Anyone looking for a complex answer to the secrets behind one of the greatest sports teams of all time will not find it from former West Indies opening batsmen Desmond Haynes.
“We were really good. End of story,” Haynes told the Cayman Compass in an interview Friday.
“The opposition turned up expecting to get beat and we never liked to disappoint them.”
He is only half joking.
Haynes is visiting the island along with Gordon Greenidge, his opening partner in the legendary West Indies squad of the 1980s, as part of a fundraiser and golf tournament for the Cayman Islands Cricket Association, which is attempting to revitalise the sport on the islands.
The pair, renowned as the best Test opening duo of all time, were the bedrock of the West Indies side that swept all before it in the 1980s, crushing England 5-0 on two occasions and winning all but one of its Test series in that decade.
“The whole team was oozing with confidence,” remembers Greenidge.
“The guys knew what they could do and what the people around them could do.”
Beyond raw talent, Haynes recalls the unity and will to win of the team as well as a sense that they were playing for something more than themselves.
It was racial as well as cultural and national pride, he said, that helped drive them to dominate the game in a way few sports teams have done in any sport.
“I remember we were in Australia and we met with Zina Garrison [one of the few black tennis players of that generation] who was there for the Australian Open. She said, I really enjoyed seeing 11 of you guys that look like me, beating Australia. And she didn’t even know anything about cricket.”
The crushing victories over England were seen as symbolic of a power shift in the post-colonial era, though Haynes says that was not in his head at the time.
“We didn’t really look at it like that. We were really close to a lot of the English guys from playing county cricket and it was good to stick it up to them. It was good banter.”
The world cricket tables have turned over the past two decades and the West Indies, though a powerhouse in the shorter formats of the game, are near the bottom of the pile in Test cricket.
Haynes and Greenidge, both from Barbados, question whether the appetite for success in the longer format of the game still exists among the players and fans in the Caribbean.
“When we were playing, I remember having to step over people to get on to the field, just for a warm-up game. Now sometimes you are lucky to get 250 people at a Test match,” says Greenidge. “To me Test cricket is the beautiful game but today the attitudes and the culture is geared more towards one-day or Twenty20.”
With the shorter format and the television investment has come opportunities for commercial and financial success that simply did not exist in Haynes and Greenidge’s day. Now players can make millions from the sport through franchise contracts in the Indian Premier League.
Haynes says, “You don’t even have to be that good. You just have to hit a six. That’s what the public wants and I’m sure Twenty20 is here to stay, but I don’t want to see Test cricket die off as a result, and that could happen if we are not careful.”
Amid the emergence of Twenty20, Haynes and Greenidge see a drift away from national loyalty toward franchises like the IPL in India and the Big Bash in Australia, that are able to pay significantly higher wages.
Haynes sees no sense in resisting the pull of financial reward and he has urged the West Indies Cricket Board to drop its self-defeating policy of insisting its players compete in domestic tournaments to be eligible to play international cricket.
“The players are not going to wait. They are going to try and make the money now with a T20 contract. We need to look at that rule, We can’t keep making players ineligible and then send out a team that is not good enough.”
With the pitfalls of Twenty20, comes opportunity. And Haynes sees opportunity for Cayman’s young cricketers in the new format.
“It doesn’t matter if you are from Timbuktu. If you are a good enough cricketer you can play at the top level.”
Haynes and Greenidge took part in a sponsor’s golf tournament on Friday and spoke at a gala dinner Saturday night.
Hector Robinson, the vice president of the association, said the sport was coming out of a slump and the association was working to bring in new sponsors and establish a vibrant youth and schools program.