Broadening the discourse beyond the boundary
Mon, Aug 10, '09
commentary by DAVID HINDS
This commentary addresses three interrelated issues—Trinidad’s boycott of the WICB meeting and the secession calls coming from that country, the captaincy of the West Indies team and the importance of cricket beyond the boundary. My previous commentary was meant to push the discourse about the current impasse away from the narrow context in which it has found itself. This, to mind, is important for a proper understanding and resolution of the problem. The point I am driving at is that the impasse cannot and should not be seen in a narrow player vs. management terms. To do so is to arrive at narrow conclusions which apportion blame and create a situation of guilt and innocence which is unhelpful to the mediation process. This is not to say that that there is not enough blame to share around. But it’s this inflexibility that doomed the Federation five decades ago and drowned the Grenadian revolution in blood two decades later.
The drumbeat of secession coming out of Trinidad is reminiscent of a sickening but all too familiar West Indian flaw—our seeming penchant for willful self destruction. Its as if we think that all quarrels should be settled with spite and vengeance. In this regard Trinidad’s boycott of the WICB’s meeting is at best unhelpful. While boycott can be seen and is probably meant to pressure the WICB to change course, in conditions of heightened conflict such action could well have the opposite effect. All parties should take advice from Darren Sammy—“the game is bigger than me.” I don’t think hardball politics from any side, at least in the short term, is the answer as it exposes a fragile side of Caribbean culture that has not in the past fared well under pressure. The fact is that whenever we have won anything or triumphed over adversity it has been as a united Caribbean nation. We either embrace that history or go the way of the Federation and the Grenadian revolution. It is ironical that while the Trinidad and Tobago government is moving towards closer unity with the OECS, the Trinidad cricket board is boycotting and entertaining talk of secession? Lack of overarching national values, maybe.
My approach to cricket goes beyond runs and wickets. It is premised on the Jamesian approach, which was continued by Tim Hector and currently finds voice in the work of Professor Hilary Beckles. This approach conceptualizes cricket as more than a game of bat and ball on the field of play and locates it in the wider historical struggles of the Caribbean and its quest for nationhood and freedom. The indomitable CLR James made this case in his classic Beyond a Boundary, which should be mandatory reading for every West Indian cricketer and every West Indian schoolchild. West Indian cricket is the finest in the West Indian tradition—it is largely about a people who transformed a tool of subjugation, domination and cultural genocide into a medium of resistance, liberation and counter-hegemony. West Indians democratized a game that was a form of class domination in England and race domination overseas. It is about the least wealthy and most consistently dominated cricket nation producing the most successful team in only its second decade of post-plantationhood. This is remarkable. This is more than bat and ball. This is the highest expression of freedom. Any conversation about West Indies cricket outside of this context amounts to little more than empty chat. This, unfortunately, is where we have been these past few weeks. I am less concerned about figuring out who is wrong and who is right. As the liberative poetic voice of our Caribbean, Martin Carter, observed, “All are Involved/All are consumed.”
The Frank Worrell, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards teams took Caribbean nationalism, in all its manifestations, wherever they played. When other teams confronted the West Indies they competed with five million Caribbean people and a fierce commitment to overcoming past injustices. In effect, the West Indies created a new cricket praxis that was firmly rooted in the Caribbean quest to free itself from the causes and consequences of global inhumanity. These were mostly Black and Brown men from the social bottom who carried on their shoulders the burden of resistance, freedom and creativity on behalf of an entire society. But, what was crucial was that they had the capacity to recognize the relationship between their individual skills and their socio-political responsibilities. Their exploits created new generations of Caribbean people who looked the world in its eyes as equals.
Caribbean cricket is in trouble today, not because we don’t have cricketers with natural skills, but because our cricketers are unable to marry those skills with a larger social responsibility. Despite their natural skills they are immobilized, unable to turn possibilities into victories. We have departed from our historical path—this is what Mike Atherton was reminding us about in that brilliant commentary some weeks ago. With all due respect to Atherton, when an Englishman has to remind West Indians of their identity and historical duty, something is radically wrong. Calypsonian Gypsy’s “children of the revolution” of Bro Valentino’s “roaring 70s” and the likes of James, Bishop, Rodney, Dagga, Kwayana, Hector, Odlum and others of that moment must be wondering what has hit our Caribbean. Undaunted, we continue to shout down and shut down each other in the name of “monied justice.” Let the political clypsonian-poet, Chalkdust, speak to and about us—“Though slavery gone/And the toils done/Some white people/Still having fun/For there are black folks/Who by their works/Still providing the whites with jokes”
To understand the present, the past, including the recent past, has to be invoked. Vv Richards and Brian Lara, the two greatest batsmen of our post-colonial experience, have had different impacts both on the team’s success and as captains--one was a nationalist and the other was an individualist. Both represented personal triumph but whereas Richards also represented Caribbean triumph Lara represented decline. Lara’s personal triumph did not contribute to a continuation of the West Indian triumph that made him possible. Rather, it was accompanied by the decline of West Indies cricket. This is not about Lara the individual; it is about what he represented in the larger Caribbean context.
FROM LARA TO GAYLE
The transition from Lara to Gayle was inevitable. Like Lara, Gayle and his comrades are products of an age of individualism that has become dominant in Caribbean society. The destruction of Caribbean nationalism by external and internal forces has had damning consequences for our cricket, for it was that well of nationalism that produced the cricketers of the Worrell, Sobers, Lloyd and Richards eras. Cultural identity and national pride have been replaced by the nomadic individual whose relationship to his brother and sister is determined solely by his personal needs. This is manifested even at the larger national level, as was recently evidenced by the Barbadian attitude to “illegal” immigration. If nationalism was pivotal to the success of the team then it is logical that its decline would be followed by lack of success.
The WICB’s response to the decline of our cricket has been to resort to authoritarianism and a neo liberal “business” approach to economic management reminiscent of governance in the larger West Indian society. The coupling of this approach with the rampant individualism of the players is what has brought us to the current impasse. Not that the WICB has ever been a fountain of common sense and nationalism, but it has progressively declined. With all due respect to the Patterson committee, whose recommendations I fully embrace, the real problem lies in the cultural disposition of those who hold high office and their relationship to power—are they servant-leaders or overseers? In the final analysis it is we the people who, through our civic and other nationalistic acts, including our advocacy, must create the conditions for accountability which has been absent from the WICB’s praxis. The challenge is to turn the WICB away from a plantation to an anti-plantation culture. To do that we as a people, including our cricket journalists and analysts, must cease the culture of mindless cheerleading and narrow simplistic analysis.
Enter Darren Sammy. It is clear that the WICB’s status-quo has to go. But if the management status-quo goes and the players’ status-quo remains then we are fooling ourselves. There has to be a new dispensation at both levels. Gayle, Sarwan, Bravo etc cannot lead a renewal – they have wittingly and unwittingly become too consumed by the culture of individualism. And they have neither a strong sense of identity nor the native intelligence needed to free themselves from what Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley called “mental slavery.” Through little or no fault of theirs, they are not culturally grounded in the essence of the Caribbean civilization, Caribbean social and cricket history and Caribbean community. This is a problem for our youth in general and points to a colossal failure of both our formal and informal education systems. While we have replaced colonial content with Caribbean content, our education system has generally maintained a colonial perspective which imprisons our young people, including our cricketers.
In times of crisis there is need for leadership with the capacity to rise above the crisis. And because the present crisis is rooted in the wider crisis of Caribbean identity, any new leader must have a clear sense of his/her identity. This is what Darren Sammy, by his attitude and his utterances, seems to represent, if not fully, at least potentially. I am looking not just to his personhood but more importantly to what that represents in a larger socio-cultural context. To my mind he represents the possibility of reclaiming our moment of triumph as a people. Frankly I want Kraig Braithwaite and Andre Creary to emulate Sammy rather than Gayle, Bravo, Sarwan and company. What we need at this juncture is not a narrow “cricket captain” but an inspirational leader steeped in the consciousness of the historical moment. Note, I stress leader—we need more than a captain, we need a leader who can bring to the fore a new culture of leadership in much the same way as Worrell did.
There is the speculation that Sammy’s elevation to the captaincy would be problematic since he is not a regular in the “full strength team.” I am not convinced of that thesis; in fact I reject it. Cricket analysis outside of the context of the larger problem has its place. Perhaps when you are winning you can base your analysis purely on skill or potential skill. In the absence of abundant skill, other factors such as character and consciousness must come into play. My position has always been that the primary qualification for the captaincy should never be whether one can automatically make the team. If you have an outstanding leader whose skill level lags a bit behind some in the team, he makes up the deficit with leadership skills. Leadership also wins games. Remember one Mike Brearley? Also remember that Lloyd assumed the West Indian captaincy during a period when his place in the team was not written in stone.
Even though I am not making an argument for Sammy based on pure cricketing returns, he has not done worse than any member of the present team in that regard. On just cricketing returns, none of the present bunch, except Chanderpaul, should be automatic picks on any proper cricket team. Had it not been for Chanderpaul, who at least saves games, the record over the last decade would be beyond embarrassment. We are talking about a team which has won a mere 17% of the test matches it has played in the last nine years-- approximately the span of the careers of Gayle and Sarwan. On the other hand it has lost a whopping 54%. How one can use the term “full strength” to describe such a team and support their demand for more money is beyond me? How can one argue that Darren Sammy should not be an automatic selection on such a team?
But one of the problems with our contemporary society is our collective haste to embrace mediocrity and limitedness as ultimate standards. This attitude has permeated every aspect of Caribbean life. This is what Malcolm Marshall and Roger Harper saw in West Indies cricket a long time ago. The players embrace mediocrity as the norm and we the fans enable it with our silence and indulgence. One only has to go back a couple of years to read and listen to commentators chatting about how inspirational Gayle was as a captain after the team won a few One Day Internationals. There was never any outcry when the captaincy was taken away from Hooper and Sarwan without any proper explanation. Where were those who now lambaste the WICB? They, of course, went along with the blatant authoritarianism of the same WICB because it fitted into the limited view that the best “rebel” is the best captain. I have no problems with rebels, but there is a qualitative difference between Worrell the authentic cricket Bolshevik and Richards the Black Nationalist on the one hand and the well meaning but ungrounded rebellion of the Lara-Gayle era on the other.
Some may choose to narrowly read into my commentary an anti-player bias. I have no control over that. Those of us who benefited from what cricket has done for our region must speak up and out not to bolster one side but to raise the discourse above pettiness and to help create spaces of reason. The next few weeks would be crucial. In the short term, the selectors must pick the team for the Champions trophy from all available players. That is non-negotiable. But there should be no deferment to or cuddling of the so-called stars. A declared intolerance of recriminations and lack of production should be issued to the players. Wages should not outstrip production ever again but must be fair and just. The present WICB hierarchy should wrap up current business and resign. The WICB should be put under the temporary supervision of the Caricom Secretariat pending the implementation of the Patterson Report and other similar recommendations. But you cannot reform the WICB outside of similar reform of the local boards. Its more complex than it seems.
* David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. More of his writings can be found on GuyanaCaribbeanPolitics.com