Friday, December 18, 2009

West Indians now more Indian than ever

The West Indies cricket team has been touring Australia for several weeks now. I don't really follow cricket much any more, but one thing about the series caught my attention. The Caribbean side is stacked with players of Indian descent.

Six players who have played in the current test series are of Indian background - Shivnarine Chanderpaul (pictured left), Ramnaresh Sarwan (pictured below), Dinesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Adrian Barath and Narsingh Deonarine.

Indians are not a new phenomenon in Caribbean cricket - their number includes such past greats as Rohan Kanhai, Sonny Ramadhin and Alvin Kallicharan. But never before has their presence been so prominent, in a team that for so long has been completely dominated by players of African origin. Indeed, earlier this decade, three consecutive captains of the squad were Indian - Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Daren Ganga, who is no longer in the squad.

Indians have been a presence in the islands since the 1830s, when slavery was abolished and the British needed to find a new source for cheap labour. The largest communities are in Guyana (from where Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Deonarine hail) and Trinidad and Tobago (home to Ganga, Rampaul, Ramdin and Barath).

These are not especially good times for the side that utterly dominated world cricket in the 70s and 80s (the glory days of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and others) - the West Indies are ranked 8th out of the 10 test-playing nations, ahead of only such cricketing backwaters as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. A number of reasons have been cited for its decline. Poor administration and internal infighting have played a role, perhaps understandable in a side combining players from 10 different countries. The board has failed to keep up with the increasing professionalized landscape of world cricket, and the region itself has faced a general economic decline.

But the side's cricketing woes have also been attributed to the increasing pull of soccer and basketball on the talented young black athletes that would have once naturally gravitated to cricket. Perhaps it is this factor that has allowed the rise of Indo-Caribbeans in the sport, as their love of the game has not wavered. While a cynic could argue that the presence of Indians in the team may be a reason for the West Indies' deteriorating performances, in fact the team's best-performing players in recent years have been Indian. Chanderpaul is arguably the best West Indian player of the decade, with Sarwan not far behind, and wicketkeeper Ramdin is touted as a future captain.

Indeed, the prominence of South Asians in cricket has increased worldwide, not just in the Caribbean. England has already had an Asian captain in Nasser Hussain, as well as prominent players such as Mark Ramprakash and Monty Panesar, while Hashim Amla is establishing himself as a regular in the South African side. New Zealand has already had a player of Indian origin in all-rounder Deepak Patel. With growing numbers of desis playing youth and club cricket here, will we see Australians of South Asian descent donning the baggy green cap soon? In truth, we have already had two of them. Victorian batsman Dav Whatmore, who had a brief test career in 1979, was born in Sri Lanka and is of Burgher (Eurasian) ancestry. Michael Bevan, rated as one of the greatest one-day cricketers of all time, also has Burgher ancestry.

With India playing an increased role in the game with the inception of the Indian Premier League, and more and more desis representing their various nations, we may be seeing the new brown face of world cricket.

One for the future: 19-year-old Adrian Barath scored a century against Australia in his debut test.

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  1. Maybe West Indies form has to do with Indians being at the helm

  2. @ anon:
    I think it's far more likely that it is related to the lack of top-quality black players coming through the ranks.

  3. When people talk about the lack of south Asians to represent Australia they seem to forget Dav Whatmore and Michael Bevan (burghers), Rex Sellers and Stuart Clark (Anglo Indians) and Usman Khawaja (Pakistani). The likes of Ashton Agar, Gurinder Sandhu and Fawad Ahmed are likely to be added to this list.