Notes From the Margins…

Cricket freezing cricket: the West Indies are back

  • May 06, 2012
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During the Thatcherite 1980s it was one of the satisfying rituals of the English summer to witness the West Indies cricket team demolish England both at home and abroad.  The reasons were partly personal and partly political.  As a child I lived in Jamaica and Guyana and the astonishing rise of the West Indies cricket team to world domination for the best part of two decades provided an emotional connection to the Caribbean world I had left behind.

For many years cricket was the only thing that the West Indies did well as a whole,  and the achievements of a cricket team from the ‘dustbin of empire’ whose infrastructure paled in comparison with its rivals not only thrilling in itself – it was a triumphant and eloquent repudiation of the notions of racial inferiority and humiliation that were intrinsic to slavery and colonialism.

When you watched Viv Richards swaggering out to bat with that steely determination and a rastafari wristband you knew that there was a lot more at stake than cricket.   As the narrator in the Guyanese poet Ian MacDonald put in his poem ‘Massa Day Done’

He pound the ball, look at that, aha!/Like he vex, he slash, he pull, he hook/He blast a way through the cover man,/ He hoist the ball like cannon ball/Something hurt he bad, you could see/As he heself alone could end we slavery.

Which puts it very well indeed.  There was also the fact that England team had a lot of very obnoxious players, some of whom had played in South Africa in defiance of the sporting ban, and the team – and the English cricketing establishment – often seemed to symbolize everything that was most obnoxious about England itself.

This was the time of police racism and the SUS laws,  the Tebbit ‘cricket test’,  and a rancid English nationalism that was intrinsic to Thatcherism and also to the violent thuggery of the English football fans who regularly marauded European cities.

It was also a period of political defeats for the left, and so it was a kind of minor consolation to watch the England cricket team not only get beaten, but completely outplayed.  The pleasure was intensified by the fact that the  failure of the English cricket team was often cited as some kind of post-imperial national decline – a narrative that often had the unspoken subtext ‘why are Englishmen being beaten like this by black men who were descended from slaves?’

Some English commentators whined about the West Indian fast bowlers and claimed that Clive Lloyd’s teams displayed a brutality that was at odds with the spirit of the game – even though the West Indies never targeted batsmen in the way that Jardine’s men had done during the 1932-33 ‘bodyline’ tour of Australia.

There were even those who claimed that the West Indies had an unfair physical advantage because they were black and the physique of black men…you get the drift.

So as far as Norman Tebbit’s cricketing test went, my own loyalties were absolutely clear: let England lose and let them lose again and again.   Last but by no means least, there was the ruthless brilliance of the West Indies team itself, who had so many outstanding players that whenever one of them failed someone else would step to the plate.

I remember Gordon Greenidge’s astounding 214 in the second innings at Lords during the 1984 ‘blackwash’.   This was a rare game that England looked set to win and had even had the temerity to make a declaration.   I turned on the tv that morning to watch Greenidge and Haynes came out to bat, not expecting anything more than a draw.

Instead I spent the rest of the day watching Greenidge blast the England bowlers all over the field, uncurling his trademark cut shot to devastating effect.  Greenidge has said that hitting a cricket ball hard was a compensation for the racism that he experienced when he came to England with his family as a child, and boy did he hit it hard that day.

Other memories also stand out:  Viv Richard’s blistering 189 in the  one-day test at Old Trafford on the same tour – an innings of laughable brilliance; watching the late Malcolm Marshall bowl on an overcast day in 1988, gold chain on his chest as he came in with that beautiful swinging stride before unleashing the ball at fearsome speed and accuracy, while a West Indies fan rang a bell behind me and shouted ‘ For whom the bell tolls Gooch, it tolls for thee.’

These were the kinds of memories I had when the West Indies came to England in 2000.  It was the first tour I’d seen since the 1980s, having lived in Spain for much of the previous decade, and even though I knew that the Windies weren’t as good as they had been, I thought that an encounter with the old enemy would rouse them once again to greatness.

Instead England completely outplayed them.   The key moment came in the West Indies second innings, when they were undone by the England swing bowlers bowled out for 54 in less than a couple of hours, with only one batsman reaching double figures.

To those of us who saw the summer of 1976 and the ‘blackwash’ tours of the 1980s it was a shocker, and things haven’t got much better since.  Now the West Indies have become the underdogs and this summer – or at least what passes for a summer – they are here again for a three-day tour whose beginnings are even more inauspicious than usual.

In seven days the Windies are due to start the series, even though they have so far only played one warm-up match – in Jamaica.  Last weekend a game against Sussex was cancelled due to bad weather.

Meanwhile three West Indies players are stranded in the Caribbean because they have so far not been able to get visas from Her Majesty’s government.  The reasons have yet to yet to be explained, but the delay appears to be partly due to the UK’s neurotic obsession with immigration and security that has become only too familiar in the last week.

Though a spokesman for the team has claimed that ‘The rules have become more stringent due to the Olympics, and we’re still working on getting that sorted,’ the missing three players will have a lot to do in a very short time to become match fit.

As a result the squad consists of eleven players only, one of whom has a niggling back injury, raising the prospect that 50-year-old tour manager Richie Richardson may have to play as twelfth man.   Unpromising doesn’t even begin to describe it.

West Indies fans are harsh and demanding critics of their team, and many of them are not enamoured with the West Indies cricket board.  A few samples from the cricketing website give an indication of the dominant tone:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Of what relevance is a warm up match in Jamaica this weekend of any use given the conditions in England.  I am sick of these incompetent morons.
Grow a pair Imran Khan and di earnest one[/stextbox]

[stextbox id=”alert”]Wuh happened…dem bhais don’t have UK visas yet?  passports expired?[/stextbox]

[stextbox id=”alert”]So British Press may pick it up today.  Scandalous !!!!!!  But de mafia believes dem moving fahwud !!!![/stextbox]

[stextbox id=”alert”]I want to laugh and I can’t .I want to cry and then I laugh  lol  lol  lol
What the hell is going on here.  [/stextbox]

[stextbox id=”alert”]Inept, Incompetent, unfit… hold on let me get my thesaurus…. unsuitable, foolish, silly,not apt or fit  [/stextbox]

Well, you can see their point.  And I hope that when (if?) the missing three players eventually get here, the West Indies manage to do something astounding once again and overthrow the world’s number one cricketing nation.

But that would be miraculous, and the age of sporting miracles is long gone.


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  1. Ken

    8th May 2012 - 7:54 pm

    Is this the same illustrious game for plucky underdogs played by jailed Pakistani internationals, England’s Westfield (just released), South African Hansie Kronje (2000)? Only last month it was reported that last year’s WC semi between India and Pakistan was in fact, ‘set up’?

    This is corporate business paying gladiatorial big bucks to corrupt guys with a narrow talent for hitting a ball with a bat, or throwing it reasonably adroitly. The Olympic ideal may have gone the way of the toga, but ‘sporting miracles’ are still there to be had – if you’re rich, corrupt and enjoy manipulating pawns into giving in to their own short term greed, over the collective values of the ‘team’: fair play under the same rules for all, an equitable sharing of both success and failure … I feel an allegory coming on!

    • Matt

      8th May 2012 - 9:47 pm

      It is indeed the same game Ken, but times, as you rightly point out, have long since changed, and the West Indies are no longer an exception to the general trend…

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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