It is not any guarded secret that I think Prof. Hilary Beckles is one of the best Caribbean historians of all time. He is the first scholar I came across in my university sojourn who took the methodology of history and applied it to other subject matter beyond slavery.
His work on West Indies cricket in the colonial period and in the period of globalization was fascinating to me as an undergraduate student. Too many people still subscribe to the view that courses like the History of Cricket are unnecessary and a waste of public funding and student time.
I want to use this week’s column to prove that a solid understanding of history is the only way that we can move the Caribbean society/civilization forward. I want to propose that had more people gone through Prof. Beckles’ material and his perspectives on West Indies cricket, we would be engaged in a regional picket over Darren Sammy’s sacking from West Indies cricket.
I also want to suggest that Prof. Beckles’ and C.L.R. James’ kernel that ‘he who only cricket knows [knows nothing at all]’ is as relevant now as it was in the middle years of the twentieth century when James wrote and at the end of the century when Beckles revisited the issues and ideas.
Do not let us discuss Sammy’s statistics. They are completely irrelevant to correctly contextualizing his sacking by the West Indies Cricket Board. I almost added “Control” after Board, but the semantics have been adjusted, even if the prevailing attitude elicits skepticism. Sammy’s sacking by the Board is a travesty because it represents, metaphorically, the final surrender of nationalist usefulness in West Indies cricket.
Sammy’s captaincy of the West Indies was characterized by dedication to cricket and region. He was one of the few players emerging in the last 20 or so years whose loyalty to West Indies cricket was not overshadowed by a desire to use the game to amass personal wealth. In other words, although Sammy was born at the height of the globalization agenda in the Caribbean, he seemed to understand, more than many players of his era, some of the significant philosophical underpinnings of the game of cricket in the West Indies context.
Beckles, in his The Development of West Indies Cricket: The Age of Globalization, explained some of the changes which occurred in West Indies cricket due to the supplanting of a globalized world agenda on the Caribbean and the end of the nationalist Calypso cricket glory years. Beckles explains that where the nationalist era cricketers were willing to shoulder the burden of being cricket players and metaphors for the political and ideological battles in their various island spaces, the cricketers of the globalized era desired only to be professionals, plying their trade and making the most from their professions.
Sammy, in the way he captained and played throughout his just over decade long career, did not fit squarely into the definition of a globalization era cricketer. Sammy more complies with the definition of a ‘West Indian cricketer’ proffered by C.L.R James. In discussing Sir Garfield Sobers’ captaincy, James noted that Sobers was the first genuine native West Indian cricketer. He noted that Sobers had been fully educated in the Caribbean and had learnt his cricket mastery in the Caribbean.
If Sobers was the first native captain, Sammy is the first native captain born in the globalization era in the Caribbean. Seen from this perspective, Sammy’s achievements and his failures are not just his own, there are the metaphorical successes and failures of the Caribbean operating under a globalized philosophy.
Sammy was born in 1983, in the shadow of the Kerry Packer World series which many accept as a seminal turning point in several aspects of the game of cricket. The series forced the reorganization of cricket. Cricketers came to be seen as professional sports people and several positive gains, including the establishment of contract terms and improved training, were realized by international level cricketers.
Although that was the general trend, there were serious lags in the transformation of West Indies cricket. By the time Sammy had started his professional tenure for the West Indies in 2004, the more things had changed for him and his new set of global cricketers, the more things had painfully remained the same. Sammy got to where he got based on his talent, much like Sobers and Sir Wesley Hall (nationalist era heroes) did.
Sammy did not have the benefit of high performance training created and tailored to a West Indian cricketer’s needs. Sammy came into cricket at a time when even the Board seemed to be struggling to figure out what was the philosophical mooring of West Indies cricket and the direction it should be going in. Further, Sammy is, in the tradition of many of his forefathers of the nationalist era, a product of the working class of the Caribbean.
Should his coming from the working class be significant in contextualizing his successes and failures in cricket? It does not in itself but where it becomes important is in how it points to the under-enfranchisement of the working class across the Caribbean such that they have been hindered by limited access to education, wealth creation and resources required to become exceptional in their chosen fields.
We can ask our cricketers in the region to continue to compete on the international stage just using natural talent as their point of reference. However, it is then unfair to compare their contributions to the game to the likes of Virat Kholi and Joe Root. Kholi and Root have had support and investment on a level that Sammy has never had.
Kholi is the son of a lawyer in India and had access to money and training while Root won a scholarship at 15 to facilitate his cricket development. Kholi and Root have different personal and national investment profiles than Sammy. We must always compare apples with apples.
Most people who support Sammy’s sacking said he should not have spoken out publicly ‘against the hand that feeds him’. In ruminating on this statement, I am the most confounded. I am most persuaded that there is no more use for nationalist values in the new Caribbean psyche. I am the most saddened that we now only cricket know. I muse that Sammy, in my opinion, has been fired for speaking the gospel truth. I then think about my country and where it is currently. I ponder the two no-confidence motions brought in this term of Government and I am now fully resolved as to why not one member on the Government side broke rank, as the nationalist cricketing hero, Sir Wesley Hall, was willing to do in his governmental stint in the early 1990s.
It is because, although we all feel a real sense of panic about where Barbados is, the hero in Caribbean globalization philosophy is no longer the one who puts country above self. We now punish reflective thinkers and we glorify those who can tow lines. There you have it – Prof. Beckles’ theory is now my lived reality.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)