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Is Australian rugby following in the footsteps of West Indian cricket?

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Roar Guru
9th December, 2018
2038 Reads

History has a habit of repeating itself, if not in identical form then through similar patterns emerging over the years.

Depending on your age, you may have witnessed one of the greatest Test cricket series in 1975-76 between Australia and the West Indies.

At this point in time, the West Indian team was feared and respected the world over for their skill, aggression, and seemingly endless supply of high-quality players.

This lasted well into the 80s. Today, the West Indies are a shadow of their former selves with the occasional great player here and there. The now-retired Brain Lara is the player I will use to illustrate my question.

The West Indies had a team of Brain Laras in the 70s and early 80s. He was, when in form, the only player of his class in the West Indian side. Not unlike, say, Israel Folau today in the Wallabies.

Many have told the story of the fall of the West Indian cricket team, and the common themes seem to fall into three broad areas.

First, poor local management that was overly self-interested. Second was the emergence of new competition, first European football and then American basketball or baseball. Third, and as a result of the first two points, better youth players were migrating to other codes. Poor local pitches weren’t helping matters either.

As this was happening it was not dealt with, instead glossed over as the West Indies lived off their past glories and few greats they still had.

Back to Brain Lara, and why I choose him. Lara was childhood friends with Dwight York, having met before reaching their teens at a sporting academy.

Brian Lara batting for West Indies

The great Brian Lara. (Ukexpat / CC BY-SA 3.0)

York played in arguably England’s greatest club side of the past 50 years, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. With English Premier League matches broadcast in the Carribean, and United being so popular, York became as big a local hero as Lara. Unheard of in previous decades, cricket was under siege but failed to see it.

I see all sorts of parallels, between the demise of West Indian cricket and Australian Rugby right now.

Other sporting teams in Australia are currently on the rise; the Socceroos and Matildas in football, you have a number of highly paid players – both male and female – basketball, and in netball the national side continues to improve. And you can add to this the rise of esports – the A-League now has an ‘e-league’ running alongside its traditional sides.

In my Sydney home I back onto a once-large local district park team. Today I think it has been reduced to somewhere between four and six all-age sides with no juniors. How they keep two fields is anybody’s guess, as even in winter they play at best every second weekend and often only once a month.

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I follow the Mariners in the A-League and am amazed at times at the quality of players football has on the Coast at a junior level. I also watch some junior rugby and equally the demise in the number of high-quality players at the junior level is noticeable.

My eyes tell me the quality of junior player they now have get is nowhere near what it was when my son played for them over 20 years ago.

The West Indian cricket team started to get beaten by far lesser nations as they weakened and their opposition improved. This is the same experience the Wallabies are going through right now.

With increasing competition from the AFL, the NRL having regular Pacific Tests, the A-League set for expansion, and basketball growing, my feeling is Australian rugby is experiencing what the West Indian cricket team did, and what cricket as a code went through in the Carribean.

Does anyone else think I am right?