Hit for six
Tony Deyal, Contributor
My generation was so politically incorrect that we thought political correctness meant that that if anyone asked us the name of the prime minister, we would know it. The word 'harass', in our day, was two words, not one. Whistling at girls and saying "Pssst!" when they passed were things we did without being aware that we were doing something wrong. In fact, if anyone had accused us of 'harassment', we would have responded we already knew what harassment was and that is why we were making rude comments and snide remarks to her.
We had our lines when the ladies went by us, more to titillate and provoke laughter from our friends than to attract any of our passing fancies. My friend Errol would raise his voice and say in dulcet tones, "Darling. Of all my sugars you are my granulated." There were other lines, some of which promised more than we could deliver but still we carried on, driven by the heady mixture of testosterone, the need for peer-group approval, and sheer bravado.
Needless to say, marriage cured me of any inclination that I might once have had to verbally and vociferously attract the attention of the ladies. Even subtle attempts were not condoned, and if I attracted anything, it was acute spousal anger and recriminations.
There is a story about a woman at a party who asked a passing waiter, "Where has the beautiful girl gone who was serving drinks?" The waiter replied, "If you want a drink, madam, I will be happy to bring one for you." The woman replied, "Thanks, but I don't want a drink. I am searching for my husband." If that ever happened to me, I would be dead meat, or so I thought until a few weeks ago in Antigua.
There I was making a spectacle of myself calling out to some young women, shouting loudly to them, emboldened by the fact that they waved to me and one even came close to say hello. My 13-year-old son, Zubin, actually followed me, and he and some of his friends successfully captured the attention of the women as they went past. Even more astonishing is that all this took place in the presence of my wife, who did not react with anger but actually smiled and sometimes laughed during the several episodes. My daughter was there too, and, far from being embarrassed by the antics of her father and brother, also joined us.
The occasion was the Twenty20 series between the West Indies and Indian women at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua a few weeks ago. During the past four years I had lost touch with West Indies cricket, and, to my shame, had virtually ignored the women's game even though I had strongly supported the need to implement the decision for all countries of the region to have women's cricket teams and to invest resources in creating and maintaining a strong West Indies women's cricket team.
It was ironic that in Antigua and the Leeward Islands, which do not have women's cricket and which have been allowed to get away with not doing anything about it, that I should once again reconnect to an unfolding success story that will rank as one of the greatest achievements in the history of cricket in the region. What is ironic is that much of this took place for many years without any involvement by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), which was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the women's cricket arena by some men and women who fought for the women's game to be given support.
Zubin is a leg-spinner and, as a member of the Under-17 Antigua cricket team, was asked to be a net bowler for the women's team to help them in their preparation for the India series. Since the Indian bowling consists mainly of spin bowlers, the women wanted practice against spin. I went with Zubin to the net sessions partly out of parental responsibility (not, as he thought, to keep him for admiring the women and not just their strokes), but to see how good they were.
Both Zubin and I were stunned. Most of them are young and powerful. Stafanie Taylor, now the leading female batter and all-rounder in the world, will be 21 in June. Deandra Dottin, a female 'Master Blaster', will also be 21. Merissa Aguillera, the captain, manages the team with a quiet authority that should be the envy of all male captains. As several people said at the stadium, referring snidely to the captain of the West Indies male team, Aguillera "has earned and deserved her place on the team".
What impressed me from the first day was the togetherness, transcending the narrow national boundaries, that was apparent in all of them. They are all comfortable with one another. Stephanie Power, the assistant coach, helped the boys to settle down and made them comfortable with their roles. She and the other coaches actually gave the boys useful advice during the practice sessions.
Zubin and I both got hit for six - he by a shot from one of the women which nearly pulverised a car, and me by their work ethic, talent and obvious enjoyment of a game that was not particularly designed for, or friendly to, them. "She hitting the ball like a man" is supposed to be a compliment. I realised that if I ever said that Sammy was hitting the ball or bowling like Stafanie Taylor, it would be the highest accolade ever awarded him.
Rachel Heyheo-Flint, now a baroness, was a captain of England and played for the English team for about 22 years. She lifted a Cricket World Cup before Clive Lloyd, since the women's World Cup predated the men's by two years. Theirs was held in 1973. My favourite story about her was when a bunch of boys were playing cricket in the street, and alongside them there was this girl, batting and bowling with the best of them. A policeman came along, and took down the names of the culprits but he refused to take the girl's name because, as he said, "Girls don't play cricket."
Well, they do now in a big and attractive way and although the WICB did not treat the Antigua games as important (they were not well advertised and the post-game awards were like an afterthought) many of us who were there have found new West Indian cricketing heroes. There is a guy from Trinidad who follows the West Indies men's team everywhere. If I ever met him, I would tell him that while the WICB continues its vendettas and obsessions against Chris Gayle, WIPA and regional cricket fans, follow the women. They are worth not just the price of admission, but their weight in gold.
Tony Deyal was last seen quoting Baroness Flint on coaching in professional women's cricket: "Professional coaching is a man trying to get you to keep your legs together when other men have spent a lifetime trying to get them apart."