By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published March 7, 2016
A month ago, tennis superstar Serena Williams, along with track stars, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, built a school in the small district of Salt Marsh, in the home parish of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. The day prior, while driving along the highway past this small seaside community, I saw community members, young and old, with bats, balls, and pads, playing cricket in the district.
A similar tale can be told two months after the West Indies senior team took industrial action and walked off the Indian tour, in October 2014. While driving pass the Roman Catholic Church, in the town of Falmouth, a mere two miles from Salt Marsh, I saw kids – boys and girls – playing cricket right after Mass in their Sunday best. After I stopped, took a few pictures, and was walking back to my car, I uttered silently, “Hope springs eternal”.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope
Forty years ago, even 25 years ago, this was commonplace in towns and districts throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean. Competitions between numerous community teams were a weekend pastime before Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever the latest social media fad is that has a stranglehold on our attention. In fact, cricket was the social medium of the day. It was where you met other boys and girls, men and women, in your community and it was where strong friendships and unforgettable memories were cultivated and germinated.
Many in the Caribbean believe cricket is dead and claim there is no passion while pointing to the rare frequency of the sightings which I have described above in their communities. The West Indies Under-19 team, three weeks ago, culminated a storied run, marred in misplaced controversy, debate, and mankading, to win the 2016 ICC Under-19 World Cup. In them many have claimed they see the vanished passion of yesteryears.
For several West Indian fans, whether they are willing to admit it or not, it was the first in eons they were sitting up, all night until daylight, to watch a West Indies team play. To be frank, quite a few of my colleagues in the media and education world unreservedly did and quickly admitted to it.
In an article, I wrote eight months ago, “Therapy! We Have a Problem”, I declared that “based on raw talent and athleticism, our West Indian youngsters are considered the crème de la crème”. Alzarri Joseph and Gidron Pope, two future international players who are on everyone’s lips, quickly stand out in terms of raw talent and athleticism, and are indeed “crème de la crème”
I pointed out in that article eight months ago, how Germany, in football; Australia, in cricket; and Jamaica, in athletics have developed an unrelenting will and desire in their sportsmen and sportswomen, through an intermix of cultural advantages, economic investment, and technological advancements that have borne fruitful successes in the respective sport.
I further stated at the time that “The onus is on the (West Indies Cricket) board to germinate the right culture that rewards a cerebral approach, facilitates Arabian oil-type cash flow, and acquire the best backroom experts in analytics to nurture these successes” I even outlined the role of us, the West Indian fans, in rekindling the “passion in the next generation.” and holding the WICB board “accountable”.
Those words seem profound looking back at them now, bearing in mind, how the West Indies Under-19 team won their last four matches in the World Cup.
In the Zimbabwean match that propelled them to the quarterfinals, Keemo Paul’s mankading of non-striker Richard Ngarava revealed that the region is still blessed with young cricket observants who will one day emerge to carry the pride of a people. In the semi-final, a similar noetic and refreshing approach to cricket was shown through Shamar Springer’s and captain Shimron Hetmyer’s batting, and likewise Keacy Carty’s and Paul’s batting in the final. An intellectual assessment of the situation was made by the players in both matches and the journey to victory was charted and sanely implemented.
Oftentimes in the past, our senior players have abandoned these tenets, opting at times for flare and glory. These youngsters give us hope that the future can bear fruit. We’ve had that same hope before or after other West Indies U-19 teams did well, though not win, the U-19 World Cup.
In all that time, I remained perched on Martin Luther King’s words, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”. That’s why we build schools today for the kids of tomorrow: hope. Similarly, we must keep the game of cricket in our communities and pass on the passion for the game to the next generation, through hope. Hope that one day West Indies will return to the summit of world cricket.
To ensure this, the WICB and the West Indian fans will have to invest heavily in the future crop of youngsters, provide them with the right mentors, and expose them to the scientific ways of playing cricket today.
It appears the past 21 years of letdowns experienced by the West Indian fan will soon end. To wriggle Alexander Pope’s words, it seems that in this crop of youngsters, and others to come, hope springs eternal in the West Indian breast. The Twenty20 World Cup for the senior players starts tomorrow and every West Indian fan who has given unending support, 21 years and counting, is hoping – once again – to be blessed.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Facebook: Zaheer’s “Facts, Lies and Statistics”
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published March 7, 2016)