A Passion for West Indies Cricket

Published: Sunday | March 11, 2007


Sports, like beauty and music, is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. Who is the prettiest, Carla Campbell, Aishwarya Rai or Angelina Jolie? Whose music sounds the best, Mozart, Marley or Miles? Who is the top athlete, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer or Michael Schumacher? You pays your money and you takes your choice.

But I'm West Indian and was listening to ball-by-ball commentary before I was born, or so my mother tells me. The greatest heroes of my youth were Hunte, Kanhai, Gibbs, Griffiths, Hall, and above all, the great Gary Sobers. Nothing in the world mattered so much then as whether the West Indies won or lost.

So, yes, soccer is more popular and American football more technically advanced and American baseball much richer. But no one will ever convince me that cricket is not the most beautiful, dramatic and memorable outdoor pastime ever invented by man.

Other favoured sports of my youth like football and boxing now make me shrug. Yet, the West Indies can still give me palpitations. I often wonder why, though it really doesn't matter. The older and more indifferent to most things I get, the greater my gratitude for being able to feel such passion about anything. Brian Lara on the go brings almost the same feelings of appreciation as seeing a pretty girl - thank you Lord for creating and allowing me to contemplate such wonderful things.

Yet, times change. No longer is cricket the national fixation it was when both radio stations carried Test match commentary and 'What's the score?' was as common as 'Hello'. But you can't step into the same river twice. And I console myself, a sure sign of approaching decrepitude, with the thought that none of this instantly forgettable basketball generation will have memories to treasure like Lawrence Rowe in full flow at Sabina Park.

World Cup 2007 promises to bring back, even for a month, the good old days. A few cynics still scoff, but you can feel the fever catching as the last- minute wagonists scramble for tickets. It's going to be the bomb, if West Indies do well.

By the way, I have to shake my head at Bruce Golding's constant warnings of doom. He's probably right that the J$9 billion invested in CWC 2007 would have been better spent on childhood education. And it was utter folly to spend US$29 million on a used six days a year white elephant Sabina Park. Who owns it anyway, we taxpayers who footed the bill, or the Kingston Cricket Club? As Kingsley Thomas kept saying before any money was spent, Greenfield alone would have sufficed. And US$29 million could build lots of prisons for repeat offenders.

time and place

But there's a time and place for everything. Right now Mr. Golding's harping makes him sound like an opportunistic wet blanket killjoy. For one thing, the money done spend. And with cricket fever in the air, his Cassandra utterances are now about as welcome and productive as anti-alcohol temperance preaching at a drunken carnival fete.

The World Cup might affect the next general election. If all goes well and West Indies win, the PNP will get a big boost. But an off and on the field flop could leave people muttering about wasted money and taking out their anger on the Government. There's nothing as fickle as sports fans, or voters.

But to hell with politics. If West Indies win, I couldn't care who the next Prime Minister is. Eighteen years of abysmal governance versus 18 years of inability to come up with a credible plan to improve matters? You might as well flip a coin. Both seem especially hopeless on crime, the main issue bothering people. Frankly, PNP versus JLP brings to mind Bangladesh versus Zimbabwe. Someone has to win. But with two such pathetic sides, what difference will it make?

Can the Windies do it? Well, the players are as talented as any. Yet Jamaican high school track athletes seem better prepared mentally and physically than West Indies cricketers. But we are where we are, and it's now all up to the boys.

Bradshaw, Taylor, Dwayne Smith, Bravo, Samuels, Gayle are a very effective bowling combination. And the top order batting of Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Lara is as good as any. The big hole is the middle. Marlon Samuels has been making great strides, and let's hope he keeps it up. But the real keys will be Dwaynes Smith and Bravo. If these guys - probably the most athletically gifted cricketers in the world - can average even 30 with the bat, I feel the West Indies will make the final.

Over the past decade watching the

West Indies has been as much a cultural phenomenon as a sporting one. Sports is the toy section of life, and who wins or loses usually doesn't matter much next morning. But since about 1999 or so therehas been a gnawing feeling among aficionados that cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies may be, if not dying, at least gravely ill.

More than once the game has appeared only one more crushing defeat away from extinction. But time and again - Brian Lara's 213 at Sabina in 1999, the record 418 run chase at Antigua in 2003, Lara's 400at Antigua in 2004 - a miraculous turnaround has rekindled hope and interest.

So this 2007 World Cup will not only be the most watched sporting event ever held in the region - it might well be West Indies cricket's last stand. It may be the final chance the grand old game gets to rekindle the love and passion the entire region once felt for willow and leather. Let's hope the administrators take advantage of this window of opportunity to get bats and balls back into youngsters' hands. How about some school and club 20-20 leagues?

Yet perhaps it's not merely cricket on trial, but the entire idea of regional identity. Not only is there nothing more West Indian than cricket, it may be the only truly West Indian thing left. Intellectuals might interact through UWI. But most people here only pay attention to other English speaking territories because of West Indies cricket. Few Jamaicans can name the Prime Minister of Trinidad or Barbados or Antigua or Guyana. But everyone knows of Brian Lara, Sir Gary Sobers, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd.

Maybe cricket lovers exaggerate the importance of this 'West Indian' identity. We're only talking about 5 million people in total after all. But must be something noble and good in anything that peacefully binds together otherwise disparate nations for so long over such far distances. Cricket's demise would mean not only the death of a game, but of an ideal.

It's curious thing, this 'Westindianness'. When Trinidad and Jamaica face off in football, fans taunt each other and abuse opposing players. But those same folk hug each other with joy when West Indies win. Many Jamaicans can't abide Brian Lara, mainly because it's a Trini and not a Yardie who has set so many world marks. Yet they are proud it's a West Indian who has those records, and cheer him wildly at Sabina Park. The shifting mindsets of this unique dynamic must fascinate any student of nationalism.

A ball game may be a slender thing on which to base regional unity, but it's all West Indians have. And it's not often you see a culture's chief unifying force put to the test in real time before a world wide audience of billions. Will WC2007 herald a renaissance for both the game and regional unity?

So come on Brian and Shiv and Ronnie and Chris and Dwayne and Jerome. Win it for all of us, as we rally round the West Indies.

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