Yesterday, pure chance as I roamed the Internet awarded me with what I consider to be an immense bonus: by accident I happened upon --- wonder of wonders --- a full-scale description of a marvellous cricket Test match between Australia and the West indies that took place in Melbourne almost 40 years ago. I was so riveted even by the two-hour- long reduced version of the game that I simply couldn’t stop watching until the last ball had been bowled, by which time the West Indies had played themselves, with their magnificent flair and skill and matchless athleticism, to a previously unimagined victory, as the winners of two out of the three Test matches played against Australia.
It brought back so much to me, so much unalloyed delight recalled from the days on which I used to watch on British TV the entire course of a Test match that would last for five days, that yesterday I felt like the years had simply fallen away, and I was young again.
I have often been chided by my family and acquaintances because of my lifelong-long love of, and almost obsessive interest in, sports. What most of them don't know is that of all the many games I have played and watched, the one I love and revere above all others is cricket, and yesterday I realized anew the grounds for my adhesion to the game. Here were these beautiful, powerful young men from the West Indies, showing us all those graceful skills that are the essence of the game. The team that was featured yesterday happened to be one that was on top of the cricketing world during years in which my various movements around the globe had detached me from the game. Though in the 1960s I had been able to watch a younger generation of West Indian cricketers as they toured England, by the 1970s , living back in Canada, I was missed their successors, headed by Clive Lloyd, with Vivian Richards as the leading batsman, a man from Antigua (an island I got to know well from having spent several long holidays there) who is still revered throughout the world as possibly the most aggressive batsman of all time, a man so powerful, and yet with it so graceful that one of his unmatchable drives of the ball to the boundary, could send shivers through your spine by its sheer beauty. After the retirement of his captain Lloyd, Richards became the captain of the West Indies through the 1980s, and he fashioned his team into not only by far the most powerful team ever seen on a cricket field, but also as a weapon designed --- yes, he designed it this way!--- to free a colonized people from the continuing over-reaching control of their colonial masters. In other words he brought the people of the West Indies to their feet with a demonstration that they could do anything they set their minds to.
What was remarkable about the team I watched on video yesterday was that for the first time in the history of the sport, they had chosen four fast bowlers, to he exclusion of any other variety of bowler. These young men were superb physical specimen, and they could mount as ferocious attack that gave batsmen no respite from the onslaught. They used bouncers, aimed at the body, as part of their armoury of attack. There had been an intermittent history of this kind of attack over the preceding generations. In 1932, for example, an English bowler called Harold Larwood, on a tour of Australia, had been used by his captain, Douglas Jardine, in a similar way, the aim being to somehow or other try to bring the metronomic efficiency of the new young Aussie batsman Donald Bradman, under control. He had moderate success in doing that, but the tactic was roundly denounced in the cricket world as violating the ethics of the game, a foolish charge, as years later was proven by the victorious West Indians. In comparison with the team I watched yesterday, the victorious West Indian teams that toured England in the 1970s had only two fast bowers, who were used in tandem with some excellent slow-bowling spinners. Of those two especially one man named Wesley Hall, who later became a religious leader of some kind in Wet Indian life, was poetry in action, a really glorious spectacle as he ran into towards the wicket to bowl.
These 1960s Test matches were the ones I managed to watch from beginning to end on TV, by carefully doing all my work in the morning before the game started at 11 am, and then managing to follow the game through the successive broadcasts on both BBC channels until stumps were drawn --- that is to say --- the day’s play was concluded --- at 6 pm --- following, to the the vast amusement of most North Americans, the customary breaks for lunch and tea (at around 4 pm).
I managed to get to Lord’s one Saturday and it is one of the cherished memories of my long life that I was present for an innings played by Garfield Sobers, now almost universally accepted to have been the greatest cricketer who ever lived. His team was in desperate position, having been already half bowled out when Sobers came to the wicket to join his young cousin David Holford, a young cricketer just earning his spurs. Sobers set about not only to dominate the bowling for the rest of the day, but to do it in such a way as not to lose his wicket. He finished an unforgettable day with 163 not out, a score that saved the game from degenerating into a humiliating defeat. It was a great thrill for me just a few years ago when I heard Sobers being asked by an interviewer to name his best innings, and it was this amazing day-long innings that he chose. He had plenty of choice from among the 26 centuries he scored over 15 years of Test match cricket. A gloriously graceful batsman, who could also bowl in three different styles, and was, in addition, a superb fieldsman, noted for the spectacular catches he made.
I played cricket in Ottawa until well into my fifties, in a Saturday afternoon tournament played in the grounds of the Governor-general’s residence, which had been the site of cricket matches since before Canada was even recognized as a separate country. Of course our teams were mostly composed of expatriates from various parts of the Commonwealth, but although they had long since left their home countries there was no doubt about the seriousness with which these assemblies of Guyanese, Barbadians, Sri Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis with the odd Antipodean thrown in, took the games.
A crisis of major proportions occurred when Jeanne Sauve, installed as Governor-general, declared by fiat that the grounds were closed to the public. I was outraged, and wrote an article explaining that since the most common method by which public use was recognized was by persistent use of a piece of land, our public had a well-established right to access, and that, in my opinion, Mme. Sauve was the most reactionary royal personnage in relation to open space since Henry VIII. It offended me that the cricketing authorities did not protest, but a small group of us did, and when finally, Mme. Sauve mercifully gone from office, her successor re-opened the grounds, our small group gathered, marched into the grounds, and toasted the victory over a bottle of champagne.
On the whole, my memories of cricket are topped, not so much by the wonderful high-level stuff I was fortunate enough to witness, but by, for example, a day I spent in Port of Spain, Trinidad, when I took the opportunity of attending a match against visiting Jamaica. I bought my seat and found myself the only white man in a jam-packed stand full of local people, a fellow so noticeable that a man sitting in the row ahead of me inquired as to whether I was a visitor. I confessed, and he produced a bottle and inquired would I like to join him in a little sip of whisky. I accepted, and in the course of conversation discovered my benefactor was from the southern part of the island, San Fernando, where they produced oil, one of Trinidad’s economic lifelines. He was a man of Indian origin, and when lunch break arrived he got busy spreading along his seat a veritable feast of delicious Indian dishes which he begged I would be so good as to assist him in consuming.
I was just then called down to the front of the stand by a group of Black Power advocates who had noticed me during the week in Woodford Square where they were carrying out their mildly revolutionary actions after having tossed rocks through the window of the Royal Bank of Canada. They said I had seemed to be a reasonable kind of person, and invited me to join them where they sat for the rest of the day, and it was only by pleading that my new friend had already invited me for lunch was I able to convince them to let me go.
By three o’clock in the afternoon with the bottle finished and a second one well under way, I was beginning to understand how it came about that the West Indian cricket crowd is so ebullient as to occasionally break into a riot. I can tell you for sure that if there had been a questionable umpiring decision against one of our batsmen, our section of the stand would have rioted on the spot.
Fortunately for inter-island cameraderie, no such emergency appeared, and I had to take my reluctant leave of them to make a previously arranged interview with a calypsonian, Chalkdust, or some name like that.
Regrettably, Chalkdust never appeared, the only downer on a thoroughly memorable day.
Ah, well, you win some, and you lose some. But wot the hell, wot the hell?