‘Only cricket unites the West Indies. To us it is more than just a game, it is a way of life.

Sir Frank Worrell


My conviction that cricket is the greatest sport ever invented by man or god was severely shaken by the massacre in South Africa. Each pathetic surrender only made it more obvious that cricket was dying both as a game and a West Indian cultural bond. Not even the players seemed to consider what they were doing important. They simply went through the motions like workmen earning an unhappy living.


The few remaining aficionados seemed motivated more by a sense of duty than pleasure in the game. “Cricket is part of our heritage” these diehards would mumble in an effort to justify another sleepless night of ritual humiliation. I had given up watching, but still felt the pain of each gutless collapse. Former cricket fan friends would laugh at my despondency. We cricket lovers were masochists! American football, basketball and soccer were so much more exciting and colourful. Cricket, especially test cricket, was yesterday’s news. Get a life!


The 51 all out at the Queens Park Oval convinced me too. Why should I care when the players obviously didn’t? But there is no escape from primeval passions. I tried to sublimate the despair of watching a beloved game die in an article entitled “My Last Test Match’ expressing my blackest fears about the sport’s future. Surely cricket was just another game. Why should a mature adult get upset about its apparently terminal decline?  Something’s won and something’s lost in living every day.


We have all been proven delightfully wrong. March 30, 1999 at Kensington Oval demonstrated to the entire West Indies and a world-wide television audience that cricket is more than just the greatest sport on earth. It is a dramatic spectacle, perhaps even a minor art form, and an irreplaceable part of the West Indian psyche.


Whatever the politically correct may say, South Africa’s apartheid past made those defeats especially bitter. Each thrashing by these former white supremacists further aroused not quite dead doubts about character, courage and mental toughness. Beneath the oft repeated “The talent is there but not the application” one sensed the unspoken thought – “They have strong bodies, but weak brains”.


Which is why the third test was more than a game, and will, in CLR James’ famous words, resonate beyond the boundary. The West Indies redeemed the self-image of the entire region. It is not that they won. Had the team lost by a run instead of winning by a wicket the joy may not have been as great, but the pride they inspired would have been no less. Finally when pressed to the wall they fought back nobly as men.


Brian Lara could not have led the team to victory without the efforts of Adams, Walsh, Campbell, Jacobs and Ambrose. All responded to the repeated challenges of 424 for 4, 98 for 6, and 258 for 8 with bravery and resolution. For all Lara’s glory, my abiding memory of that unforgettable last day will always be Courtney Walsh’s gritted teeth as he took guard. His was the determined look of a man prepared to exceed his physical limitations and conquer with pure will.


No praise is too high for Brian Lara’s incomparable 153 not out. Gary Sobers at his best never played a greater innings, and what finer compliment can one give? Lara had come to be seen not just as a symbol of West Indian cricketing decline, but as the embodiment of what was wrong with the West Indian male. Blessed with the once in a generation, God-given talent of a true artist, he appeared to have squandered it in arrogance and indiscipline. Cricket scorners, and they were legion after South Africa, would taunt the remaining faithful by pointing out what a role model Michael Jordan was in comparison to this egotistic wastrel.


Lara redeemed himself on that unforgettable Sunday at Sabina in an innings which the London Times termed “arguably the most important in the history of the game”. At Kensington he went beyond even that and proved himself not just a supremely gifted athlete, but a man of patience, courage and tenacity. Here was the true heart of champion. As Clive Lloyd said "It was the stuff of genius. You dream of watching innings like those.”


Cricket also crowned itself with glory. No one who watched this test could feel they had merely witnessed another sporting contest. The unfolding five days of drama, the twists and turns of the final day and the utterly unbelievable climax of the last hour proved to all that cricket at its best transcends mere sport and borders on art. Yet not even the most shameless pot-boiling hack would have dared to concoct such ridiculously implausible melodrama. Here was the true stuff of legend which old men in their dotage fondly remember and smile to think how fortunate they were see it.


What paltry football or basketball game could ever compare to this grandeur? Only a test match could combine such breathless anticipation and extended celebration of the moment  with sublime artistry and sustained drama unfolded on a raw emotional canvas of national pride. This was one of the greatest matches ever played, but only West Indian spectators could have created the rapturous atmosphere of unbridled exhilaration that made this surely the most memorable sporting experience ever witnessed in the Caribbean or anywhere else. O how envied are those who were there in person!


I am a believer again, not only in cricket, but in the West Indies. What a marvelous people! What a unique genius for extracting the full gladness of life’s joyous moments and sharing it with others! Like Falstaff, West Indians are not only entertaining in themselves, they are the cause of entertainment in others, as the visiting Australian fans can testify. What a tragedy if such an astonishing culture were to be buried by the mass materialism of McDonalds and Cable TV. But after Kensington Oval, I no longer despair of its future, or of cricket’s. They are too beautiful for us to allow them to die.

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