TGIF 8th April 2014
TWO YEARS ago, end of the third school term, I found myself arbitrarily relating to my own children my father’s strongest memory of World War II: at his secondary school, any time they heard the drone of a heavy aircraft, all pens, including the teacher’s, stopped in the air above exercise book pages and then went flying, as everyone rushed outside, those on the ground floor spilling out the windows: why waste time on corridors when there might be Spitfires and B-52s in the skies of British Guiana?
But why had that story jumped out of my mouth?
I noticed the date – 28th June – and it hit me, like a big Carlos Braithwaite six over long on: it was 100 years ago, to the day, that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered World War I. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended that war savaged Germany economically the way Germany had savaged Europe, militarily. In hindsight, Hitler is no surprise to any historian: World War II was caused by World War I.
And it hit me again, like another big Braithwaite six over long off, this time: on 28th June 2014, a living person was passing on, directly, to other living people, a story passed to him, directly, by another person then living that was directly connected to the spark of World War I on 28th June 1914.
100 years is nothing.
19 runs is a lot.
On Sunday last, the West Indies men joined the women’s and the U-19 teams to become the ICC World T/20 champions, after a tournament packed with games offering a super-fast-forward version of the ebb and flow for which Test cricket is so deeply loved. Especially the final. With a T/20 record 19 needed off the last six balls – the “Win Predictor” might have given West Indies three per cent – Carlos Braithwaite hit four consecutive sixes to make West Indies the champions that batting, bowling & singing all-rounder, Dwayne Bravo had previously proclaimed them.
But the most important thing happened after the game: in his winning captain’s interview, our Darren Sammy hit his own cricket board harder than Braithwaite had lashed Ben Stokes, although his most powerful stroke was a leg glance, the lip-trembling admission that he’d had an email of encouragement from the Grenadian prime minister but nothing from the West Indies Cricket Board.
Was there a West Indian, other than the board itself, who did not immediately feel Darren Sammy’s pain? Deep in our Caribbean bellies? The most peace-loving of us felt the urge to kick up the entire board.
And we’d just won!
What is that hurt that we West Indians tap into so easily? Why are we always primed to go off? Why would Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels and even Denesh Ramdin thumb their nose at authority at the moment of their greatest success? The WICB will ask only one question of itself, though: why do these pot-hounds bite the hand that feeds them?
“No noble thoughts brought us here”, David Rudder sings in the opening line of the anthem version of “Rally Round the West Indies”; that could be the greatest understatement in, and of, our history. Look at the cover of Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Survival album and try to connect it to today’s Carnival Cruise Line. In the quietest Bajan countryside, the silence is devastated by the echo of the crack of the whip. No firetrucking noble thoughts brought us here; and, though I admire the lyrics, it would take a mighty sunbeam indeed to cut through a past as clouded as ours.
100 years is nothing. In the memory of people living today is carried the unacknowledged, indeed, the deliberately obscured pain endured for centuries. (And you can obscure a clouded past with pretty sunbeams, as our Indian Arrival and African Emancipation holidays reveal.) Behave like the people who made monkeys of you and all you prove is you ape them well; and that, the higher monkey climb, the more he show his bottom.
Astonishingly, but unsurprisingly, the WICB president was driven to respond, not to the legitimate hurt of human beings for whom he is responsible, but to the illegitimate (or imaginary) dignity of the office he occupies.
In a release headlined, “WICB President Has High Praises for World Twenty20 Organisers”, the president quickly cut to his real chase and apologized, on behalf of the WICB, “for what could be deemed inappropriate comments made by.. Darren Sammy... The President has pledged to enquire the reason and will have the matter addressed”.
Grammatical errors and all, it could be the most bizarre official West Indian statement since WWII Bajan Chief Minister Grantley Adams cabled King George encouraging him in war against Germany, “Go ahead, England, Little England is behind you!”
West Indies are champions of the shallowest, but most spectacular, version of the game of cricket, and at the bottom of its deepest and most beautiful form, the Test match that measures life itself, the struggle for reward, the wearying length, the long periods without excitement and even the ultimate worthlessness – but for what we put into it in each moment.
Undoubtedly, our greatest challenge is to love ourselves as West Indians and anything that aids that, like a world title, is a net good.
If we are to cut through our clouded past, though, we must run our own sunbeams through our own magnifying glances; or maybe it's time now for the raging fire. It is not the last one, and many of those still standing can be remodelled within their walls, but the West Indies Cricket Board is a collapsed Great House that we must now burn to the ground.
BC Pires is dancing in the ashes, even if he bats at number 11 – and doesn’t bowl