For several years now I have been extremely concerned about the state of the game of cricket in Barbados!
The alarm bells really began to ring for me back in the year of 2008, when, in a Test match at Kensington Oval against Australia, only one Barbadian cricketer was able to make the eleven that suited up for the West Indies. And what made that statistic particularly worrying was that the West Indies was fielding one of the weakest teams in the entire history of West Indies Test cricket!
It had become clear back then that the game of cricket had declined badly in our country, for, as we all know, there was once a time when Barbados could boast of contributing some nine players to the West Indies world-beating team of the mid to late 1960s. Indeed, this, and other similar outstanding facts, led the great Caribbean philosopher C.L.R. James, to declare, in 1969, that “Barbados has established a tradition that today is the strength, not only of Barbados, but of the West Indian people”.
I was therefore forced to ask myself the following all important question: “What are the implications of the decline of that tradition for Barbados?”
And this question was so compelling in the case of Barbados because, of all the West Indian territories, Barbados is the one whose “national culture” is most firmly based on the game of cricket!
I couldn’t help but reason that if the cricket culture and tradition of Barbados had declined so drastically, then there had to be an implication that the national culture and tradition of Barbados had declined as well.
You see, since at least the middle of the 19th century, the game of cricket had been at the very centre of the “civilization” that we managed to construct for ourselves in this sugar and slavery-dominated island. In fact, the game of cricket had been a real godsend for our Barbadian forefathers, entrapped as they were in a post-slavery prison of racist and dehumanizing economic, social, political and cultural conditions.
Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that cricket descended upon Barbados in the mid 19th century as
a virtual “cultural saviour” of the oppressive little British colony that Barbados was at that time.
The crassly materialistic and philistinic ruling culture of the dominant white Barbadian planter class only began to crack in the latter half of the 19th century with the arrival in Barbados of pioneering English educators and priests who were determined to develop a new school culture based on the English “public school” ethic of organized sports and so-called “muscular Christianity”.
Men like Horace Deighton at Harrison College and, later, Oliver Emtage at The Lodge and Reverend T. Lyall Speed at Combermere used the game of cricket to fashion a secondary school system of character training that emphasized discipline, loyalty, self-reliance and a sense of honour.
From these beginnings in the elite schools, a Barbadian cricket culture blossomed and grew outwards to embrace the entire society –– “white” clubs like Wanderers and Pickwick; “black” clubs like Spartan and Empire; the Frame Food Cricket Competition of the working class; the middle and upper class Barbados Cricket Association; the grass-roots and village based Barbadian Cricket League; and the cricketers themselves, ranging from the black George Francis and the white George Challenor of the 1920s to such latter day immortals as the three Ws (Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Everton Weekes and Sir Clyde Walcott), Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Conrad Hunte, Sir Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Seymour Nurse, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Joel Garner, Malcom Marshall and the list goes on.
And as the game and culture of cricket developed in Barbados, it came to fulfill several needs in the society –– educational, moral, social and artistic!
There can be no doubt, for example, that the game played a critical role in helping to break down social and racial barriers, and to nurture a democratizing impulse in a fundamentally racist and class-ridden Barbadian society.
In addition, cricket played a “civilizing” role in Barbados, in the traditional sense of fostering artistic development and nurturing elevated cultural sensibilities. Indeed, C.L.R James has argued persuasively in his groundbreaking book entitled Beyond A Boundary, that cricket, as it developed in a society like Barbados, was a communal art form that filled the need of the masses of people for the stimulus and vitality that is uniquely provided by the arts.
Thus, cricket developed in Barbados as a dramatic spectacle belonging in the same artistic category as the theatre, ballet, opera or the dance, and providing for its mass audience a representation and playing out of the elemental human activities, qualities and emotions. Cricket in Barbados therefore became a mass “visual and performing art”, evoking in ordinary Barbadians the same heightening of vitality and capacity that appreciation of the fine arts typically provides for the middle and upper class lovers of art.
And so, the palpable and undeniable decline in the game –– both in the quality of the players and in the game’s mass appeal –– was an extremely negative portent for Barbados. However, I am pleased to be able to report that events over the past few weeks have started to rekindle my sense of hope in Barbados cricket!
First of all, there was the inspiring spectacle of Joel “Big Bird” Garner demonstrating real leadership and a profound sense of responsibility, by taking on the disastrous incumbent paramount leader of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Dave Cameron, for the crucial post of president. Mr Garner did Barbados and the long-suffering, cricket-loving people of the West Indies proud by his courageous effort to stand up for the principle of leadership accountability, and to demonstrate that there is a genuine indigenous model of committed and patriotic leadership that can constitute an alternative to the cronyism of the self-centred, self-promoting and irresponsible social in-group that now dominates the leadership of our regional game.
Mr Garner may have lost the election, but he has given us hope that the great institution of West Indies cricket can still be saved, and that Barbados can play a crucial role in that noble mission.
Also giving us hope is the flowering of new, young, outstanding cricketing talent in Barbados! Just take a look at the roster of impressive young cricketers who are now doing senior national duty for Barbados –– Kraigg Brathwaite, Shae Hope, Kevin Stoute, Shane Dowrich, Shamar Brooks, Kyle Corbin, Jonathan Carter, Ronson Chase, Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite, Miguel Cummins and Jomel Warrican –– all of them in their early to mid 20s.
Clearly, Barbados now possesses the youngest, the most talented, and at the same time, the most promising cricket team in the West Indies! Kudos is therefore in order for president Joel Garner and other members of his Barbados Cricket Association executive, for it seems that our cricket is on the move once again and is moving in the right direction.
If we –– the people of Barbados –– possess any sense of the importance of this game called cricket to our national culture and to our prospects of developing a truly sovereign, self-respecting and culturally strong Barbadian nation and Caribbean civilization, we will bestir ourselves and make a renewed effort to nurture and develop these
new signs of hope!
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)