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The hour is upon us

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If you had arrived in Dublin on Saturday, February 24, you could not but have noticed a certain excitement in the air. The atmosphere was pregnant with excitement. Sport was the object of all this attention for Ireland was playing a Big Game on that Saturday. Rugby is not big in St Vinent and the Grenadines, nor many other countries outside the British sphere of influence, but for those nations who play it, the sport means a lot. Ireland contests an annual Six Nations Trophy with England, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy. A lot of national pride is involved here. Further, Ireland, one of the favourites for 2006/07 Trophy had just suffered a last-minute loss to the French by the narrowest possible margin. It was seeking revenge and against whom? England, the 2004 World Cup champions.{{more}}

But this was not just about rugby, not just a sporting contest. A whole lot of history and national aspirations went into making this an extraordinary event. For one, Ireland, like our Caribbean nations, was once a colony of England. Just as the English introduced cricket to us, so too they had introduced rugby to Ireland, which had, and still have with pride, their own Gaelic Games. Enough of a background there, one would think. But there was more, The Ireland-England match was to be played in Dublin’s Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Games.

We not finished yet! For Croke Park was the scene of a massacre by English troops of Irish patriots in 1916, an event etched in the annals of Irish history. Worse, as is customary in international sporting events of today, the national anthem of both teams would have to be played. That meant playing “God Save the Queen” in Croke Park for first time. What heresy! How Sacrilegious! At least those were some of the pre-match comments in the media and on the streets.

It all set the stage for a match of extraordinary significance. The atmosphere was of the proverbial “you could cut with a knife” type. The Park was jammed with tourists pushing tickets for 10, 20 times the original price. Long queues formed outside sports barsa, pubs and hotels. Eyes were glued to the television at home. Even the playing of the Irish anthem brought tears to the eyes of the battle-hardened rugby players, normally considered “toughies” in sport.

Now this is what happens when a national is conscious of its history and aware of its destiny. Every major endeavour, even on the field of sport becomes a national undertaking, not just for those entrusted with the task on-field, but drawing on the support and inspiration of the entire nation and carrying its hopes and dreams on their shoulders. The players can draw deep on the reserves of the people as a whole and seek to defend national pride ad honour.

It is not easy for us, scattered, still divided Caribbean nations. Even in the 21st century we are not yet sure of our identity. When its suits us we are Trinis, Bajans, Jamaicans, Vincies etc. At other times, when those flimsy suits of armour prove inadequate in the international arena, we fall back on a tenuous Caribbean nationhood, at times even extending beyond our Anglo-phone comfort zone to embrace our Spanish-or French-speaking neighbours.

In the field of sports, next week we are in the Caribbean cocoon, or as we are better known (but now less proud of the name), as the West Indies hosting of the World Cup of Cricket. Not only is this our biggest international exposure, but the World Cup has especial meaning for us. It is the trophy that we won so convincingly the first time out in 1975, annihilated the English at Lord’s in 1979 to retain it, and so considered our divine right to it, that the shocking surrender to India in 1983 finals is still perhaps our biggest sporting shock.

Since then we have not put our hands on the coveted trophy. Not that there have not been opportunities but a combination of administrative bungling, selectoral blunders, and irresponsible performances have contrived to keep the trophy out of our hands. Can we not rise to the occasion and reclaim this, our Holy Grail, on our own turf?

On the field that task lies with our cricketers, but they cannot do it alone. They need to dip in the front of our historical legacy, sporting and otherwise. It is essential that they, our administrators, our governments, our officials, volunteers etc. get the support of the entire Caribbean nation. The time for its and buts, rights and wrongs, is past. The hour is upon us! We must rise to the occasion and make a 110 per cent effort to put Caribbean back on the pinnacle of international cricket.

P.S: Just to recall. The Irish drew on the strength of national pride to beat England 43-13. Yes, intangibles can produce tangible results!

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