Jamaica and its cricket history

Published: Sunday | March 29, 2009

Robert Buddan, Contributor

Arnold Bertram's 685-page history of Jamaica's cricket (Jamaica at the Wicket, 2009) argues a thesis that Jamaica's cricket has done best when it has been multiracial, multi-class, inspired by nationalist ideals, and sponsored by the private sector in a growing economy.

Conditions such as these have to be fought for and different men, passionate and visionary, have led the way. But struggles face resistance and there have been periods of advance and setback, of progress and regress. This has been true in cricket and society and the struggles in both have mirrored each other.

Arnold Bertram is a trained historian who understands what to look for in our history to tell the story of our cricket, and a keen cricket observer who knows how cricket tells the story of a nation. This perspective is not new, but writing Jamaican history and cricket this way is. Bertram has both the interest and the understanding to do this in a way that goes beyond the ordinary. He tells his story in text, pictures and 106 pages of statistics that cricket fans love so much.

I get the feeling though that just below the surface there is a deeper interest behind Bertram's project. It is a view of the importance of leadership in nation-building exercised upon history through vision, courage, and will, by individuals, organisations and even classes. This is leadership that is self-conscious about its purpose and strategic about its means and ends. It builds key institutions like schools and clubs that breakdown old ways of social inequities while cultivating the spirit of the new, like nationalism. It is a theme relevant to history and pertinent today.

Telling the story of multiracial cricket is about the story of the critical institutions that made it happen. Lucas Cricket Club, for instance, set out to develop black cricketers when cricket was a white man's game. The high schools played the same institutional role for the middle class, schools like Jamaica College and Wolmer's and then Kingston College, St Elizabeth Technical High School and most recently, Eltham.

Similarly, telling the story of multi-class cricket is about Boys' Town, a working-class club that drew talent that the middle-class clubs were not open to nurturing. Organisations for politics and culture too, such as political parties and governments, provided the institutions and spirit of nationalism that freed creative talents in sports and lifted pride in national achievements.

Progress did not come without its contradictions. As the middle class migrated from central and eastern Kingston, clubs like Lucas were left isolated. As the high schools became overcrowded they were not always able to sustain their programmes for proper education and character-building. The middle class and its politics in the inner cities later made it difficult for working-class life to produce and reproduce its cricketing talents. Where cricket failed, athletics and soccer captured popular imagination and the former cricket spaces of play.


Bertram's major thesis is that the movement for multiracial, multi-class, nationalist development was not entirely accidental. Cricket was a part and product of class and nation-building. William Knibb and David Ellington were key figures in Calabar Elementary School's contribution to the development of young black players, first through the Jamaica Cricket Club, and then Lucas Cricket Club. Liberal men of the British Empire like Slade Lucas promoted multiracialism in Jamaica. His idea was to promote British Victorian values of fair play along with loyalty to the empire, both through cricket.

Religious educators like the white Bishop Enos Nuttall and the black Bishop Percival Gibson took up the Victorian idea of building a class of men of character, regardless of colour, through Christian education and sports. Thus, the middle-class schools became the most important purveyors of cricket and cricket's development.

Race, class and nationalism were the forces that combined to lift Jamaican cricket eventually out of the plantation era to what Bertram believes was its golden age between the two world wars. But one would notice that although the brown and more privileged produced some very good players like J.J. Cameron, R.K. Nunes and F.R. Martin, the real heroes of Jamaican cricket were black proletarian types like George Headley, J.K. Holt Sr, J.K Holt Jr and O.C. 'Collie' Smith. They pulled the crowds in and made cricket popular among the masses.

Sometimes brown and white Jamaicans stood in the way of the black players. But occasionally, progressive and decent ones like Noel Nethersole helped their advancement as he did by passing over the Jamaican captaincy to the deserving George Headley, as Gerry Alexander did for Frank Worrell with the West Indies captaincy later. In fact, the Jamaica cricket authorities come in for continuous criticism from Bertram for the backward influence they exercised on the progress of Headley and black Jamaican cricketers, particularly because they failed to treat them as professionals to be promoted and paid as such.


Bertram's book comes to us at a satisfying time. The West Indies has just beaten their old nemesis, England, in a Test series and Jamaica is leading and should win the regional Headley/Weekes cricket tournament again. These achievements and Bertram's book allow us to reflect on cricket's lessons for the future of nation-building.

A key lesson for me is that equality of opportunity brings progress.

Institutions and movements that promoted and provided multiracialism and multi-class opportunities helped to make us all better off as a society. In fact, we are also better off as a multiracial democracy. Therefore, we must invest in those institutions that develop young people, notably the schools and clubs, for education, sports and character-building. However, we need to do so through our own nationalist philosophy of equal opportunity for all, because that task is far from complete.

The celebrated Victorian philosophy had its shortcomings. Its focus was on building character in men for leadership. A woman's place was in the home and presumably she did not need character for that. It took us many decades to provide organised women's athletics, soccer and cricket and thus equal opportunity for women. It just so happens that last week Sunday the women's Cricket World Cup was decided. The West Indies women placed fifth out of eight teams. We congratulate them despite their relatively late start in organised cricket.

The Victorian method sought to develop Christian character. Christianity has no monopoly on character and if we are to be multi-cultural we must draw from all the philosophical systems to establish the right values and attitudes in our people. Finally, the Victorian system promoted loyalty to God, king and empire. We are not to limit ourselves to the standards of any empire, but to be a global people capable of being the best in the world. Headley, Holding, Walsh, Dujon and others have proven that we can be. Our teachers and coaches believe so. Our institutions have nurtured greatness.


Arnold Bertram's model Jamaican sportsman and citizen would probably be George Headley, the first Jamaican, he says, to be acclaimed the best in the world in any field of endeavour. Bertram might also agree that fundamental to what Headley achieved was character. Now if we could just find enough Headley's of politics, business, and our other pursuits, we would almost have a nation built.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email: Robert.Buddan@uwimona.edu.jm or columns@gleanerjm.com