12 December 2015

Windie Willows


CLR Jame's gravestone, Tunapuna
I’m not sure I can bear a whole summer of How Do You Solve a Problem Like the West Indies? All day every day on the radio, there was a relentless talkfest on the subject with some cricket game going on in the background. Oh, the furrowing of brows, the bewildered headshakes, the well-meaning suggestions, the raising of suspicions, the advancement of theories, the weighings-in and weighings up, all gently taken apart and put down by an extremely patient Fazeer Mohammed, who may be my new hero. By way of intermission there was How Do You Solve a Problem Like Bellerive?

The two problems aren’t unrelated. The irresistible call of the West Indies Problem is due of course to the great height from which the West Indies has fallen: how did, how could the most compelling and dominant of cricket “franchises” come to this? That much is explicitly stated. I wonder though whether the obsessive quality of the rumination is because alongside the spectre of the past glory of West Indian test cricket is the spectre of a future decline of Test cricket in general, conveniently symbolised by Bellerive.

I’m not sure the decline of West Indian cricket is reversible. Fazeer Mohammed made the comparison with the World Series cricket crisis. Before the cricket establishment came to an accommodation with Kerry Packer, you had a second-rate test side because the best players were poached for World Series cricket. Many of those poached players were West Indian. If that accommodation had never been reached and if the cultural shift in the attitude of the establishment towards players had not happened, the situation of cricket in general could have become like West Indian cricket today, where test cricket is the second tier because it has been abandoned by the most valuable players, because they were not treated as particularly valuable. I take this to be Fazeer Mohammed’s point: West Indian cricket simply is world cricket without that evolution. And then a vicious circle sets in because when the talent is drawn away from test cricket, the interest is drawn away too, and when the interest in test cricket falls away, the talent falls away too. I think it might have gone too far down that road to recover.

But does it matter? T20 can only become the most popular form if most people prefer it, and if most people prefer it, most people are happy and if most people are happy, well, isn’t that our purpose as a society? In a capitalist democracy, no one can hear Jim Maxwell scream. For all we know humanity is irreparably poorer for the decline of vaudeville in the face of cinema. But how would we know? And if we knew, how could we care? I’m not sure you can run a tastes good vs good for you argument in the matter of entertainment.

I keep wondering what CLR James would say. His West Indies fit the idea of the colony that is more conservative than its colonist, which in turn fits Fazeer’s suggestion that the West Indies cricket establishment is behind the rest of the world in terms of industrial relations, for want of a better word. CLR James defended sport against his Marxist colleagues who saw sport in general as an opium of the people. Would he defend T20 against cricket colleagues who see it as an opium of the people relative to Test cricket?

The World Series cricket comparison is especially useful when it comes to those (that’s you, Nannes) who basically say Chris Gayle just wants to put up his feet on a Chesterfield stuffed with cash. Because I’m pretty sure that’s what they would have said about Lillee and Chappell and clearly then, as now, there is much more to it than that.

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