The crowd was small. Appreciative. Very. But too small, given the purpose and promise of the event and its key players.
They saw the first of two victories in three days at Kensington Oval for the World T20 champions, West Indies Women – ranked at number four in the ICC World Championship. First, they crushed South Africa Women in the Third One Day International to level the series 1-1 and share the series trophy.
The game featured stellar performances with bat, ball and fielding, as WIW amassed their second-highest ODI total, including a maiden ODI hundred by the young bright delight of women’s cricket, the 20-year-old Hayley Matthews.
They then mowed down the opposition with penetrative bowling and near flawless fielding by a crushing 115 runs.
And then, today, they returned to the scene of Saturday’s massacre to dispatch the opposition again, this time by 17 runs in the first of three T20Is, as they prepare to mount a defence of their title when the Women’s World T20 comes to the region from November 9-24. Crowd: miniscule.
This team of highly competent and extremely fit athletes, many of whom have distinguished themselves in other sports before being called up to West Indies duty, have done as much if not more than the senior men’s team to keep the words “champions” and “West Indies” in the same sentence for the last decade.
They feature some of the most extraordinary players of the game anywhere in the globe, including Deandra Dottin, the scorer of the fastest 100 by any professional cricketer anywhere, a record that stood for five years – itself a near-eternity in modern sport. Anisa Mohammed is the world’s leading wicket-taker in women’s T20Is, at 106, far ahead of any international rival.
They are just two gems in a packed cupboard of talent that is redolent of the burgeoning West Indies men’s team of the Clive Lloyd-Viv Richards reign of terror from 1975-1995. This is no hype.
And we would do well to not merely note but examine, embrace and celebrate WIW as they prepare to defend their place as the T20 World champions, after setting down a challenge of achievement for the men’s senior team in 2016.
It continues to distress us that West Indians seem to be abandoning the beloved game that nurtured their fractured identity, fought enemy racism more effectively than any militant’s roadside bomb, and taught one quarter of the world how to put two words, cricket and carnival, joyously and profitably in the same sentence.
It is the central thesis of noted historian, Keith AP Sandiford, author of Cricket and the Victorians, that the English brought out the three C’s to the colonial school in the Victorian era – Cricket, Christianity and the Cane (not sugar but the rod of correction variety). Theirs was the hope of civilizing a newly-emancipated people – from whom they had tried long to strip civilization.
But they were the Victorians, after all, imbued with notions of imperialism as a force for good, fed on a diet of the bogus and deeply racist science of eugenics. They just didn’t know any better.
So as they set up school, then club, colonial and ultimately intercolonial cricket, the English planted many of the seeds of racial prejudice; batsmen, for example, were bright so they must be white. Blacks were merely good enough to chuck balls.
So it took George Headley, the first black man ever to captain a West Indies cricket team, to shatter rampant racist notions in the inter-war years, earning him the moniker, the Black Donald Bradman. Any comparison of records makes a compelling case for his Aussie contemporary to have been labelled the white Headley.
Another renowed historian, UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, has made an academic industry out of recording, chapter and verse, how WI cricket mirrored the astounding changes being wrought in the Anglophone Caribbean people’s march to self-determination, nationalism and postcolonial relevance.
Cricket, then, is a big deal for the Caribbean civilization showing how a people fractured by failed federation, self-doubt and suspicion can yet punch above their weight-class in forging a distinct identity of peace, love and soul in a crowded, violent world.
Which brings us to the last bogeyman yet to be slain by West Indies cricket and, by extension, West Indian society: sexism.
West Indies Women are a shining vanguard of a people whose women have long been at the centre of society but on the periphery of power. It’s time that changes, past time for a mentality upgrade. Our perception of their might, majesty and worth needs to match their over-achievement.
There needs to be a more cogent and coherent development plan – backed by dollar-for-dollar investment in which young girls are given ample opportunity through school, club and national structures with coaching and competition.
A girl good enough to play with the boys should not attract the deeply hurtful discrimination, prejudice and suspicion of fans, parents and fellow cricketers.
The West Indies Women deserve no token attention. They have proved more than worthy of a better deal in marketing dollars, television viewership figures and bums on seats. And they really are that good. They really are. For ten years, they have quietly pointed the way to a revival of our fortunes, in so many spheres beyond a boundary.
Is it not time, then, for a ‘WeToo’ movement, making a joyful noise about Caribbean creative genius and productivity? West Indies Women have something to say to us about unleashing the power of half the population too long relegated to the boundary of our social, economic and political realm, now and for the sake of girls yet unborn.
For what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?