It is only a game and, in the larger scheme of things, not very important. But mankind needs its diversions. And no other outdoor sport, and few endeavours of any kind, provides such lasting pleasures as cricket. Here the onlooker measures his satisfaction not merely in terms of results, but in the beauty of the spectacle.


All that counts in athletics is who wins and how fast. To football fans a goal is a goal no matter how the ball crosses the line. In baseball every home run swing is indistinguishable from the next. But cricket is a game of lingering memories, where how matters as much as how many and the end must be justified by the means. A thin edge through the slips can produce the same four runs as a perfectly timed straight drive, but never the same applause. A slow grafting hundred and a sparkling century in the same conditions are greeted very differently. They might sometimes make less runs, but stroke-players like Khanai are always held in higher esteem than accumulators like Boycott.


A batsman's unrivaled choice of action, like Cleopatra, allows an infinite variety which never cloys - a dancing, flourishing, extravagant sweep; the axelike authority of a grimly executed pull; a subtle and effortless leg glance as delicate as a young girl's cheeks; the pouncing hook of savage finality; a classical, flowing cover drive; the cavalier exuberance of a full-blooded square cut. In its finer moments, cricket transcends sport and enters the realm of the aesthethic, not so much a game as an art form; where good strokeplay is analyzed for correctness of form and virtuosity of performance. Beautiful, glorious, elegant, magnificent, graceful - such words might seem embarrassingly out of place in other games, but are a natural and familiar part of a cricket commentator's repertoire. Cricket, lovely cricket is the most appropriately evocative phrase in all of sport.


In a world of instant gratification, some scorn cricket as slow and old fashioned. But as Neville Cardus wrote, great music must have its slow movements. While all games produce flashes of brilliance and excitement, cricket alone provides sustained artistry. To aficionados who were not there, a great innings is like a lost work of art. One envies the eyewitnesses to Sober's 132 at Brisbane, Rowe's 302 at Kensington Barbados or Lara's 375 at the Antigua Recreation Ground. For the privileged onlookers, such performances are rare treasures; memories called up in moments of leisure, rolled around in the mind's eye and savoured for a lifetime. In Keat's words, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.


At its highest levels cricket requires the best qualities of grown men - patience, intelligence and courage. As a fast bowler races in, the batsman awaiting a hundred mile an hour missile must experience feelings vaguely similar to those of a soldier facing a bayonet charge. Cricket is not for the fainthearted. It is amusing to hear American fans of baseball, where balls are caught with gloves and a pitcher is penalized for even brushing the batter with the ball, talk of cricket as a sissy game!


Cricket is also the most democratic of sports. For men of all sizes are able to reach the game's highest echelons, from the five foot and a bit Ramahdins, Gavaskars and Laras, to the six foot and a lot Garners, Ambroses and McGraffs. Cricket remains primarily a game of skill, where the battle is not always to the large and strong, and the short and agile too have their say. Unlike say professional American basketball where very few players are less than six feet tall and anyone under six foot six and 250 pounds is considered small! It is too a game of gloriously uncertain moods - at one moment a chess-like spinning duel of craft and guile, at the next a brutal contest of power and speed.


Cricket is celebrated for its commitment to sportsmanship and has passed into the English language as a byword for fairplay. 'That's not cricket' is still used to describe unethical behaviour even in non-cricketing countries. Perhaps the term is a little old-fashioned today, but then, so is the concept. And have we anything to replace either? Maybe not all batsmen today 'walk' before being given out. But the ideal of the game, that a player's conduct should be determined primarily by his conscience, by the spirit and not the letter of the law, remains honoured more in the acceptance than the breach. The idea that individual integrity is more important than the game's result is not completely dead. And in what other sport do players admiringly applaud their opponents' outstanding performances?


Of course, to Jamaicans and West Indians, cricket is more than a game. (A phrase claimed by all sports but which originated about cricket. 'It's more than a game, it's an institution.' comes from Tom Brown's Schooldays.) No sport anywhere has played a more important role in the social life of a region than has cricket in the West Indies. As Clive Lloyd puts it ' Cricket is the ethos around which West Indian society is the instrument of Caribbean cohesion.' C.L.R. James was undoubtedly correct in seeing cricket as a metaphor for West Indian cultural history.


Unpalatable as certain aspects may have been (all white captains for example), one judges a tree by its fruits. The smooth West Indian transition from dependent colonies to stable democracies is unparalleled, and the West Indies is one of the world's outstanding examples of racial harmony. Cricket can surely take some credit for these achievements. In the early 20th century it provided virtually the only arena where men of different races competed as full equals. White and black West Indians were playing together against their colonial masters a generation before a black man was allowed to play any major American sport.


Among sports, cricket demands a unique acceptance of authority. The occasional flare ups between umpires and players attract attention precisely because of this. They would go unnoticed in sports like football where officials are routinely spat upon and bodily attacked. There is a remarkable contrast between the unquestioned, judge-like respect accorded a cricket umpire and the abuse to which his baseball counterpart is commonly subjected. Are cricket's ingrained respect for authority, and the unswerving West Indian commitment to the principles of Westminster democracy somehow related? Comparing Jamaican political history and that of its nearest neighbours, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, more than one observer has answered yes.


The game still pervasively influences Jamaican society. During important matches all differences are forgotten in the common cause, and cricket has consistently produced excellent role models for our youth. Yet for all their onfield heroics, Michael Holding and Maurice Foster are perhaps making even greater contributions as commentators. All persons concerned by our failing educational system must find it heartening to see people glued to the radio during a test match. For when else do Jamaicans hear other Jamaicans using the English language correctly?

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: