Can they turn around? Up to Jason and his Argonauts

Don’t bother, if you aren’t a West Indian at heart.

No, on second thoughts, why not? If democracy is good for the rest of the world, should be good for cricket too. Why deny the modern-day game what might yet be its Gettysburg moment?

This bloke, Jason, may have just given us reason to hope.

Jason?

Holder. Jason Holder.

Captain. West Indies. And for lovers of Test cricket — long awaiting a turnaround, even the promissory of a turnaround — possibly the right man at the right moment; the belittled underdog’s imposing answer to all types of bullies, on the field of legitimate play and beyond.

This is what Holder said, according to cricket website ESPNcricinfo: “This is a pivotal moment in history for sports, for the game of cricket and for the West Indies cricket team.”

Effortlessly, with minimum fuss, he had posited the West Indies, once invincible on the five-day pitch but now fallen into a prolonged, debilitating rut, back into the centre stage of attention.

Holder spoke as his team announced their decision to sport a “Black Lives Matter” logo on their shirt collars when they take on England in a three-Test series from July 8.

“We believe we have a duty to show solidarity and also to help raise awareness,” he said in a statement this past Sunday, June 28, 2020.

It’s taken a long time to come, this day. Interminably long. So distant from those heady eighties that fact might have passed off as fiction were it not for memory. But now it’s come, at least a hint of it. A whiff of something that might restore equipoise to a cricketing order long out of balance.

Mark the words Holder uses. Cricket. West Indies. Solidarity. Awareness. It meant King Richards’s countrymen had finally stirred, which is just as well.

If cricket is a metaphor of the immutable romanticism of the universe, the West Indies were once its debonair expression. Few other teams have wrought upon the field such moments of epiphany as the field has ever known.

If they won, it was a conclusion forgone; were they to lose, even in a land not their own, they would be waved and serenaded to their port of departure. As the Australians did to Frank Worrell’s team sixty summers ago.

But, hold it. Let’s not get carried away. Too many false dawns have since come and gone. Singular brilliance, squandered in collective mediocrity. Years of desultory play, of endless defeats and rare, occasional victory. So often that it became routine, unabashedly familiar, as if that was how it was intended to be.

Off the 40-odd series the West Indies have played since the last of the greats — Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara — moved on, they have won barely a handful. Most of them against the lesser powers. Anything contrary was an aberration.

So, abandon all hope ye who still dig for the Windies? (Apologies, Dante Alighieri.)

But this time it seems different. It’s possible that Jason and his Argonauts might even pull it off. If not in the near future, then sometime not too far away. Like wounded warriors touched to their pride. As the Windies had done long back under a tall, lanky man who stooped a little and wore glasses.

The odds equally are they might fail, their words turn out to be empty babble, spoken in anger and in hope, but uttered in haste; because their artillery of execution is still far from the potent arsenal of the past. Yet, the gauntlet has been picked up, ringingly, on written, inerasable record, so they could be held accountable.

Who would have thought a murderous knee would have such effect? 

For those not too deep into cricket, Holder is a young man, just 28, robust and tall — 6 foot 7 inch tall — taller than the bespectacled Clive Lloyd. What he lacks in years, he makes up in maturity.

He talks about the thought that went into the decision to wear the logo, the history of West Indies cricket, about being the “guardians of the great game” for future generations, about how people judge by colour of skin and the need for equality.

It’s not always an offending knee, sometimes abuse comes in the form of sneaky dressing-room taunt. The type that Darren Sammy, Holder’s fellow West Indian, has spoken of. 

Sammy, nice guy he is, just called for an apology from his former Premier League teammates who made fun of his complexion, behind his back. Holder has chosen to take a public stand.

He has long been vocal about the virus of racism but on Sunday he went further. He linked that battle to Caribbean cricket and its long-awaited revival, inadvertently taking up the same challenge as Lloyd had nearly half a century ago after Australians Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee had wreaked mayhem.

The Windies had then crumpled to a 1-5 humiliation in that forgettable series of 1975-76 and Lloyd had returned a chastened but wiser man. If they hurled fire, he figured out fast, he would fight back with thunderbolt. So along came the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner. Malcolm Marshall, the silent assassin with the sidewinder run, would join the band soon.

But you need runs in the bank for the grenadiers to have a go. The runs came from Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Lloyd himself. And, of course, the undisputed “king”, Vivian Richards.

Holder, of course, does not have that firepower Lloyd had. Nor does his team come even close to those that came before Lloyd’s. Teams that had the late Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, the just-departed Everton Weekes. Rohan Kanhai. Garfield Sobers. All immortals of the game, who played like inhibition-less gods and made devotees of generations.

His is a team in the making; young and talented. Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Alzarri Joseph, Chemar Holder. Still a long way to go. But who knows? And they are angry and hurt.

To those not too familiar with cricket lore, Greenidge, they said, was more dangerous when he limped. Hitback has sundry forms.

A frame from the past holds. Not from cricket but from screen. And a different context. An image of a man who too had battled racism in the land where George Floyd died.

Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon (1973). Lee, 5’8”, practising his spin-kicks in the privacy of his room when the door opens.

His leg stays poised in mid-air, paused in lethal precision at the sudden intrusion. His narrowed eyes take in the hulking intruder, a tall man with a scar on his face — the mark of his dead sister’s torment.

The leg stays where it was — foot pointed towards the opened door.

“You must attend the morning ritual in uniform,” says O’Hara, the man with the scar.

“Outside,” replies Bruce Lee. Syllables drawled out.

That one word defined what defiance meant for all the abused and bullied wannabe Davids of the world who became instant fans of the body-perfect icon with the deadly stare.

On Sunday, Holder articulated a different kind of defiance. “We did not take our decision lightly. We know what it is for people to make judgments because of the colour of our skin, so we know what it feels like, this goes beyond the boundary,” Holder said, according to ESPNcricinfo. “There must be equality and there must be unity.” Lincoln might have approved.

Would the West Indies turn around? That’s a question for the future. But the message has been sent.

Ananda Kamal Sen

9 thoughts on “Can they turn around? Up to Jason and his Argonauts

  1. I read a lot of pieces on Black Lives Matter, and here is this erudite, elegant piece with a rapier thrust at the end.

    Like

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