Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Washed-Up Windies - Could It Happen Here?

Sir VA RichardsOne of the reasons given as to why the opening of Croke Park to rugby and soccer was a good and wise thing was that Gaelic Games were strong enough to survive anyway. Sure aren’t they part of what we are?, ran the argument – sure, if there was no hurling or football, how could there still be an Ireland?

Tom Humphries wrote a chilling Locker Room column four years ago about the decline of Welsh rugby and how it stands as a grim warning to what can happen to something that is “part of what we are,” which your correspondent was reminded of reading Tanya Aldred’s bittersweet elegy to the West Indian cricket team of the 1980s in the Guardian, a team that stands in contrast to the team currently touring England the way the Sears Tower of Chicago stands in contrast to a shotgun shack somewhere in the boonies.

Cricket was thought to be integral to the culture of the West Indies – the only thing keeping them together, in fact, as the West Indies is not a country as such, but a collection of countries that united in love of the common game on the islands, cricket. CLR James’ fascinating Beyond a Boundary discusses this interweaving of sport, politics and identity far better than your Spailpín Fánach could ever do, and its required reading for anyone that was ever captivated by calypso cricket and the thrilling play of heroes like Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Patrick Patterson and the rest.

While Irish cricket lovers’ favourite team is generally the one that isn’t England, I think we’ve always had a special place in our hearts for the West Indies. They are like us in so many ways, in their fondness for porter and the crack and for our common heritage of looking at signs in shops on the bleak streets of England in the 1950s that read no blacks, no Irish, no dogs. I could still name that 1980s team, and still see them in my mind’s eye. I remember Malcolm Marshall, their peerless fast bowler, being interviewed after another devastating win in England. The BBC’s Tony Lewis asked Marshall what the win meant to him. Marshall said that he thought of all his fellow West Indians who were working in menial jobs in England and being looked down all day every day, who could hold their heads higher because the West Indies had won. Marshall knew what it was about alright.

And now that’s all over. The West Indies suffered the worst defeat in their Test history at Headlingly on Monday, skittled by an innings and 283 runs, while former heroes like Michael Holding could only look on, helpless and heartbroken, from the commentary box.

How did it happen? The same way everything happens – the cricket culture of the West Indies was not strong enough to survive the appeal of the global market. Young men in the West Indies now listen to hip-hop and watch soccer and basketball, where once their fathers listened to calypso and reggae, while living and breathing cricket.

The global market is making the same encroachments here, although I don’t think even the Jamaican authorities were so slow as to promote soccer and basketball by opening Sabina Park to the competition. And still the team is on its knees, and the culture is dying. I hope it doesn’t happen here. But I’m very worried all the same.

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