Tony Deyal | Down but hopefully not out
The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is in its big week heading towards a Guyana vs Trinidad game that will determine whether it is a victory for ‘chicken curry’ or ‘curry chicken’. Or neither if, as my Jamaican friends believe, the game will go to ackee and saltfish.
At the same time, the rest of the world minus the West Indies, for once, is getting ready for the men’s ODI World Cup, starting with England vs New Zealand on October 5. India is a big favourite to win the tournament, so I was very surprised to read, “Kuldeep replace Hardik”. As all my regional lady friends will tell you, that will never ever happen anywhere in the Caribbean. In India, “Hardik” means “affectionate, heartfelt, full of love, from the bottom of the heart” (and most likely working its way straight downwards) while Kuldeep is “lamp of the family” and only those of us who are taking it light will leave the lamp on.
In a real way, the big global tournament is not for me. ESPN CricInfo wants me to answer, “Which pair of batters have scored the most partnership runs in IPL 2023?” Growing up in the Caribbean,, the only batters I knew were shoes we wore to school. In those days every schoolchild had to wear Bata shoes. In fact, when I was growing up, Simmons was a bed and not yet a cricketer. Nowadays, the game has players with names that are better than Kuldeep but still can’t touch Hardik. There is Travis Head from Australia, Ryan Sidebottom from South Africa, Sachin Baby from India and Tim Paine (hopefully not in the butt).
Fiji has length, “Ilikena Lasarusa Talebulamaineiilikenamainavaleniveivakabulaimainakulalakebalau” but they call him “Bula” for short. Someone came up with the Indian fast-bowler Jasprit Bumrah and his rear rare name, but I refused to say more. The only part of him that does the talking is, like most other men, his right hand. I thought that the only one better than all of the above is Sri Lankan Niroshan Dickwella. The talk is that there are some ladies who are anxious to find out for themselves whether he lives up to his name. However, as soon as I mentioned that, one of my friends called me and shouted, “I catch you. You wrong. Dick is second. The man who is the best is the South African wicketkeeper who is also a talented batter. His name is Quinton de Kock.”
It is not that we don’t have West Indians in the loop but they stand out differently. For instance, the British broadcaster, Brian Johnston, was commentating on a West Indies-England cricket match in 1979 and, just at the time, the British television viewers joined the game in the middle of an over that Michael Holding was bowling to Peter Willey. Johnston, making sure the viewers knew what was happening, explained, “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.” Johnstone was also covering an England-New Zealand match at Lord’s in 1969 when Glenn Turner was hit in the groin and collapsed in great pain. For some time, Turner lay on the ground writhing in agony. When Turner eventually picked up his bat and returned to the wicket, a greatly relieved Johnston said, “Turner looks a bit shaky and unsteady but I think he’s going to bat on - one ball left.” One of my favourite Caribbean commentators, Donna Symmonds of Barbados, had said of Patrick Patterson that “he did very badly in the first test - no balls, no balls”, and of Phil Simmons, “only medium pace but he is quite stiff. Quite stiff!” Not to be outdone, among “The World’s Best Cricket Jokes” was a situation where a husband, watching cricket on television while his wife was knitting, told her, “Joel Garner has come to bowl with a new ball.” She replied, “Wonderful what doctors can do these days.” In fact, one English doctor, W.G. Grace, was favoured by umpires and, in one incident, C.J. Kortright of Essex was bowling to Grace and made several vain appeals for leg-before-wicket. Eventually, he knocked Grace’s middle stump out of the ground with a yorker. As Grace began to walk away, Kortright called after him, “You’re surely not going, Doctor? There’s a stump still standing.”
In looking at today’s Caribbean cricket, I’m not sure if a stump is still standing or whether a thump with a heavy bat on the heads of the players, or a third ball in the right place, might bring us back to the days when we ruled the cricket world. I know we are not, and never were, like Harold Pinter, the playwright who loved the game so much that, in 1980, he told the Observer newspaper, “I tend to believe that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth ... certainly greater than sex, although sex isn’t too bad either.” Our view used to be that the two pursuits, cricket and sex, were not mutually exclusive, and certainly, in our approach to life, love and the game, we entered all with the same zest, abandon and expectations. We won the toss, went in and scored heavily, quickly destroyed the opposition, and went in once again for a mighty second innings.
That was then, this is now. The West Indies in those days was, as C.L.R. James described us in Beyond a Boundary, “Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera and the dance.” This was the cricket of Constantine, Ramadhin and Valentine, Weekes, Worrel, Walcott, Kanhai, Sobers and Richards. It is not the cricket of today. Perhaps it is as Neville Cardus says, “In cricket, as in no other game, a great master may well go back to the pavilion scoreless … . In no other game does the law of averages get to work so potently, so mysteriously.” Perhaps the law of averages has hit us and, for all the times we were above average, we now have to suffer the agony of being below average. It is said that tough times never last but tough people do. What we need is the toughness of a Brian Close, the Englishman, who took a terrific pounding from our best fast bowlers. In one game, the batsman produced a full-blooded pull shot and Close, fielding at short leg, was hit in the face. Amazingly, the ball flew straight up in the air and the batsman was caught at slip. “My God!” said a worried fielder going to check on Close. “What would have happened if he’d hit you right between the eyes?” “In that case,” growled Close, “the bugger would have been caught at cover.”
Or do like the Barbadian who woke up to watch a West Indies vs Australia match. That was his first slip. Then his wife woke up. It was the second slip, third slip and gully. He was caught and bowled at cover and extra cover. He explained shyly, “Besides, West Indies is not worth looking at again.”
Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “What’s the difference between a West Indies cricketer and Cinderella?” Cinderella knew when to leave the ball. Send feedback to email@example.com