Cricket in the Caribbean
More than a game
Cricket was imported to the West Indies by the British at the beginning of the 19th century. According to historians, it was a sport for the elite, an institution of ‘high culture for the civilized’. Throughout the Caribbean, club cricket was established to ensure British cultural dominance and social respectability.
During the first West Indies’ tour of the United Kingdom in 1900, the entire team was white; captained and managed by ‘white men of dubious cricketing ability’. Players were selected for the colour of their skin and social status and not for their talent.
It was in the 1940’s that the dominance of non-white West Indians began to have an impact. In 1959 the first black man, Frank Worrell from Trinidad, was named captain of the West Indies side, a decision based on his talent. This was largely due to the pressure brought to bear on the selectors by people like C.L.R. James, journalist and author of the cricketing reference book, “Beyond a Boundary”. The white elite opposed this decision.
Caribbean researchers conclude that the desire of the coloured and black communities to impose their own style on cricket seems to have evolved in direct proportion to the colonialist’s determination to establish it as the exclusive domain of propertied, educated and well-bred, white citizens.
Cricket became a sort of civil rights struggle. Through the game, West Indians fought for democracy and social justice. Sir Vivian Richards, former West Indies captain and one of the world’s finest batsmen states that ‘playing cricket is in itself a political action.’ According to a University of the West Indies report: “When first Frank Worrell…and then later Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards in the 1970’s and 80’s led the West Indies to a dominant position in world cricket, it built our stature as a people both in our own eyes and in the eyes of others.’
Indeed, under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd from Guyana, the West Indies team acquired an unparalleled winning record in international cricket. West Indians have usurped the Englishman’s cricket. The former colonies have beaten the master at his own game.
As a result of its psychological importance, cricket and its history are taught at the University of the West Indies. The University of St. Georges in Grenada has created a cricket academy for promising regional players.
The latest evolution of the game is women’s cricket that began in the 1970’s. Despite encouragement from male counterparts, such as West Indies’ fast bowler Michael Holding and Viv Richards, the West Indies Cricket Board has yet to issue a policy on the development of female cricket. Chauvinistic attitudes automatically marginalize the women’s game. It is now the females who are struggling for recognition within a male-centered world that sees them as competition.
In St. Lucia, the cricket scene was equally dominated by what Stanley French, an avid cricket fan and writer calls “the aristocracy of the skin.” There was only one official club practice ground in the capital, Castries. At the Marchand Grounds, the St. Lucia Cricket Club, the bourgeois side, worked out next to the less wealthy clubs such as Hollywood Cricket Club, New Park and the Castries Athletic Club, the latter made up of clerks and civil servants. The police force also had their team.
When it came to selecting national teams, French remembers that “once the bourgeois part of the team was chosen the serious players were then considered.”
Despite an impoverished cricket circuit with little structure and a weak club life, cricket has always been popular in St. Lucia. A lot of money changed hands as heavy betting was a part of every match. However, there was little formal coaching and most players were self-taught. It is perhaps a result of such weak infrastructure that cricketers from the Windward and Leeward islands have rarely been selected to play at international level. The majority of athletes on the West Indies side traditionally come from Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados.
Yet St. Lucians remain faithful. The private and public sectors come to a standstill when an international match is played on the island. St. Lucia shuts down for cricket. Sunday beach cricket matches are occasions to emulate the batting and bowling styles of Caribbean sportsmen.
The Beausejour Cricket Ground in the north of St. Lucia is a first class facility, built to host international competition. It was also designed to revive an interest in cricket as the sport was rapidly losing ground to football and even basketball.
This type of investment in cricket has enabled the Caribbean to host the International Cricket World Cup in 2007. Since the inception of the championships more than 30 years ago, this is the first time that the event has come to the region.
Research and Reference: Liberation Cricket; Beckles.
Beyond a Boundary; CLR James