Hall of heroes

An address by Ian Mc Donald
at the ceremony of induction of
seven cricketers on Monday
into Guyana's Cricket
Hall of Fame
Stabroek News
April 21, 1999

I cannot tell you how honoured I am to have been asked to speak on such a great and unforgettable occasion. Even to be in the same place as these true national and West Indian heroes is a great honour. To be able to say a few words in praise of them is an honour which I can assure you I will always remember.

I never played cricket at a higher level than my second eleven at school. There I was an outstanding number eleven batsman and third-change bowler of slow, non-turning leg-breaks. But my love of the game has been steady and deep from the age of ten and I have never had any doubt that cricket is by far the greatest game in the world.

Many of the most memorable moments in my life have come to me in watching the West Indies play cricket - moments of the greatest joy and excitement and moments also sometimes of great despair. In this I think my experience is no different to thousands and thousands of West Indians.

Let me just give one or two examples. Any one of us here could multiply such occasions.

It is almost forty years ago but that tied Test at Brisbane is still as vivid as ever in its excitement and glory. I cannot meet my old friend and colleague, Joe Solomon, without there coming into my mind that famous picture of him, arm extended, throwing down that last Australian wicket.

Can I ever forget the first time I saw a Rohan Kanhai innings here at Bourda and that same night I wrote my father in Trinidad how I had just seen the most extraordinary batsman in the world? It is the same with all these men - their exploits remain vivid in the mind.

Sadly, it still hurts my heart to remember that time at Lords in 1983 when we lost to India in the World Cup final. I was there and after the match I remember how I walked on the sacred turf in a daze of despair. The whole West Indies mourned.

And I will certainly never forget as long as I live our victory at Adelaide by one run. My heart beats faster now just to think of it. Here are a few lines from an article I wrote immediately after that great victory:

"And then there was a climax orchestrated by the Gods of cricket! The next ball, Walsh, our spearhead at the last, our tall warrior, our spes ultima, found some extra inspiration from ancestral spirits hovering near, some extra pace and venom from memories of the long line of our great fast men who had nurtured him, some extra luck from the deep reaches of heaven, and produced a ball which followed McDermott's reluctant glove like some sleek homing missile, kissed it gently as if to say goodbye to all Australian hopes and passed on to Junior Murray who collected it like a jewelled gift. Glory be to Walsh! Glory be to Murray! Glory be to all of them!

As I watched the jubilant confusion on the field at Adelaide I longed to see a ghostly group of West Indians emerge from the mists of time - Kitchener and his men as they had walked across the green turf of Lords in 1950 when at last we beat England at their holy of holies, singing "Cricket, Lovely Cricket", dancing themselves and their song and their team and their land into our communal memory forever."

And just recently there was that unforgettable Test at Kensington when we won by one wicket. I am still shaking with fear and excitement. I am sure work - indeed the rest of life - for millions of West Indians came to a stop as we watched the culmination of that classic match in which not only the team but the West Indian nation recovered its spirit. In my own case, towards the end of the match I was at a Doctor's surgery with my wife There was a television set in the waiting room and for the last hour neither doctors nor patients. were bothering about anything but the match. And at the end when we had so gloriously won my wife said "I have never seen so many sick people get strong so quick!" And I think that is true in a larger sense - that victory made all of us, all Guyanese, all West Indians, feel strong again.

The truth is that cricket in the West Indies, as we know, is very much more than a sport. In the writings of the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, there is a wonderfully eloquent phrase: he speaks of "a community bound together by imaginative possessions". Yeats used this phrase in the context of discussing the importance of a National Theatre for his beloved Ireland.

When I think of cricket and the hope of West Indian nationhood the phrase strikes with me a chord that sings. So little binds us together, but cricket does. Economically, we are much divided and increasingly seem tempted to go our separate ways. Politically, we remain suspicious of each other and therefore cannot so far summon the will to come together in the many ways we know are necessary for practical nationhood. But cricket - there we are different and better and more confident and more together. Truly it is supremely the one imaginative possession which binds our community together.

This is why the men we honour such as these today, the great champions we salute, are not just great players of a game, not just sportsmen supreme in their field. They are much more than that. They are truly national heroes. When they do well they lift our spirits on high, when they do badly they sink us in despair. I know they must often feel how fickle we are - how quick we are to criticise and indulge in lamentations - when we lose. But that is a penalty heroes must suffer. They are under as much scrutiny, perhaps more, than our Prime Ministers and Presidents.

We are all hungry for heroes and glories to celebrate. For us cricket is our battles long ago and still to come. Our fields of Agincourt and Gettysburg have names like Kensington and Lords and Bourda. And if the spirit of Homer were to enter a West Indian he would sing of cricket. And when our cricket heroes die they do not just die they go straight to a West Indian Valhalla where gradually gathers round them the mysterious quality of myth. Any West Indian youngster hitting his first cork ball on a makeshift wicket by Bajan sea, in concrete Kingston cul-de-sac, near waving cane in Demerara, in any Trinidad rice or mountain village, through the gleaming bracelets of the Windwards and Leewards, on every. level spot of grass or sand is not merely playing cricket. He is becoming part of a great epic. Cricket is the gathering of our many clans to do symbolic battle as one people. Cricket is our scattered history slowly coming to life in a single nation.

And that is why we celebrate and honour these men today. Everyone of them has an outstanding place in the annals of the game. Only one is not with us - Kenny Wishart, perhaps the greatest administrator in the history of cricket in Guyana. All the rest are with us still and their fame makes them household names in Guyana and throughout the region.

What a list of revered names! Let me have the honour of naming them:

Basil Butcher
Roy Fredericks
Lance Gibbs
Rohan Kanhai
Clive Lloyd
Joe Solomon
Clyde Walcott

Quite simply they are not just among the greatest cricketers who ever played the game and practiced the art of cricket. They are considerably more than that. They are national heroes who deserve our deepest thanks and most generous praise.