Cricket, lovely cricket
At Lord’s where I saw it
Yardley tried his best
But West Indies won the Test
With those little pals of mine
Ramadhin and Valentine
All great events in the Caribbean, writes former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley in A History of West Indies Cricket, are heralded in song. In 1950, Lord Kitchener led a jubilant band of West Indies supporters on a march around Lord’s.
|The West Indies team that won the Twenty20 World Cup on Sunday is being as compared with their predecessors
A few days later, Lord Beginner composed that famous calypso. Question: So what are the chances then that the West Indies win at the World T20, which overnight seems to have been granted World Cup status by commentators and journalists, will be celebrated in a song that’s not the Korean YouTube sensation Gangnam Style? Answer: Not very bright. It is a tribute to the great teams of the ’70s and ’80s that the West Indies are still the most loved wherever they go.
But it’s a great travesty that Sunday night’s 40-over caper in Colombo can spark off comparisons with what was achieved three decades ago through sweat and grime by a group of players for whom cricket was an expression of rebellion against Colonial prejudice.
The glory days had come into focus just last year in a documentary, Fire in Babylon, which may have lacked the width or the depth to properly analyse the rise and fall of Caribbean cricket, but threw up the odd great line nonetheless.
“Green for the land itself,” said Viv Richards, explaining the colours on his wrist band. “Yellow, for the gold that was stripped. Red, for the blood that was shed.” In Rastafarian ideology, the ancient city of Babylon was representative of oppression due to slavery.
Instead of “tyranny must end”, they said “Babylon must fall”, and these players were determined that it must. Granted it was a different time. Also granted the current West Indies team, like Chuck Palhaniuk’s protagonists in Fight Club, can’t help it if they have “no great war and no great depression”.
But why the desperation on our part to give Sunday’s fine victory a dimension that it does not merit? Why the need to link it with events more critical and achievements more significant?
Why the desire to trivialise history for the sake of a newspaper headline or a band running across a television screen? What’s worse is the content of the articles and TV discussions in which Sunday night’s champions are being celebrated as “freewheeling” cricketers, “just like their predecessors were 33 years ago”.
It’s a reinforcement of the racist stereotype that West Indies cricket thought it had shed long ago. Their fast bowlers were not quick because they were “naturally gifted”, or because they were tall, strong and Black.
Their craft had been polished in the nets, and their variations had been worked on for hours, one endless day after another. If great batsmen walked in chewing gum, it didn’t mean they had woken up in the morning, washed their faces, and stepped on to the crease, leaving the rest to their “unnatural” hand-eye coordination.
Their strokes were the result of confidence gained from deciphering the angles and learning the craft to build an innings. They weren’t “colourful”, “unorthodox”, “joyous and uninhibited” freaks who won even though they didn’t really care.
During India’s tour of the Caribbean in 2002, coach Roger Harper would routinely lament how Windies cricket had fallen, and often express hope that things would get better one day.
The Test team on that tour had Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds as openers, Brian Lara at No 3, Ramnaresh Sarwan at four, captain Carl Hooper at five, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul at six, and wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs at seven.
The pace spearhead was Mervyn Dillon, briefly hailed as a natural successor to Courtney Walsh, and his support cast was the Ambrose-look alike Cameron Cuffey, the policeman Adam Sanford, and the slippery left-armer Pedro Collins.
It was a far cry from Greenidge, Haynes, Lloyd and Richards, and the quartet of Holding, Garner, Marshall and Roberts, but that weakened team from a decade ago perhaps had greater firepower and more bite than the West Indians who were on the front page this Monday morning.
One T20 tournament does not make a resurrection. So let us celebrate the West Indies win, Gangnam Style if we must, but please let’s not throw around words and phrases such as comeback, 1979, Lloyd, and World Cup.