Published: 15 Mar 2010
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO GUARDIAN
Cricket, lovely cricket is unloved and dying a slow death in the West Indies and no one seems to care. Our regional pastime that has for so long glued diverse communities together and put steel in our character and even defied an empire has been abandoned. Cricket was the rallying banner for Headley, Valentine, Weekes, Walcott, Worrell and Sobers, gladiators who used their bats to set West Indian self-determination benchmarks high on columns of the British Empire, the same way Jesse Owens crushed the Third Reich’s doctrine of Aryan supremacy under his running shoes at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Many, including Trinidadian intellectual CLR James, framed cricket as much bigger than a game: “Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance.” The leisurely distraction used to tame the colonies became the biggest patchwork in the cultural fabric of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Sons of the Caribbean mastered the game and used it as a cog in the gear that lifted the people from servitude to a higher altitude of self-respect. Self-government quickened because the region’s cricket pioneers hooked the colonialist leg-breakers high over square-leg, out of stadiums, dispelling the kingdom’s myth that its dark-skinned subjects were of a lesser rank. A vision of Spartacus rising up from blood-soaked sands of Roman coliseums to become the hero to his people, Conrad Hunte dusted the sugar plantation grime from his mind and swung his bat like a field marshall’s baton. Even after retiring from the game he continued to socially develop communities wherever he went. Indeed, cricket is a metaphor for life. Starting with the six balls an over, delivered to the batsman by the bowler.
Each delivery is loaded with a new challenge and expectation, forcing adjustments in style and attitude, the same way we prepare to face the troubles and opportunities tossed into our lives. Some people are better equipped than others to deal with the unexpected, but each obstacle grants new ways to make things better. When a spin bowler flights a ball to a schoolboy who shuffles gracefully down the pitch to meet it, and the ball hits the ground, breaks towards or away from his bat, the student learns geometry and trigonometry. Before his next mathematics class he will have estimated the ball’s velocity, angular movement and level of spin-friction applied by the bowler. We have seen batsmen courier the ball with rapid precision, delivering it to the boundary for four or six — taking control of the field, demonstrating self-assurance.
But there are those who swing their bats at will, attempting always to dispatch the ball for six, expressing irrational exuberance—like a bullish stock trader expecting good results without due diligence—only to have their stumps uprooted and tumbled like the stock market of 1929, and again in 2008. But a good batsman knows how to manage uncertainties. To cover his stumps—being on guard—protecting his wicket as he would his family—placing his bat and pad close, his front-foot forward into the ball, carefully rolling it back to the bowler, preserving his wicket the way he would his values and character. Indeed, there should be an institute that procures and teaches the insightful philosophy of cricket. Instead cricket fields are empty as young boys dream of becoming Michael Jordon instead of Brian Lara.
According to one of Jamaica’s finest sports editors, the West Indies no longer wins matches and the glamour of football (soccer) and basketball are attracting the youths. Major companies no longer sponsor provincial games, as a result of which player wages are meagre. But worse of all, most people believe the game takes too long—a Test match takes five days. Cricket’s aim is for players to negotiate with one another in a free and shapeless atmosphere, an unhurried chess match of diplomatic dialogue where gentlemen seamlessly transform strategy and tactics into a dance, outwitting their opponents in an air of dignity. This is the temperament our youths need to subdue aggressive behaviour that often ended at the cemetery. Patience and perseverance still have their place in community development.
But this generation is built on haste, being dragged to unknown destinations by an avalanche of information spraying out of cellular phones, satellite television, Blackberry, video games and iPods, to name a few. We have turned from the wisdom of our foreparents, trading contemplative discourse for instant gratification, creating fast foods but slow people, instead of slow foods and nimble individuals. Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, would agree that roasting a piece of yam, like a good cricket match, cannot be hustled. Hauling cricket up a steep hill to fit into our bustling lifestyle, instead of using it to escape, is a mistake. Cricket, lovely cricket is the barometer that measures the West Indies health and self-confidence. Remember when transistor radios in homes and streets thundered with frantic laughter and loud, crackling claps of balls exploding from Fredericks, Haynes, Lloyd, Richard and Richardson’s bat and smashing into the boundary?
Human scoring machines whipping the ball with fury and intelligence. It was also a time when West Indian pace bowlers shot lightning bolts from their fingers. Holding, Croft, Roberts and Garner flashed bouncers and in-swingers that pinned men of great nations to batting creases—where they trembled, their bats refusing to hit balls that travelled so quickly—demolishing wickets that tumbled down like drunken dominoes. Boys were inspired, summoned by the gods to become Alvin Kallicharrans and Gordon Greenidges by any means necessary, using any gear and available space—the streets, farmlands—with bats made from coconut branches and balls carved out of wood. The power and might of the West Indies was of Hercules and Samson combined.
Yes indeed, cricket, lovely cricket is the language the West Indies uses to communicate with the world.
The game has elevated the people’s self-confidence before and will again. But the cricket board cannot continue to hatchet a sport so deeply rooted and loved into fragments. Twenty-over matches may be fine, but what is next, drive-through happy-meal cricket? Long live cricket in her spacious, patience and virtuous time and space where the old can relax and share wisdom with the young. Tradition still has a place. Let us remove West Indies cricket from its sick bed and into our hearts and nurse it back to health.