For Release Upon Receipt - May 31, 2012
Reasoning and writing as a West Indian academic, I believe to my brittle bones that the crisis of West Indies cricket performance is first and foremost a crisis of political governance and intellectual disenchantment. It takes the obvious form of player-employer conflict, and is expressed in public acrimony about the role and legitimacy of the WICB. Political leaders have rightly been called to participate behind closed doors, and some have commented assertively on the team selection process. But, wearing the hat with which I write, I am not satisfied that we have cooked the cookie.
I believe the smoke generated by the heat has clouded our vision. I believe the steam has blurred our focus and serves as a diversion from the real issue; the crisis of political governance in the West Indies. Meanwhile, the West Indies team, like the boy on the burning deck, continues to falter, its best efforts notwithstanding. ‘Blame the Board’ has become the rallying call, championed by the man roaming the street. The women running the State have called for an investigation into what seems like black masculinity gone wild. We have all been driven into a Caribbean cul-de-sac; all of us! We have made a monumental mess of our reality; a disturbing diffusion of West Indian intellect and energy is daily wasted.
What is the disturbing reality that resides at the core? It is this. The West Indies is the only nation in Test Cricket that currently finds itself unable to place its best team on the field of play. The nation is under-presented. The young and the bright within our sight are not yet the best, and the team on the field is short on depth of experience. There is no doubt, say all the experts at the Oval over the weekend, that our defeat was the result of this circumstance. Indeed, I agreed, that the opportunity to defeat India at home and abroad on recent tours was due precisely to this cause. Mighty Australia, I also agreed, would crumble on this tour were we to field our best team.
Here is the problem. West Indians are the only Test cricketers in the world who are able to successfully reject their national duty in preference for a bigger personal purse. An Australian official informed me that no Australian player if called to the Test team could refuse national representation and survive with respect in the nation. The Prime Minister, the media, the private sector, and civic society would find the choice unacceptable; they would describe it a rejection of citizenship; an abandonment of the nation. The same political circumstance no doubt applies to England, S. Africa, New Zealand, and Pakistan. Such a player would be divested of house and happiness in India; and maybe a great deal more.
Why the West Indian player? The principal political feature of West Indian society at this time is best described in terms of citizens refusing to accept the right of the State to enforce public discipline in order to safeguard the nationalist agenda. ‘Citizen versus country’ is now the primary conflict; ‘self versus society’ is the form this conflict takes. West Indian political leaders and academics should understand and be galvanized by the significance of this for the role of national representation in the ongoing project of nation-building.
Why are we divided? The public, in large part, believes that cricketers should have the right to choose, and to make additional money whenever, and wherever cricket is played. Some political leaders have said that the player should not be criticized for putting the nation on the back burner. Not many academics have voiced concern that the rejection of the constitutional expectation by cricketers, as citizens, to represent the nation as a primary social goal, has become a course of action that unites players and publics. The academic community is divided and tilts in support of player liberty at the expense of team victory. The intellectual discourse that surrounds challenges in the regional integration movement, and the diminished appeal of West Indian nationalism as a public good, has not taken the cricket crisis on board. Yet, it is plain to see that in the cricket arena these governance issues are most clearly expressed.
Through the gaze of the cricket craze we can see that West Indian nationhood is in deep trouble. Cricketers are the frontline crusaders of a revived carnivalization of the West Indian mind that produces the “we like it so mentality’ which our greatest calypsonian philosophers have urged us to avoid. The rampant market supremacy sensibility that says we must give way to unrestricted individualism lies at the heart of cricketers’ choices. Unfortunately for the cricket fraternity, and the rest of us, the world we seek to conquer on the field of play is entertained by our public governance gone mad. Gayle gone, Narine not there, Samuels slip away, and Bravo is a businessman, say the Aussies with glee. They all pray that the recent political intervention will not bring home the bacon, leaving egg on our faces.
What is our fear? We fear that the West Indies will not rise from its lowly status as long as this political reality remains the norm. So long as citizens are empowered to reject the nation in preference to marginal materialism, and be upheld in some quarters as heroes, the West Indies cricket team will remain in the basement of the pyramid where our legends (the Headley - Constantine foundation, to the 3Ws and Sobers eruption, the Lloyd-Richard galactic journey, on to the Lara-Walsh-Ambrose savors) are mummified.
The Test team is missing six vital stars, who, were they available consistently this past year could have lifted the team to the top tier of the troubled tree. Each one has expressed a love for team and country, but none is willing to sacrifice for the team and country he loves. Instead, the crisis of representation is cleverly manipulated to achieve some individualistic ends. The WICB that has made many historical errors, despite its best and noble efforts of late, is crucified on an old wooden cross on account of a view which says “once guilty, always guilty”. The WICB is now a low hanging fruit, easily picked by every passing pundit not willing to think beyond the drab press it receives even when fault lies elsewhere.
We love cricket and cricketers, and wish the West Indian legacy of excellence restored and respected. In 1995 the intellectually brilliant Michael Manley, then too ill to write another classic work, summoned me to Jamaica to discuss the future of West Indies cricket. He saw the tsunami coming! He insisted that I write about the trends discussed. I had no choice. He was insistent. And I did. Out came a book in 1998: “The Development of West Indies Cricket: The Age of Globalization”. At the time there was no 20-20; no IPL; no Big Bash; no rejection of country for cash! But we saw it coming! We ran with words into the street to warn the nation. No one listened! It was a classic Noah moment. Then the rain came.
The thesis was bold. The global commercialization of cricket will only subvert and destroy the West Indian team because only in the West Indies is our national resolve so weak and fragmented that it will not withstand the power of the cricket carnival. This, Michael Manley insisted, was the failure of political parties to celebrate and consolidate cricketers’ consciousness in the aftermath of the Viv Richards–Michael Holding revolutionary stance against apartheid, a leadership moment that saved our collective dignity as West Indians.
The WICB, I perceived, would pay the price for what is really a political crisis that rests within the cradle of CARICOM. I happily joined the WICB in order to help with the crafting of an education response as a countering force. We now have the HPC and we have eyes set upon a brighter day.
But these are the words I wrote in 1998, long before the storm blew in upon our home.
“cricket heroes will …not wish to carry the burden of responsibility for nationalist pride, regional integration, and the viability of the nation state. They see themselves as apolitical, transnational, global professionals, who desire to maximize financial earnings within attractive markets, and are motivated and guided by no other consideration … They consider the nation state as an oppressive rather than a liberating force towards which they feel suspicion rather than sentiment… The post–Richards generation, then, … represents an unfettered economic individualism within cricket, a mentality that is consistent with the general policy and practice of the post-IMF supported nation states”.
So here we are, seeking to nurture the young and to rebuild the house. To this end captain Sammy has a mandate; to revitalize the heart, soul, and mind of the cricket enterprise. He is a mighty warrior confronting global force with his team of little heroes. He is a leader charged with saying what each West Indian leader should say to cricketers: put your country first; play for your nation; you are given a competitive salary; the pursuit of more is too costly to the community. Sammy is the Worrell-like figure, leading a youthful West Indies team through the political debris that blinds us all. Worrell was called to lead during and after the crisis we call the federation fiasco. He picked up the pieces and restored West Indian order at the centre of the calamity. Sammy is a powerful mind; a gladiator in the arena, staring down the lions with dignity in the face of death.
Can we imagine our world after Sammy? After Sammy, then what? Then who? The desert closes in upon the dream that was once West Indian pride. The young ones – Bravo junior, Baugh, Edwards, Bonner, and many others, all have our future dignity in their hands. But while our city burns we dance to a tune played upon a fiddle rather than the steel pan and drum. Will we rise from the ashes? Not within this political environment. Until such time as our cricketers are told firmly by political leaders and pundits that the ruling West Indian philosophy is “country before cash” and “WI before IPL”, we shall dream of a time not in the future but distant past.
The Caribbean world is in dire need of precise strategic responses to its social predicaments in order to assure its economic competitiveness and political sustainability as a viable civilization. The cricket discourse has provided us with the latest ground for testing our collective rationality and indigenous intelligence.
These are bold statements, I know, but then again we have been boldest in the cricket arena. Sadly, Caribbean citizens are now poised, again, to outsource their last remaining global brand; West Indies cricket. And we are preparing to do so in much the same way that we have sold to the highest bidder our best brands, from our beers to our banks just to discover a decade later that we were duped by our ignorance of the enormous future value of what we had produced.
The buyers of our brands always see what it is that we cannot. Financial value is drained away from the region in the long term. We remain impoverished as a community even if a few persons are enriched by the exchange. This is now the case with our cricket capital.
Enormous political and public pressure is levied against the WICB. It is urged to become a playing partner in what would clearly be the destruction of this pristine West Indian brand. The IPL franchise and other global buyers of West Indian talent have no interest in the West Indies cricket team as a regional construct. They have an interest in West Indian players as singular freelance entrepreneurs and are happy to support their detachment from the WICB. They shake the West Indian tree and our finest fruits fall to the ground. This they know and expect because they see that our stems are not stern and out branches brittle.
The perception internationally that West Indian society is riddled with irrationality as evidenced in our political fragmentation and social contestation has exposed our cricketers to the "sign today and play away" culture. This commercialism has exposes our social indiscipline at levels where it matters most; representing the nation. The WICB, in this paradigm, is expected to become a money making machine for foreign franchises by producing young talent and mature masters who are released at random with no regard for the goose that lays the golden egg.
What is the true nature of the relationship between these franchises and West indies cricket. It is best described as what the Chinese call a bacon and egg sandwich. One party to the deal brings the egg and the other party brings the bacon. But the pig that brings the bacon has to kill itself, while the chicken can bring the egg and persist. West Indies cricket is the bacon in the IPL sandwich and the WICB is the pig.
I salute the WICB for not going along with this arrangement and for standing its ground in defense of West Indies cricket.
West Indian Test cricketers are among the top world cricketers in terms of pay and remuneration. They are not underpaid. They are easily in the elite of Caribbean skilled workers, earning millions of dollars after, let's say, a five year period of regional representation. Their refusal to represent the region in its international encounter should be placed in this context. It's not a choice between poverty and riches but between riches and more riches; and between standing up for the region and walking away from it. It's a matter of discipline in nation building.
The tragic part of this choice is that some of our academic and political leaders have failed to see the implication for the future of the region. The enormity of this crisis is not appreciated because it is understood as confined to sport and is simply about the further enrichment of a few citizens. Their unwillingness to elevate this tragedy to the level of political governance speaks to the choice also made in the political arena between short term populism and developmentalism.
West Indian cricket stars are invited to become globetrotting entertainers. We fear that they will become minstrels to more and more money; entertainers without interest in the nation that produces them; cash chasers who are cavalier with the legacy of excellence they have inherited from earlier stars. While Test heroes from other countries hit the road after serving their nations, our leaders hit the road when we need them most. Yet, their expectation is that we must welcome them home as heroes later in life when the pickings become slim and when they have lost the edge that did not serve us. Herein lies the rub.
I celebrate the WICB for standing its ground and not bowing to the poverty of thinking that would be detrimental to the interest of our region, and the well-being of future cricketers. While WICB could have done much more for past stars, and for this failure is deserving of firm criticism, the same cannot be said of it today. We have to move on. The WICB of today is not the same creature of yesterday. The players who now reject the West Indies team were created and nurtured by this WICB and enriched by it. Those who seek to subvert this institution in its present form need to draw lines of distinction between the past, present and future.
A sickening fear from the cricket tale is that as West Indians we are confronted with having to externalize our development vision and drive as an acceptable choice. "Let us all pack up our bags and leave our indigenous institutions to falter and hit rock bottom" seems to be an acceptable attitude and approach for some. To stand in the path of this perspective invites hostility and hubris. It's all the difference between one person's cash today and our community capital tomorrow.
Finally, what are our development expectations in this region going forward? What are the institutions of excellence we wish to preserve and sustain? What brands should we seek to keep and how do we maintain their present values for future development? What lessons are we learning from the cricket space about the quality of our Caribbean thinking.
Chinese sandwiches and Bollywood versions of Pirates of the Caribbean might be entertaining concepts indeed but surely we deserve a better representation. Here is where I stand as an academic and cricket pundit.
No West Indian star called to the regional team should be allowed to walk away and play elsewhere without sponsoring a public political conversation that speaks to the subversive nature of such an action within the context of regional development. This is the straight ball the politicians missed, or edged, when their strategic engagement was rightly sought.
I return, finally, to the metaphoric images society constructs around West Indian cricket captains. Recent comments from former captains about the role and function of Captain Sammy have provoked this reflection. Jimmy Adams spoke eloquently while offering his support of the skipper. Adams’ intervention rests upon an image society holds of him; he is "Jimmy the Gent ", a social perception rooted in reason. Courtney Walsh also spoke in support. Everywhere the image of Captain Walsh is uniform; he is "Ambassador Walsh". These are interesting images, forged in the imagination of a Caribbean public that scrutinizes actions and ideas, methods and manners.
Society has also settled, finally, upon Captain Chanderpaul. For a fleeting moment he was on the road to being more Saul than Paul, but after a trip to Delhi he paused, rediscovered his cause, and is now canonised as St Paul, philosopher king of the crease, patron saint of stamina and the spirit of sustainability. Sarwan's sojourn as captain has been a flash in the pan, not long enough for image formation, but his semester in Leicester has reopened the discourse to the imagination.
And finally, there is the rapidly emerging image of Captain Sammy. Series after series, and match after match, we hear of Sammy as the Sampson of West Indies cricket, a man whose strength is seen, respected and celebrated. While George Headley had attracted the image of 'Atlas' for carrying the West Indies team on his back for near two decades after 1929, Sammy's enormous mental power and physical stamina have set him apart as the Sampson figure who dwarfs those he has succeeded.
It required no academic ammunition to theorize why in the first place Sammy was chosen for the role of leader. He was neither a star batsman nor a star bowler. His performance with bat and ball was indeed nothing to shout loud about. But there was something else, more important at the moment, more valuable than Guyana gold, that was required. It was the mind of a leader within the context of West Indian development. Sammy's mind and mentality were more valuable than any runs or wickets. The ship needed an admiral. Both the diligent and the negligent could see that it was a master stroke in strategic planning, an indigenous stroke, so to speak, that confirms our ability to think beyond the noise on the surface.
The heart and mind of West Indies cricket were in need of rebuilding. The image of the captaincy and the intellectual values that supported it had fallen to such a low level that the world feared for the sustainability of the magnificent thing called West Indies cricket. The decline of the development mind that had hitherto characterized the West Indies game, forged in the fires of Babylon, had resulted in the worst display of backwardness imaginable in the islands. A team, once the world standard for professionalism, became a collection of supercool dudes, dumb and deaf to reason, and easily defeated in two days of the allotted five. The enterprise of West Indies cricket had crashed.
It was out of this depth of leadership despair, following the abandonment of ship on the Bangledesh tour, that the Reifer-Sammy paradigm emerged. Reifer rose to the occasion and reconnected the image of the captaincy to its historic roots. Against Bangledesh and in South Africa, the contrast Reifer represented was striking. Sammy, his vice-captain, witnessed the wish for a return to sanity. He took over the reins and continued with the project of rebuilding the image of the captaincy, restoring the values of leadership, and reconnecting to the heart and mind of West Indies cricket. The madness was arrested and put away. Sammy the Sampson has not looked back. He is the mighty warrior for professionalism, ambassador for leadership, and the symbol of a West Indies strategic reaction to decline and despair; all evidence that a mind is at work in the affairs of West Indies cricket.
It has been a successful counter-revolution. Full praise should be allocated first to the Reifer response. Captain Sammy has removed the ship out of shallow, threatening waters, and taken it out on the high seas pointing in the direction of its highest destiny, the return to the glory from whence it came. We are comforted in the commanding consciousness of Sammy. It is now for the skilled youngsters to shine with bat and ball so that when his role of leadership resurrection is completed he can walk away tall that he had answered the call.
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