Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Log 371:Cricket: not a deep dark mystery, but a game full of vibrancy, artistry, humour and pleasure

West Indies Cricket Annual 1970
West Indies Cricket Annual 1970 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sir Garfield Sobers statue Barbados-30
Sir Garfield Sobers statue Barbados-30 (Photo credit: Gouldy99)

I wrote this article in response to yet another of these idiotic articles printed by Canadian newspapers from time to time in which a reporter pretends cricket is a deep, dark mystery that is totally incomprehensible to any sensible person.  Before I wrote it, I looked up the Globe and Mail’s Web site to discover what length would be acceptable, and they said 800 words. So I wrote it at 798 words, submitted it, and received an automated response saying nothing over 700 words would be considered. What a great newspaper: can’t make up its mind, eh? So here it is in its full glory:

For someone like me who has loved cricket all his life --- and I am now in my ninth decade --- the repeated articles by North Americans, such at that (in the Globe and Mail) by Paul Waldie on Saturday, August 10,  treating the game as some deep dark mystery, totally beyond comprehension, long ago became insufferable. What’s wrong with these people? 

As a Canadian reporter in London for The Montreal Star in the 1960s, the heyday of the great West Indian teams, I did what I venture to suggest no Canadian correspondent had ever done before: on the opening day of a major Test match I would clear all my work away before 11 am, turn on BBC2 for the opening session of the day’s play until  lunch, then to BBC1 for the afternoon session until the tea interval, and finally the last session of the day, again on BBC2 until the drawing of stumps at 6 pm. I would do that, watching every ball intently,  every day for the five days of the game, and I still remember the game elevated to beautiful artistry by such as fast bowler Wes Hall (poetry in motion), beguiling slow bowler Lance Gibbs, and the superbly graceful batsman, the incomparable Gary Sobers, certainly one of the greatest of all time.  The West Indies won the five-match series in both 1963 and 1966, and I can say without hesitation that one of the best experiences of my life was to be  at Lord’s during  the Saturday of the Second Test, which eventually was drawn.
The West Indies were in deep trouble with six wickets down in their second innings, when Sobers came to the wicket to join his young cousin, Holford, playing in only his second Test match. They batted all day, Holford shepherded along by the skilful and inspirational Sobers, adding 264 runs in what is still remembered as one of the great Test partnerships in history. Sobers was 164 not out at the end of the day, made with magnificent strokes to all parts of the field, and Holford made 105. I have told many people about actually being there to watch this rivetting event, and I was quite thrilled recently, when Sobers, asked which of his many great innings  was the best, said it was his innings on that afternoon at Lord’s with his nephew that probably was the greatest he had ever played. And I was there!
Another cricket occasion  lodged irrevocably in my memory is of a day in Trinidad where I had been  covering a Black Power demonstration in 1970, when rocks were thrown through the windows of the Royal Bank. On my last day I went to Queen’s Park Oval, home to cricket in Trinidad since 1896, tucked in beautifully beneath the northern hills, for a game between Trinidad and Jamaica. I took my seat in the Learie Constantine Pavilion, where I seemed to be the only white man in a boisterous crowd of locals. Pretty soon the man sitting in front of me turned and asked if I was a stranger. He said he was from San Fernando, centre of the island’s oil industry, and wondered if I would like a drink (handing up a bottle of Scotch, and a glass). When the lunch interval arrived he was just laying out a sumptuous Indian meal when I was spotted by some of the revolutionaries I had interviewed earlier in the week in Woodford Square. They beckoned me down and invited me to sit with them. I had to defer, quoting my prior invitation.
By the middle of the afternoon, with our bottle of Scotch almost gone, I began to understand how occasionally they would have a riot in West Indies cricket: if a decision had gone against our team, our emotions might well have got the better  of us.
My third unforgettable cricket experience came on the day I interviewed the great West Indian historian C.L.R. James, whose book Beyond the Boundary is probaby the best book ever written about a game that has always attracted poets and writers (the great Neville Cardus was both cricket and music critic of The Mancheter Guardian during many of the paper’s greatest years.) James  suggested we might finish our interview at the Kennington Oval, where the Australians were playing Surrey, and as we sat there he pointed out to me the small gate through which, when the great Indian prince Ranjitsinji played for England in 1896, he had to enter alone because of his just barely accepted racial coloration, while the rest of England’s team entered through the regular gate.
The game has certainly proven bigger than the class interests of Britain tried to make it --- infinitely bigger --- and it seems to be only North Americans who cannot forget its stuffy, pompous English beginnings.
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