My first memory of the West Indies was Geoff Lawson’s jaw being shattered by Patrick Patterson. It seemed an appropriate image to sum up the experience of my generation of Australians in relation to the Windies.
I was quickly fascinated by an exotic array of giganti fast bowlers and extravagantly brilliant batsmen, men with bizarre names like Courtney and Curtly and Vivian, and a team that had been invincible for years.
They were so good, so ruthless, yet so laid back.
When Carl Hooper bowled, he almost fell asleep halfway through his delivery stride. Not that he bowled very often – spin was only really used as a laugh by the Windies back then.
They’d bring on Hooper or Richards or Roger Harper for a trundle to give everyone a quick giggle, then resume their sincere attempts to decapitate the opposition batsmen.
They were so disdainful of spin that Allan Border took 11 wickets in a Test match against them simply because the idea of a little man bowling slow to them seemed so preposterous they got out due to shock more than anything.
Four years later, the new boy Shane Warne stunned everyone in Melbourne, and Tim May with bat and ball almost pulled off a miracle in Adelaide.
However, the miracle disappeared in one Courtney Walsh bouncer, and in the next Test, normal service was resumed. Curtly Ambrose bowling a spell of sheer terror in Perth to shred Australia like rice paper.
That was the last hurrah of the invincible Windies really. Not long after that, they were dethroned. But what a hurrah it was.
Ah, Ambrose was a bowler, wasn’t he?
Enormous, loose limbs flailing, loping to the crease like an insouciant giraffe, somehow coiling and releasing those giant elastic bands to hurl bolts of pure malice at the batsman with suffocating accuracy.
He was relentless, and on a dodgy pitch, dangerous. If there was a crack, he’d hit it, again and again, and he’d likely do the same to your head.
Some said Mark Waugh was cowardly when he hit a hundred mainly by backing away and flipping Curtly over the slips. In fact, it was the gutsiest tactic he could have avoided. Every time he did it, it just made Ambrose more determine to kill him.
When Dean Jones complained about Curtly’s wristbands, it went beyond gutsy and into suicidal.
Ambrose’s predecessor as the Lord of Windies Quicks was Malcolm Marshall, a man half Ambrose’s size but possessed of even more skill, and a hostility that belied his small frame.
Before and after Ambrose was Courtney Walsh, a bit player in great teams, and a colossus in mediocre ones, who looked like he was made of bamboo, but somehow kept going, and going, and going, until he’d knocked over more batsmen than any of his former teammates.
And, of course, there was cool Ian Bishop and mad Patrick Patterson, and before them, lethal Michael Holding and brutal Joel Garner. They just kept rolling off that assembly line.
Meanwhile, when the West Indies took strike, opposition bowlers were being cowed and terrified almost as much as the batsmen by an array of whirling axemen that brutalised attacks around the world.
Viv Richards, with that supreme gum-chewing arrogance, making it clear that he considered a bowler merely a not-particularly-troublesome species of insect. The savage double-barrelled shotgun at the top of the order, Greenidge and Haynes. \\
The freewheeling Richie Richardson.
Big cat Lloyd.
At the tail-end of the dominant era, the rising prince Lara.
Pounding team after team into bloody submission with big smiles on their faces.
That’s how the Windies appeared to me, and somehow, they always will. That era of rubber-armed fast men and blazing willowsmiths is frozen in the mind, even though it was just one segment of the West Indies story.
They entered Test cricket in the 1930s, and up till the late 50s were always captained by white men, an absurd thought to those, like me, reared on the 80s terrors.
At the start, the heroes were the Black Bradman, George Headley, and the erratic but electrifying all-rounder Learie Constantine.
After the war, West Indian cricket was defined by the three Ws, batting giants Walcott, Weekes, and Worrell, and spin magicians Ramadhin and Valentine.
In the 60s, the team rose to the top of the world with Sobers, Gibbs, Hall and Kanhai, before something of a decline in the 70s was followed by Lloyd’s world-crushing revival with the four-pronged pace battery strategy.
West Indian cricket has been all sorts of things.
And now, we see a struggling, but improving team, battling against the rising Australians, led by a big-hearted, determined, yet limited captain in Darren Sammy, batting held together by an ageing champion and bowling led by a promising pair, one fast firebrand and one tricky offie.
It’s very different from the old days.
Nobody was determined yet limited in the 1980s teams.
Some were lazy, some were mercurial, but all were ridiculously talented and walked the earth like gods, deigning to grace we mortals with a glimpse of their divine abilities.
But such freakish happenstance of collective brilliance couldn’t last forever.
And there are reasons to delight in the current team. We still can enjoy the presence of men called Kraigg and Kemar and Carlton. We can enjoy a pack of underdogs grinding and heel-nipping their way to a better future.
We can enjoy the particular flavour that the rise of a generation of talented players of Indian descent has brought to the Caribbean. And we can rejoice in the Windies’ rediscovery of the virtues of spin.
But most of all, we can breathe a sigh of relief that, though they may lose this series, there seems to be some fight back in the Windies.
For no matter how things change, everyone knows that when the West Indies are putting up a fight, the cricket world is an infinitely more interesting place.