By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published April 11, 2016
Republished April 13, 2016 (Jamaica Observer)
Two days after the West Indies senior men’s and women’s teams won the ICC T20 World Cup, I drove through the often depressed and violence-edge community of Norwood in Saint James, Jamaica. Drive-by gang shootings and death, over simply water catching a cell phone at a roadside restaurant, are all plausible when you venture into a grim inner-city community such as this.
As hunger churned through my gas-filled stomach, I swooped over to a popular cook shop, to arrest the groans of my breadbasket. Behind the shop laid a freshly cut football field. The garbage, once hidden, was now revealed and littered everywhere. Though the posts were there for football, surprisingly, no football was being played. Interestingly, kids, three years old and older, with as many boys as girls, were seen playing cricket, the game I deeply love, in the midst of grass clippings and municipal rubbish. The ironies of the moment were many, yet surmised the last 20 years of my journey with West Indies cricket.
As I juxtaposed the events before me and those of two days prior, tears of realised hope and joy trickled down my face. In the span of two months, the West Indies has pulled off the unprecedented treble, winning the under-19 ICC ODI World Cup, the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup and the ICC T20 Men’s World Cup. In the process, West Indies halted the Big Three’s claim to the three world titles (India in the u-19 ODI World Cup final, Australia in Women’s T20 World Cup final, and England in the Men’s T20 World Cup final).
This time last year, I was writing about the mental wounds I had suffered over the last 20 years and during the 2015 ICC ODI World Cup, which saw West Indies ousted at the quarterfinal stage, and their place firmly affixed at the bottom rung of world cricket. I recall the therapeutic shower I had to take, at the time, and the tears intermixed with water running down my face, as my mind tethered a fine balance between hope and reality. Somehow, in that moment, I began singing, “Rally, Rally round the West Indies, now and forever.”
I clung desperately to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. words, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope”.
In February last year, I spoke of my disappointment, the October prior, when the West Indian players walked off the tour in India. The disappointment lingered further when a putsch was attempted on the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) president, Billy Heaven, over the JCA’s initial non-support of Dave Cameron’s, the WICB President’s, re-election campaign. At the time, I said of the process, “It stinks to high heaven” and declared in frustration, “If Billy goes, then Dave goes”.
I harboured hope that our leaders in West Indies cricket would leave all the hatchets aside and put the cricket first, for heaven’s sake (no pun intended). Nevertheless, conundrums developed further and the product, communication and relationships, on and off the field, continued to decline.
Elation flooded my mind when Phil Simmons was appointed West Indies head coach in March last year, yet anger overtook me with how Shivnarine Chanderpaul was discarded, unceremoniously, last May. I still recall the forlorn look on West Indian fan Natasha’s face at Sabina Park in June last year, when West Indies capitulated to the Aussies. The depth of her disappointment, at the time, was unending, yet my love and hers for West Indies cricket remained everlasting.
My recommendation, then, for West Indian fans, like us, was “therapy! We have a problem”, I declared, because it seemed we fans were doing the same things over and over, albeit, expecting different results on the field.
In reference to Albert Einstein, whether it was despising or accepting lunacy, the changes in West Indies cricket came fast and notorious last year. Simmons, who was appointed head coach, was temporarily suspended for his comments about “external interferences” with regard to team selection. A new Test captain, in Jason Holder, was also appointed, yet, as I referenced then, the more things (personnel) changed, the more they (results) remained the same.
Nevertheless, like biblical Ezekiel, through prophecy, I entertained hope that the West Indian dry bones would rise up and emulate the great cricket army we had in the 1980s, thus returning West Indies to the summit of world cricket.
After traversing this region and seeing adults, and especially youngsters, gripping tightly to their cricket bats and balls, still in love with this bountiful game, this hope springs eternal in my West Indian breast. Many said the passion grew dim and the game would die or had died. However, I saw it still alive one Sunday by the Roman Catholic Church in Falmouth, Jamaica, right after the fateful death of the Indian tour in October 2014. Kids in their Sunday best, right after Sunday Mass, were still playing the beloved game.
I also saw it two months ago, a week before the West Indies under-19 youngsters captured the ODI World Cup. On that day of hope, a Sunday also, I saw residents, young and old, in the seaside community of Salt Marsh in Jamaica, in pads and all, fervently playing the beautiful game.
It is often said, “A little child shall lead them”. Exhibiting a passion devoid of the heartbreaks and finite tears of yesteryears, it seems the under-19 youngsters, who won the ODI World Cup in February, are earnestly leading the senior teams and we, the fans, back to the glory days of West Indies cricket.
The women’s team spoke of it, the men’s team mentioned it, and we, the fans, echoed it.
When the game came down to the final over in the men’s T20 final, with West Indies requiring 19 runs off 6 deliveries, several West Indian fans abandoned hope and prepared themselves for another dose of perennial disappointment. Carlos Brathwaite, in four quick swipes, caused West Indian hearts to erupt in everlasting joy.
Don’t be fooled, all is not well in West Indies cricket. Nonetheless, the future rests assured, and is indeed bright with infinite hope.
Though encompassed roundabout with garbage, violence, and pessimism, these youngsters in Norwood, Jamaica, and around the Caribbean, continue to cleave to this beloved game. My words to them, keep on playing future champions.
Champions! Champions! Champions!
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published April 11, 2016)