The Cricket World Cup, which is contested once every 4 years, is being held in the West Indies this year. According to the news dispatches,Sunday’s opening ceremony in Jamaica got the tournament off to a fabulous start. After the fireworks off the field, there were some fireworks on the cricket pitch as the Windies won the opening match of the tournament defeating Pakistan. In recent years, Australia have been dominant and even this year are favored to win the Cup. It wasn’t always so….
From the 50’s to the 80’s, the Windies were the toast of International cricket. They had a succession of great players beginning with the 3 W’s( Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott), Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai,Lance Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards… I could go on and on. But it wasn’t their success on the field that was so entrancing. They played cricket with dash and vigor and they brought to the game some of the light-heartedness and charm that attract us to the islands. They appeared to enjoy their cricket in a way that the other sides didn’t.
Once, in Bermuda, we went to see a cricket match between St. George and another parish. It was played at a small cricket ground and the spectators were already packing the stands and the space beyond the boundary line. Cheerfully, they made space for us and we settled down to watch the game.I don’t remember anything the game itself ; what I do remember is the crowd and how they enjoyed themselves. They shouted out good-natured advice, cheered their favorites, groaned when they failed, and danced in the stands when someone hit a six.They were completely in the moment; it was a weekend, they were watching a cricket match and, by God, they were going to have a good time.When they found out that we too were cricket fans, our neighbors became all the more cordial. It was blistering hot and the man next to me offered me, a complete stranger, a cold beer. It was a grand and generous gesture since beer in the islands is not that cheap .Luckily, I had brought along our own supply and was able to refuse his offer with thanks. Until then, I had felt that the ideal setting for a cricket game was a tree ringed village ground in England with a white steepled church somewhere in the background. I have since addad a codocil ” or a sun drenched parish ground anywhere in the West Indies.”
And now, for the chance encounter…
Some six months ago, we were at Sapporo, a Japanese retaurant in New Brunswick, N. J. We were seated at the hibachi counter and two of the other seats were occupied by a young, good-looking African- American couple. As we watched the hibachi chef prepare our food, the young man said something about flying fish. Further conversation elicited the fact that his ancestors were fom the islands and that, no he did not play cricket but that his grandfather had played for the West Indies. I asked him who his grandfather was and he said it was Clyde Walcott. One of the Three W’s !! The young man had no idea how famous his grandfather was but I think his girlfriend was very impressed.
Unsurprisingly, since he lives in America, that young man’s favorite sport is soccer, not cricket. But this is also true of youngsters in the West Indies who are gravitating towards soccer and basketball, drawn by dreams of making it in the pro leagues in England or America. With this loss of interest, Windies cricket is no longer dominant the way it once was, though recently there have been signs of a revival. One hopes that the World Cup is a success and that it sparks a renewed interest in the sport and that we return to the days of Calypso Cricket.
P.S. Sapporo was pretty ordinary and I don’t think I’ll be going there again.