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The gentleman’s game?

The gentleman’s game?


One of the first things we were taught about cricket was that it was a ‘Gentleman’s game’, with emphasis on supposed “fairness’ and a “level playing field”. Apart from the Caribbean’s on-field experiences in the international arena, where there are glaring contradictions to these noble principles, the concept of ‘Gentleman’ itself has always been a myth.

We have just commemorated Emancipation Day, emancipation from slavery imposed by those very ‘Gentlemen’. That blot on human history also involved physical and sexual abuse of not just adult men and women of African origin, but worse, of children and even infants as well. There was certainly no level playing field for the enslaved.

A similar system of unequal relations developed in cricket itself. Indeed, in England which claims ownership of the game, there was a demarcation of cricketers along the line of Gentlemen and Players, the latter being those who earned their living from the game while the “Gentlemen” belonged to the upper classes and university-educated ranks.

Official games between representatives of these two groups took place annually at Lord’s right up until 1962. Side by side with this class division was discrimination for it was not until 1952 that a professional cricketer, Len Hutton, later to be knighted, became the first professional captain of England.

When cricket was introduced in the colonies the discriminating division of labour, and privileges, came with it. A game which took up the best part of the working day was clearly meant for the privileged classes and there is evidence that “black boys” on the plantation came in handy in bowling to the white slave owners and plantation bosses. It took nearly another decade after Hutton became England’s captain, before a black man, Frank Worrell, himself later knighted, could be appointed by the white cricketing power structure as captain of the West Indies cricket team.

In keeping with imperial policy, international cricket has, off the field, always been controlled by a minority of nations, until recently mainly white. That power structure also dictated the laws of the game and manipulated them on occasions to suit their own interests. Many seasoned cricket writers have charged that the West Indies suffered in this regard, as in the restrictions imposed on our fast bowlers.

However modern developments and capitalist reality have forced changes in the global cricketing power structure.

India with a billion-plus population and huge television market, has forced itself into the cricketing elite which has seen the emergence of a “Big Three” – India, England and Australia, and the rest. This trio now dictates the scheduling of tours and take the lion’s share of international proceeds. The “lesser” nations like the West Indies, with limited television markets are very dependent on these.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reinforced this division in world cricket. For instance, after losing the recent series to England, the major concern of West Indies cricket was expressed succinctly by captain Jason Holder when he raised fears for the future of cricket in countries like ours which cannot afford to finance “Bubble” tours.

The West Indies have suffered from the cancellation of tours, to Australia and by South Africa, all to accommodate the “cash cow” of international cricket, the Indian Professional League (IPL). There is certainly nothing “gentlemanly” about these developments, nor fairness in ensuring a just distribution of proceeds.