Caught in action - a definite catch -Imran Khan reviews 20 years of West Indies cricket in photograp
By Imran Khan
January 12, 2004
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You need not know the man behind 'Caught in Action - 20 Years of West Indies Cricket Photography' to appreciate and revere it as the finest published work of its kind. But if you do know Gordon Brooks, the legendary Barbadian photographer who followed and captured the West Indies cricket team across the globe, the hard cover book is even a more treasured treasure.
'Caught in Action', published in 2003, is not just a masterpiece, not just a book of West Indies cricket photography, it is more, much more. It is a 20-year, photo-documentary of West Indies cricket, the heartbeat of a peoples' soul, during two contrasting decades.
Brooks and his camera outline in acute, sometimes piercing detail, memories and moments that have defined the unmistakable brand known to cricket lovers everywhere as 'West Indies'. His photographs capture the essence and identity of West Indies cricket, documented by the late Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley as, 'the most successful co-operative endeavor and, as such, is a constant reminder to a people of otherwise wayward insularity of the value of collaboration'.
Brooks, though, is not just a renowned photographer. Among cricket photographers in the Caribbean and the world, he is known as the nice guy. He is quiet and affable, warm and willing, helpful and modest. A gentleman, raised and schooled in the days when opening a door for a lady was not a novelty but an obligation. In the selfish and cut throat world of print media, when other photographers on tour have trouble with their equipment Gordon, without hesitation, is the very first to lend a hand.
Brooks is the kind of guy who you are delighted you have been honored to meet, your only regret being that you had not known him sooner. Rev Wes Hall, in his tribute in the book, describes him as a 'A Master of His Art' and the Barbados' Nation, Editor- in-Chief Harold Hoyte, in his introduction, declares Brooks as 'A Distinguished Sort of a Cricket Person.' Their words in different ways seek to capture his warmth for humanity, his untiring love for photography and his laboured dedication to West Indies cricket.
The man's nature, his very being, is presented in his book of black and white glossy photography, twenty years labour from just beyond the boundary rope. The photographs present a sojourn into his outlook on life through West Indies cricket. That he managed to secure another icon in Tony Cozier to do the introductions to each of the four sections and all the captions is a testimony to Brooks' insistence on supreme quality and distinctive class.
That photograph of that stunning slip catch, those stumps scattering, that batsman barely ducking out of the way of a lethal bouncer or of that impetuously perfect cover driven four, all capture the moment's magnificence. But the great photographers are distinguished by their artistic eye, their ability to see and capture that exquisite shot of a spectator's chin propped in his hand, hat drooping over his face and tears swelling in his eyes as his team's chances fade.
Gordon Brooks offers the clearly undefined but unmistakable 'more' that confirms him as a legend in his field, "no less a professional than those whom he has so artistically captured in this still, yet moving documentary," as written by Clive Lloyd in his tribute.
A picture of the brave but battered Mohinder Amarnath spitting blood into a rag and on his shirt at the Kensington Oval in 1980 after a bouncer ripped his mouth apart is one that expounds volumes on the ferocity of the West Indies four prong pace attack of those days. There are dozens of other photographs of similar calibre and clarity.
Malcolm Marshall having New Zealand's Jeremy Coney in a leaping tangle as he tried to avoid a lifter. Joel Garner with a stare of death and the intensity of a focused warrior firing at a hastily evasive Ken Rutherford. Gordon Greenidge like a champion thoroughbred belting a pull away as his eyes follow the ball all the way to the boundary from behind a pair of sunglasses that does a poor job in trying to hide his unmasked joy. Viv Richards, miles down the track and lifting some unfortunate fast bowler from the Kensington Oval to somewhere else in Barbados. They all do justice to that often repeated wisdom that a picture tells a thousand words.
Those were the days when all was well. Brooks' lens did not fail when the tides had turned on the Windies. Jimmy Adams at the wicket in Bridgetown 1995 bending over his bat, a look of demeaning despair hovers over him as he contemplates a 2-1 series loss to Australia at home. It was the blow that formalized and certified the end of the West Indies' supreme reign.
And another from that same Kensington match when Australia crushed the West Indies, a photograph that Cozier captioned 'sorrow in the slips' crisply depicts the West Indies misery. It pictures Richie Richardson wiping his eyes, Carl Hooper chewing on his finger and a bowed Brian Lara leaning on him at arm's length for support. All three men look as though they are standing in front a firing squad awaiting its final order.
There are a few pictures though that one struggles to comprehend as part of this collection. Photographs such as some Australian fans genuflecting to Mark Taylor for making a century at the Antigua Recreation ground in 1991 are good ones but do not belong in this work. Neither does one of another ordinary Australian fan running onto the field. Lee Germon, the New Zealand captain doing a handstand and a flag-carrying Kiwi fan making way to the middle to congratulate Nathan Astle for getting to a ton are also out of place.
With those photographs it is just slightly overdone. They are good pictures, but a shrewder editor would have recognized their inappropriateness early and let them go. The value of the book though, remains esteemed. Unless Brooks and his publisher, Wordsmith International, outdo themselves with a second volume it is difficult to think of anyone bettering this jewel.
It is a mantle piece, collector's item, the only one of its kind on the planet and a must have for West Indies cricket fanatics and serious fans.
From the first picture of a laden footed and stunned Geoff Boycott's off-stump cart-wheeling to the wicketkeeper courtesy of the final delivery of that famous Michael Holding over, to the very last of the outstretched arms of Curtly Ambrose waving goodbye at the end of his career, the book is a joy. It is hard to think of a better way to spend US$40 on anything West Indian.