Monday, 5 March 2012

Economic History of Sport: Calypso Cricket

Master Blaster
Despite the short lived duration of the West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962, the patchwork of sugar and rum ex-British Colonies have come together to represent West Indies Cricket under one flag for the past century.

From Jamaica to Guyana, an arc of almost 2000 miles, Cricket has dominated the national psyche, common heritage, and has been an outlet towards a wholesome identity, never more so encapsulated then by the Calypso spirit that pervades these disparate islands. From Learie Constantine, later Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson, to Sir Garfield Sobers and the ever magnanimous Brian Lara, Cricket in the Windies has been of a calibre which lingers on the jaunty to the feisty.

In a time dominated by apartheid South Africa and racial tensions in the US, West Indies Cricket came together in the late 70s under the fatherly figure of Clive Lloyd. Recovering from a 5-1 hammering in Australia, the Windies regrouped under his leadership. Mr Lloyd went around the Caribbean scouting for a bowling lineup comparable to the then Aussie pace attack of Lillee and Thomson, who were reputed to bowl at hundred miles an hour.

In Holding, Garner, Croft, Marshall, and Roberts, the Windies set alight the cricketing world. Between February 1980 and March 1995, the inimitable Windies did not loose any Test Match Series. Sir Vivian Richards, pictured above, dignified this dominance by his ruthless batting, and later shrewd captaincy. A series of 'Blackwashes' followed on the mother country: England. Not even the dominant Aussies of later years were able to thrash England in England with such ease and finesse.

From being a White Sport played exclusively by plantation owners and the landed gentry, where Blacks would be used as fielding substitutes or to fetch the ball from the sugar cane fields, Sir Frank Worrell led the first Black team into field in any global sport in 1960. A source of pride for the newly independent nations and the unheard of downtrodden masses from Soweto to Memphis, Tennessee.

C.L.R. James published in 1963 what is still the best writing on Cricket and probably in any Sport. In Beyond the Boundary, he asks: "What do they know of Cricket who only Cricket know?"; setting the stage for a cultural and historical exposition into the game reaching into issues of class and race. In a later post, I will write of the parallel developments in English Society reflected by the slow relaxation of divisions in English Cricket between Professionals and Amateurs.

In summary, Cricket in the Caribbean has been a lens into the Economic History of these medley of sun-drenched nations that have in the past half-century dealt with issues of identity and culture; and through Cricket have had a shared yearning to resolve these conflicts by coming together as one in the field of play.