975 World Cup: “Phase one of de World Cup cricket / West Indies win it / We beat Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand / Dem Australians play with zest / To best the champions from de West / Kallicharan, Richards, Lloyd, Roberts and Julian CHORUS Australia say dem go kill West Indies / Sobers say dey we go flop / New Zealand say we gettin’ licks like peas / Dey eatin’ we like a pork chop / It was a fantasy to see, tiny little Kallie / Hit Thomo and Lillee, for boundary after boundary / Right on, right on top, we end up with de World Cup / VERSE 2 Certain batsmen start complainin’ how Roberts bowlin’ / Dey say dat he will certainly kill somebody eventually / Stollmeyer tell West Indies, no bouncers in dis series / We want it clear, when we win, we win fair and square . . .”Sigh! Those were the glory days – the golden age of West Indies cricket – Lloyd, Garner, Holding, Marshall, Croft, Roberts, Fredericks, Sobers, Haynes, Greenidge, Sir Richie Richardson, Sir Curtly Ambrose, and so on and so forth. They hardly lost a game in twenty years! They certainly never lost a series!

Phil Simmons, the current coach of the West Indies, must be shaking his head and asking, much as did the above-mentioned Casey Stengel – “can’t anybody here play this game?” And the answer comes back loud and clear: “Yes, the West Indies women certainly know how to play the game and win! They just beat Pakistan by 38 runs in the second ODI.”

Even our very own sports gurus, Neto Baptiste and Jo Jo Apparicio, they who can only talk sports, could make a better showing on the field than some of the befuddled players on the West Indies men’s cricket team. Of course, I am being facetious, but you get the point.

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