THIS week, I depart from politics. The West Indies cricket team is currently doing what it has done for the last two decades — make a mess of our once proud cricket history. It is not that we have been losing, but it is the seeming unconnectedness of our cricketers that has been so hard to swallow. My approach to cricket goes beyond runs and wickets. It is premised on the Jamesian approach, which was continued by Tim Hector and currently finds voice in the work of Professor Hilary Beckles. This approach conceptualises cricket as more than a game of bat and ball on the field of play and locates it in the wider historical struggles of the Caribbean and its quest for nationhood and freedom.
The indomitable CLR James made this case in his classic Beyond the Boundary, which should be mandatory reading for every West Indian cricketer and every West Indian schoolchild. The West Indian cricket tradition is the finest in the West Indian tradition– it is largely about a people who transformed a tool of subjugation, domination and cultural genocide into a medium of resistance, liberation and counter-hegemony. West Indians democratised a game that was a form of class domination in England and race domination overseas. It is about the least wealthy and most consistently dominated nation producing the most successful team in only its second decade of post-plantationhood.
This is remarkable. This is more than bat and ball. This is the highest expression of freedom. Any conversation about West Indies cricket outside of this context amounts to little more than empty chat. This, unfortunately, is where we have been these past few weeks. I am less concerned about figuring out who is wrong and who is right. As the liberative poetic voice of our Caribbean, Martin Carter, observed, “All are Involved/All are consumed.”
The Frank Worrell, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards teams took Caribbean nationalism, in all its manifestations, wherever they played. When other teams confronted the West Indies, they competed with five million Caribbean people and a fierce commitment to overcoming past injustices. In effect, the West Indies created a new cricket praxis that was firmly rooted in the Caribbean quest to free itself from the causes and consequences of global inhumanity. These were mostly Black and Brown men from the social bottom who carried on their shoulders the burden of resistance, freedom and creativity on behalf of an entire society. But, what was crucial was that they had the capacity to recognise the relationship between their individual skills and their socio-political responsibilities. Their exploits created new generations of Caribbean people who looked the world in its eyes as equals.
Caribbean cricket is in trouble today, not because we don’t have cricketers with natural skills, but because our cricketers are unable to marry those skills with a larger social responsibility. Despite their natural skills, they are immobilised, unable to turn possibilities into victories. We have departed from our historical path. Undaunted, we continue to shout down and shut down each other in the name of “monied justice.” Let the political calypsonian-poet, Chalkdust, speak to and about us: “Though slavery gone/And the toils done/Some white people/Still having fun/For there are black folks/Who by their works/Still providing the whites with jokes.”
To understand the present, the past, including the recent past, must be invoked. Viv Richards and Brian Lara, the two greatest batsmen of our post-colonial experience, have had different impacts, both on the team’s success and as captains — one was a nationalist and the other was an individualist. Both represented personal triumph, but whereas Richards also represented Caribbean triumph, Lara represented decline. Lara’s personal triumph did not contribute to a continuation of the West Indian triumph that made him possible. Rather, it was accompanied by the decline of West Indies cricket. This is not about Lara the individual; it is about what he represented in the larger Caribbean context.
The transition from Lara to Gayle was inevitable. Like Lara, Gayle and his comrades are products of an age of individualism that has become dominant in Caribbean society. The destruction of Caribbean nationalism by external and internal forces has had damning consequences for our cricket, for it was that well of nationalism that produced the cricketers of the Worrell, Sobers, Lloyd and Richards eras. Cultural identity and national pride have been replaced by the nomadic individual, whose relationship to his brother and sister is determined solely by his personal needs. This is manifested even at the larger national level, as is evidenced by the Barbadian attitude to “illegal” immigration.
If nationalism was pivotal to the success of the team, then it is logical that its decline would be followed by lack of success.
The WICB’s response to the decline of our cricket has been to resort to authoritarianism and a neo-liberal “business” approach to economic management reminiscent of governance in the larger West Indian society. The coupling of this approach with the rampant individualism of the players is what has brought us to the current impasse. Not that the WICB has ever been a fountain of commonsense and nationalism, but it has progressively declined. With all due respect to the Patterson committee, whose recommendations I fully embrace, the real problem lies in the cultural disposition of those who hold high office and their relationship to power– are they servant-leaders or overseers?
In the final analysis, it is we the people who, through our civic and other nationalistic acts, including our advocacy, must create the conditions for accountability which has been absent from the WICB’s praxis. The challenge is to turn the WICB away from a plantation to an anti-plantation culture. To do that we as a people, including our cricket journalists and analysts, must cease the culture of mindless cheerleading and narrow simplistic analyses.
Here in Guyana, our cricket continues to be held to ransom by a small clique. There have not been any elections to the Guyana Cricket Board for almost a decade. Both the previous government and the present one have done nothing to remedy the situation. The culprits are wined and dined in high places. Careers are being destroyed. Does anyone care?
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org