Leave the Caribbean and play better cricket

I have been trapped on my settee apart from the odd sortie into the light of day. Curtains drawn, essentials at the ready. I have been concentrating on Test cricket wherever possible. My satellite system has allowed me to be physically in England while my head and my heart have been in Sri Lanka, Guyana and Trinidad.

English cricket is experiencing a mild revival. The sports commentators have translated this as an all-embracing renaissance. Before the series that England have just won, Sri Lanka suffered a severe drubbing in South Africa. The series was very close; Sri Lanka held their own.

Moreover, Sri Lankan society seems to have lost its post-independence innocence. The people have had to resist the giant blast of Tamil terrorism. They are a tough bunch, knit together in adversity. Now that they can see some light at the end of the tunnel, their batsmen, young and adventurous, play as fine a game as any. I can sum up England in a short volley of words. They are still trapped in a welfare state of mind, preferring the safety net. There is no sign of the golden years, only solid, "steady as she goes" mediocrity. There is no evidence of adventure, of extraordinary leaps into the dark. We shall see how they perform when the Pakistanis and Australians come over this summer.

The South Africans are in the Caribbean and, after a few years at the bottom of the pile, the West Indians are just about managing to raise their heads above the parapet. Their societies are coated in corruption and violence. Their social life has been reduced to extreme vulgarity. Their social and political leaders have their snouts in the trough in ways that are almost unimaginable.

My nephew is here on a visit from Trinidad. He is in his mid-twenties and hails from the urban ghetto. He tells tales of woe, of bloodthirsty young men and women who then appeal to Allah for forgiveness. Fundamentalist Islam is the only prominent intellectual activity among the urban young, peppered with heavy doses of American TV. A government minister is in jail on remand. The charge? Murder. I may have mentioned him in these pages before. He was the minister of works, in charge of projects specifically designed for the unemployed. He ripped off the public purse without mercy, arm in arm with the local Muslimeen. A local councillor refused to co-operate and was shot. Added to the murder charge are 27 charges of corruption involving millions of dollars.

Another minister is in the frame, a distributor of drugs and the latest in military hardware. These are no secrets. The smallest child in East Dry River (the urban slum area) can recite chapter and verse. The death toll rises as people scramble to make small fortunes. This repeats itself on every island. Race divides in Trinidad and Guyana, Indian from African. As I write, the Guyanese are choosing their government, and riots are predicted if the Indians continue to govern.

All these problems have seeped into the team. Ramnaresh Sarwan, the young Guyanese Indian, must face Carl Hooper, the African captain, with sober senses - otherwise West Indian cricket is heading for the doldrums for another generation. It is always possible that the honourable game will play a part in lifting societies out of the morass in which they find themselves. It has been so until recently. Most upcoming West Indian cricketers played some cricket in England. On their return home they brought a different outlook with them.

Now, England has restricted overseas players and West Indian cricketers have found themselves marooned in the Caribbean. The results have been abysmal.

But the good news is that the new crop have been travelling widely, constantly away from home. This talented bunch, isolated from the muck and mire of the homeland, are gelling into a fine side. I predict that, after a couple of seasons, the Caribbean will be in contention once more. Even as I write, the West Indians are giving South Africa the challenge of their lives.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich rule politics again