On Sunday, 3 April 2016, the West Indies beat their old adversary, England, in the Final of the World T-20 Championship in Kolkata, India, to become the only country to clinch the title twice. If you only see cricket as a game – especially when it is played by blacks against nations that have practiced racial discrimination against blacks in the past – you will entirely miss the passion that drives it.
I make no apologies for again acknowledging the tremendous debt I owe to West Indies cricket, which saved my social life in England in the summer of 1984.
I had just moved to England, and was living at Clapham Common, London. Close by was a great pub called The North Pole. It was always crowded at lunch-time, but when I began to go there, I found myself isolated and homesick.
And then, the West Indies came to play cricket in England. A Test Match in England is played over five days, each day's play starting at about 11 a.m. and lasting until about 6.30 p.m.
In those days, cricket was shown live free of charge by the BBC (unlike today when unless you are a subscriber to a satellite service, you can hardly get any worthwhile cricket to watch). So, most of the men in the pub could have watched the games on their TVs at home. But they chose to watch cricket in the pub, because one of the joys of cricket is that points of controversy sprout as luxuriantly from the game as cocoyam plants from a newly-burned patch of ground in the forests of Ghana.
Some of the discussions in the pub became heated, and often, someone at a table, mistaking me for a West Indian, would toss a question at me, “Did you honestly think that that was an LBW?.... Surely, that catch was far too low?.... The ball must have touched the ground?”....Or: “What a shame that wicket wasn't given out because of a no-ball!”
But like a good old Ghanaian who hadn't gone to Achimota or Mfantsipim, I knew absolutely nothing about cricket apart from the results I'd heard on the radio. But the commentators were very opinionated, and so, if one listened to them carefully, one could find a point of agreement or disagreement with the way the pub commentators interpreted the umpires' decisions. So I managed to pass myself off as someone who also knew about the game.
Then, Gordon Greenidge of the West Indies was put in to bat one evening as “Night Watchman”.
He had a minor physical niggle, but by lunch-time the next day, he had made over 100 runs. Now, Greenidge, at his best, played some of the most beautiful strokes you can ever see on the cricket field.
That day Greenidge played so well, someone bought me a beer in the pub for the first time! And I bought him one back. I was in! From then on, I never sat alone in the pub again.
And I said to myself, “Ei, so this cricket game is that important?”
I'd had a Jamaican friend in Ghana – a writer called Neville Dawes - who taught English at the School ,of Administration, University of Ghana. He often talked about West Indies cricket greats like Gary Sobers, but I hardly listened when he went all “crickety”. But as I saw with my own eyes, the way the English people in the pub went quiet when Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Greenidge and Haynes were batting, or when Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Joel Garner were bowling, I understood why Neville had waxed lyrical when talking of West Indies cricketers. The West Indies beat England by 5 matches to nil in the 1984 Tests, and the term “Blackwash” was born.
I now became a vicarious hero of sorts in the pub. I began to study the game and came to appreciate what Neville Dawes, who was very politically-minded, had been trying to tell me. He saw in cricket, a way to talk back at the British, who had ruled the Caribbean – as they had ruled Ghana – for over a hundred years. During that time, they had sown much self-doubt in the minds of our people. The West Indies writer, C L R James, explored this political aspect of cricket in a brilliant piece entitled, “Who knows cricket who only cricket knows”? (His book, Beyond A Boundary, is a good example of illuminating cricket writing).
For Dawes and James, if you only see cricket as a “game” – especially when it is played by blacks against nations that have practised racial discrimination against blacks in the past, such as “Empire Overlord” England, and Empire-collaborators Australia, New Zealand and apartheid-era South Africa – you will miss the point altogether. Every nuance of the game says something about the players. When they are extremely good, they are saying (without uttering a word), “How dared anyone think once that I was inferior to him because of my colour?”
Some of the West Indies cricket aces had a way of physically carrying themselves that made this statement more loudly than others. Of those I saw, Viv Richards did it best – with a swagger as he went in to bat. Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner exuded sheer menace; and Michael Holding reflected casual deadliness. Add the self-assured impregnability of Brian Lara and the toxic ruthlessness of Curtley Ambrose to the mix and the idea that some men and women are to be defined, as regards their ability, by the colour of their skin, becomes a totally absurd fantasy.
But attitudes die hard, and when, on Sunday, 3 April 2016, the West Indies was pitted against their old adversary, England, in the Final of the World T-20 Championship in Kolkata, India, the ghost of Empire hung in the air like a bad smell that refuses to be dispelled by multiple spraying by aerosols. English commentators had been saying all sorts of things about the West Indies, but things boded ill for England when the West Indies women's team, which was also playing in a Final (against Australia) beat the Australian women by seven wickets.
The West Indies women wear the same uniforms as the men's team, and to see them go wild on the field of play, after whipping the Australians, would have added something to the psychological resolve of the men's team to also shine bright.
Well, England versus the West Indies, Kolkata 2016, will go down as one of the most thrilling nail-biters of a cricket match ever played. England batted first and started very badly indeed. They lost their first wicket after the second ball bowled by the West Indies! For no run!
England went on to lose two other quick wickets, and made only 23 runs for three wickets. But they then rallied later and posted a very respectable total of 155 for 9 in their 20 overs.
The West Indies showed what a thrilling match it was going to be when they, in their turn, lost early wickets. They only made 11-3 in pursuit of England's 155-9. Significantly, these three wickets included that of Chris Gayle, the usual, hard-hitting match-winner for the West Indies. Gayle made only four runs before he was dismissed. Everyone thought the West Indies had lost the game with Gayle's departure, and indeed, the West Indies lost 3 more wickets. They managed, however, to reach a point where they needed 19 runs off the final over (6 balls) if they were to win.
At this stage, a 27-year-old bowler from Barbados called Carlos Brathwaite began to write his name – unannounced – into the history books. He had already taken three wickets for the West Indies, but as a bowler, no-one had much hope that he would also excel with the bat.
Brathwaite came in at number eight, joining Samuels at the crease in the 16th over with the West Indies on 107-6 and needing 49 from 27 balls. Brathwaite had only batted twice in the competition prior to the final, scoring 10 not out against South Africa and 13 against Afghanistan in the group stages.
He hit the first of the 6 balls in the last over for six! Wild cheers from the supporters of the West Indies greeted this feat! But Brathwaite was a “mere” bowler, so people thought that the six was a fluke.
However, Brathwaite then stunned everyone by sending each of the following three balls into the stands for six runs as well! He brought the score to: England 155-9 (20 overs);West Indies 161-6 (19.4 overs).
West Indies had won!
West Indies are World T-20 Champions for the second time. (Their first victory was in 2012).
West Indies are the only country to win the T-20 Championship twice!
There was much joy in the Caribbean. The West Indies cricket management is one of the crappiest in the world, and were in dispute with the players even as they were winning the T-20 championship. What all West Indians will be praying for is that this unexpected victory will serve as a wake-up call to the islanders and spur them to throw out the ineffectual, contentious cricket administrators and bring in a new team that will prove worthy of the incredible talent that continues to exist in Caribbean cricket.
* Cameron Duodu is a veteran Ghanaian journalist and author.
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