British playwright Harold Pinter probably went over the top when he said “Cricket is the greatest thing God ever invented on earth. It’s certainly better than sex, though sex isn’t so bad itself”. But cricket to me has always seemed to present a broader stage for drama, to allow a greater canvas for artistic expression, and to encompass a wider range of emotions and moods than any other outdoor game.

Yet this weekend’s Sabina Park test match will probably be the last I ever attend. Sadly, cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies is a dying sport. Many reasons have been given for the string of dismal results which culminated in the previously unimaginable nadir of 51 all out - an incompetent board, parochial selectors, an arrogant captain, indisciplined players.  But the simple fact is that we are being beaten by teams with better batsmen, bowlers and fielders. The West Indies no longer contains enough good cricketers to field a competitive test side. It is just a matter of time before the West Indies become uncompetitive even with England and are deprived of test playing status.


The reckoning has been a long time coming. Youngsters in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean no longer play much cricket. A traveler will see a hundred football or basketball scrimmages for every pick up cricket match. Schoolboy football matches draw thousands to watch. At schoolboy cricket matches the players usually outnumber the spectators. Many  over say thirty still discuss and watch the game avidly on television, but even they don’t go much to games in person anymore.  But to most youngsters whelped on cable television, cricket is an unfamiliar game which they don’t understand or care much about.


Nowadays nothing which does not come on television matters. Basketball is on regularly during prime time and its constant action, frenetic athleticism and brilliantly marketed larger-than-life players have caught the imagination of our young. True it is utterly unreflective, offers rather limited possibilities of action and grows monotonous after a while. But then to uneducated youth these traits may serve rather to attract than repulse.


But the turning away from cricket to basketball and football is part of even larger social forces. Cricket is a rural game formed by the slower, gentler, subtler sensibilities of the countryside. Football and especially basketball are city games and Jamaica, like the rest of the world, has gradually become an urban society. Concrete driveways are in much greater supply than grassy fields in Kingston and Montego Bay. Nor can naked economic reality be ignored - a cricket bat costs a lot more than a basketball or football. Anyway, in a modern world demanding constant action, attention spans are short. Who has time these days for slow musical movements or epic poetry or leisurely contemplation or test matches?


The Jamaican and West Indian world view has also changed. When our horizons were bounded by Britain and the Commonwealth we could enthusiastically boast of the ‘world champion’ West Indies. But in the global age ‘world champion’ has a hollow ring without Europe or the USA taking part. You can see in the attitudes of the present team that representing the West Indies just doesn’t seem as important as it once did. After all Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz have been to the real World Cup, and names like Brazil, Japan and France made us realize the world is much bigger than England, Australia and India. Watching basketball it occurs that if all those tall athletic guys took up cricket they would make the West Indies four prong look pedestrian.


Those emotionally attached to the game and bewildered at seeing it wither naturally seek someone to blame. Which is why some attack Brian Lara so vociferously. But though his arrogance may have hastened the end, the issue is bigger than one man. Nothing can withstand an idea whose time has come, and nothing can save a sport whose era is ending.


So we are left only with memories – the guile of Gibbs, the speed of Holding, the artistry of Rowe, the power of Richards, the brilliance of Sobers. I have seen innumerable sporting contests live – Foreman versus Frazier, Pele at the National Stadium, Don Quarrie on the track – and countless others on television. But football goals and footrace winners and TV basketball dunks become lost in a jumbled confusion. Yet Gary Sober's 113 not out in 1968, Lawrence Rowes double immortal debut in 1972 and Brian Lara’s century against Pakistan in 1992 still stand out like jewels amidst cut glass. I can still see one particularly exquisite Lara straight drive off Wasim Akram which perfectly conjoined space, time and object. How sad to think I shall never look upon its like again and add no more such treasures to my mind’s eye.


Sad too to think the poetry of the cricket commentator will also be lost forever. How infinitely superior is “Lara rocks onto the backfoot and hooks gloriously to the square leg boundary for four.” to “Burton shoots. He scores. Goooaaal.” or “Pippen passes to Jordan who dunks.”


Cricket’s death will almost certainly mean the end of the idea of ‘West Indianism’. Test cricket after all is the only thing the widely spread former British Caribbean colonies truly have in common. It is the ethos around which West Indian society revolves and is the instrument of Caribbean cohesion. The few who have attended UWI apart, the term West Indies is virtually meaningless without cricket. But then the English Caribbean is becoming a de facto cultural and economic satellite of the United States, another apparently inevitable historical trend. At its best West Indian culture was uniquely tolerant, laughter loving, high spirited and wonderfully original – witness calypso and reggae. Its passing will leave the world a less joyous place.


Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse - Everything passes, everything perishes, everything palls.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: