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Cricket, Cash and Country


by Sir Hilary Beckles Fri, Apr 20. 2012

Reasoning and writing as a West Indian academic, I believe to my brittle bones that the crisis of West Indies cricket performance is first and foremost a crisis of political governance and intellectual disenchantment. It takes the obvious form of player-employer conflict, and is expressed in public acrimony about the role and legitimacy of the WICB. Political leaders have rightly been called to participate behind closed doors, and some have commented assertively on the team selection process. But, wearing the hat with which I write, I am not satisfied that we have cooked the cookie.{{more}}

I believe the smoke generated by the heat has clouded our vision. I believe the steam has blurred our focus and serves as a diversion from the real issue; the crisis of political governance in the West Indies. Meanwhile, the West Indies team, like the boy on the burning deck, continues to falter, its best efforts notwithstanding. ‘Blame the Board’ has become the rallying call, championed by the man roaming the street. The women running the State have called for an investigation into what seems like black masculinity gone wild. We have all been driven into a Caribbean cul-de-sac; all of us! We have made a monumental mess of our reality; a disturbing diffusion of West Indian intellect and energy is daily wasted.

What is the disturbing reality that resides at the core? It is this. The West Indies is the only nation in Test Cricket that currently finds itself unable to place its best team on the field of play. The nation is under-presented. The young and the bright within our sight are not yet the best, and the team on the field is short on depth of experience. There is no doubt, say all the experts at the Oval over the weekend, that our defeat was the result of this circumstance. Indeed, I agreed, that the opportunity to defeat India at home and abroad on recent tours was due precisely to this cause. Mighty Australia, I also agreed, would crumble on this tour were we to field our best team.

Here is the problem. West Indians are the only Test cricketers in the world who are able to successfully reject their national duty in preference for a bigger personal purse. An Australian official informed me that no Australian player if called to the Test team could refuse national representation and survive with respect in the nation. The Prime Minister, the media, the private sector, and civic society would find the choice unacceptable; they would describe it a rejection of citizenship; an abandonment of the nation. The same political circumstance no doubt applies to England, S. Africa, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Such a player would be divested of house and happiness in India; and maybe a great deal more.

Why the West Indian player? The principal political feature of West Indian society at this time is best described in terms of citizens refusing to accept the right of the State to enforce public discipline in order to safeguard the nationalist agenda. ‘Citizen versus country’ is now the primary conflict; ‘self versus society’ is the form this conflict takes. West Indian political leaders and academics should understand and be galvanized by the significance of this for the role of national representation in the ongoing project of nation-building.

Why are we divided? The public, in large part, believes that cricketers should have the right to choose, and to make additional money whenever, and wherever cricket is played. Some political leaders have said that the player should not be criticized for putting the nation on the back burner. Not many academics have voiced concern that the rejection of the constitutional expectation by cricketers, as citizens, to represent the nation as a primary social goal, has become a course of action that unites players and publics. The academic community is divided and tilts in support of player liberty at the expense of team victory. The intellectual discourse that surrounds challenges in the regional integration movement, and the diminished appeal of West Indian nationalism as a public good, has not taken the cricket crisis on board. Yet, it is plain to see that in the cricket arena these governance issues are most clearly expressed.

Through the gaze of the cricket craze we can see that West Indian nationhood is in deep trouble. Cricketers are the frontline crusaders of a revived carnivalization of the West Indian mind that produces the “we like it so mentality’ which our greatest calypsonian philosophers have urged us to avoid. The rampant market supremacy sensibility that says we must give way to unrestricted individualism lies at the heart of cricketers’ choices. Unfortunately for the cricket fraternity, and the rest of us, the world we seek to conquer on the field of play is entertained by our public governance gone mad. Gayle gone, Narine not there, Samuels slip away, and Bravo is a businessman, say the Aussies with glee. They all pray that the recent political intervention will not bring home the bacon, leaving egg on our faces.

What is our fear? We fear that the West Indies will not rise from its lowly status as long as this political reality remains the norm. So long as citizens are empowered to reject the nation in preference to marginal materialism, and be upheld in some quarters as heroes, the West Indies cricket team will remain in the basement of the pyramid where our legends (the Headley – Constantine foundation, to the 3Ws and Sobers eruption, the Lloyd-Richard galactic journey, on to the Lara-Walsh-Ambrose savors) are mummified.

The Test team is missing six vital stars, who, were they available consistently this past year, could have lifted the team to the top tier of the troubled tree. Each one has expressed a love for team and country, but none is willing to sacrifice for the team and country he loves. Instead, the crisis of representation is cleverly manipulated to achieve some individualistic ends. The WICB that has made many historical errors, despite its best and noble efforts of late, is crucified on an old wooden cross on account of a view which says “once guilty, always guilty”. The WICB is now a low hanging fruit, easily picked by every passing pundit not willing to think beyond the drab press it receives even when fault lies elsewhere.

We love cricket and cricketers, and wish the West Indian legacy of excellence restored and respected. In 1995 the intellectually brilliant Michael Manley, then too ill to write another classic work, summoned me to Jamaica to discuss the future of West Indies cricket. He saw the tsunami coming! He insisted that I write about the trends discussed. I had no choice. He was insistent. And I did. Out came a book in 1998: “The Development of West Indies Cricket: The Age of Globalization”. At the time there was no 20-20; no IPL; no Big Bash; no rejection of country for cash! But we saw it coming! We ran with words into the street to warn the nation. No one listened! It was a classic Noah moment. Then the rain came.

The thesis was bold. The global commercialization of cricket will only subvert and destroy the West Indian team because only in the West Indies is our national resolve so weak and fragmented that it will not withstand the power of the cricket carnival. This, Michael Manley insisted, was the failure of political parties to celebrate and consolidate cricketers’ consciousness in the aftermath of the Viv Richards–Michael Holding revolutionary stance against apartheid, a leadership moment that saved our collective dignity as West Indians.

The WICB, I perceived, would pay the price for what is really a political crisis that rests within the cradle of CARICOM. I happily joined the WICB in order to help with the crafting of an education response as a countering force. We now have the HPC and we have eyes set upon a brighter day.

But these are the words I wrote in 1998, long before the storm blew in upon our home.

“Cricket heroes will …not wish to carry the burden of responsibility for nationalist pride, regional integration, and the viability of the nation state. They see themselves as apolitical, transnational, global professionals, who desire to maximize financial earnings within attractive markets, and are motivated and guided by no other consideration … They consider the nation state as an oppressive rather than a liberating force towards which they feel suspicion rather than sentiment… The post–Richards generation, then, … represents an unfettered economic individualism within cricket, a mentality that is consistent with the general policy and practice of the post-IMF supported nation states”.

So here we are, seeking to nurture the young and to rebuild the house. To this end, captain Sammy has a mandate; to revitalize the heart, soul, and mind of the cricket enterprise. He is a mighty warrior confronting global force with his team of little heroes. He is a leader charged with saying what each West Indian leader should say to cricketers: put your country first; play for your nation; you are given a competitive salary; the pursuit of more is too costly to the community. Sammy is the Worrell-like figure, leading a youthful West Indies team through the political debris that blinds us all. Worrell was called to lead during and after the crisis we call the federation fiasco. He picked up the pieces and restored West Indian order at the centre of the calamity. Sammy is a powerful mind; a gladiator in the arena, staring down the lions with dignity in the face of death.

Can we imagine our world after Sammy? After Sammy, then what? Then who? The desert closes in upon the dream that was once West Indian pride. The young ones – Bravo junior, Baugh, Edwards, Bonner, and many others, all have our future dignity in their hands. But while our city burns we dance to a tune played upon a fiddle rather than the steel pan and drum. Will we rise from the ashes? Not within this political environment. Until such time as our cricketers are told firmly by political leaders and pundits that the ruling West Indian philosophy is “country before cash” and “WI before IPL”, we shall dream of a time not in the future but distant past.