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January - April,  2007

     THE WEST INDIES CRICKET TEAM AND THE MAKING OF THE WEST INDIES.

Caldwell Taylor

“My aim was always to see the West Indies team moulded from a rabble of brilliant island individuals into a real team
and I've done it”

-Frank M. M. Worrell ( 1924-1967)

“In all the political turmoil which preceded and resulted from the demise of the short-lived West Indies federation the only
institution whose existence remainedunchallenged was the West Indies cricketteam”.

-Trevor McDonald, In Clive Lloyd: The Authorized Biography.

“Ten long years
We ruled the cricket world
Now the rule seems coming to an end
But down there
Just a chink in the armour
Is enough to lose a friend
Some of the old generals have retired and gone
And the runs don't come as they did before
But when the Toussaints go the Dessalines come
We've lost the battle but yet we will win the war”


-From David Rudder's “Rally Round the West Indies”


The West Indies cricket team is a West Indian federal institution. Indeed, the team predated the ill-fated West Indies Federation by more than fifty years; it survived the Federation's lamentable collapse in 1962 and today is alive and well- though not in robust health.

The history of West Indies cricket is a scorecard of scintillating victories and wretched defeats; it is a record of our individual and collective strengths and weaknesses.


The story of cricket in the West Indies is a lesson in British imperial history, for the game was brought to our shores by soldiers who were deployed to secure the perimeters of His Brittanic Majesty's West Indian colonies during the so-called Napoleonic Wars.

So soldiers played soldiers on garrison greens until the game was taken up in the civilian realms: the earliest civilian
teams were up and running at the dawn of the nineteenth century ,four or so decades before the emancipation of
slavery.

Emancipation left intact the socio-economic architecture which characterized the slavery period. Therefore, cricket
in the immediate post-emancipation period was a carbon copy of the pre-emancipation version.

In any case, cricket was a gentleman's game. It was reserved for the members of the white and near-white planter – merchant class- the people who founded the Wanderers Club in Barbados, Queens Park Club in Trinidad, the Georgetown Cricket Club in British Guiana, and Kingston Cricket Club in Jamaica. The members of these elite groups built high walls around
“their” game to keep it from passing into the hands of the “uncivilized” and “unwashed masses”: These fences would be breached by black men who merely wanted to assert their humanity and their black manhoods.

But the rude entry of black men did not disturb cricket's colour-coded system. Teams tended to all-white, all-brown,or all-black. And back then, colour was almost always indicative of class. Each colony, therefore, was a collection of ethnic silos. As Trevor Marshall reminds us that it is this social structure in colonial societies which prompted anthropologist J.S.Furnivall to develop the theory of 'plural societies'. Following Furnivall, Jamaican M[ichael].G[arfield] Smith used the plural society theory to describe West-Indian societies; significantly, the Grenada of the 1950s was Smith's working model!

What some have termed West Indian 'apartheid' remained pretty much in place until the 1950s.In the end, however,
black men democratized the game; the highpoint of this democratization came in March 1960 when the West Indies Cricket Board appointed Frank M. M. Worrell (1924-1967) captain of the side; he became the first black to skipper the team for an entire Test series.

It is worth remembering that Worrell's appointment came about as a result of an “Alexander Must Go” campaign
(Frantz Alexander was then the captain of the team) mounted by CLR James (1901-1989), then the editor of The Nation,
newspaper and theoretical organ of the People's National Movement (PNM) of Trinidad and Tobago. James's campaign
had the backing of PNM Chairman and former West Indies allrounder Learie Constantine ( later Sir Learie), and also
that of Eric Williams (1911-1981) , leader of the PNM and Premier of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Worrell appointment capped the campaign for black  a captain, a campaign which got on the way in the 1939 when
the then skipper of the West Indies team , Trinidadian G.C. “Jackie” Grant (1907-1978)- gave up cricket to go to Africa
to do missionary work. Grant skippered the West Indies and Grenada teams while holding down the job of Head Master
of the Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS).

Grant deparature came in the immediate wake of the social revolutions that convulsed the entire British West Indies (bar Grenada) in 1937 and 1938, and many felt that this was an opportune moment- the centenary of the abolition of slavery -to appoint George Headley, a black man,formidable batman and tactician- to lead the team.  But Headley was passed up for Rolph Grant,Jackie Grant's younger brother.

The appointment of Rolph Grant was historically necessary, for British colonialism based itself on the idea that the
colonised were inferior people who were incapable of self-rule. The whites in the colonies subscribed to this fallacy, so they could not appoint a black skipper : to do so would have been tantamount to rejecting the cardinal logic of colonialism.

And then came 1947 and N.N. Nethersole, lawyer and deputy leader of Norman Manley's People's National Party,
launched his campaign on George Headley's behalf. This time the Board came up with an interesting formula that put
Headley at the helm for two Tests, Jeff Stollmeyer (white) for two, and John Goddard (white) for two.

The Board had an opportunity to appoint Frank Worrell in 1953;they didn't . Another chance came in 1957, but they passed it up and so the stage was set for a confrontation between a rising black nationalism and ideologically constipated West Indies Cricket Board.

To be continued....

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