Boundaries of cricket
Al Creighton's Arts On Sunday
April 15, 2007
The wide and significant boundaries of cricket were excellently delineated by Cyril Lionel Robert James in a work that so effectively highlighted the sociology of the game that it set the standards for the way Caribbean writers have looked at cricket ever since. James's Beyond A Boundary has had a profound influence on history, political thought, literature and drama. It celebrates the sport as well as some of its fine players, the art of it, while delving into its traditions, the way it transcends the contest on the pitch and becomes associated with colonial society, race, class and politics. Since then the phrase 'beyond the boundary' has become a recurring metaphor and a symbolic reference point for the way the game is studied and written about, and for its place, context and significance in Caribbean society and the popular culture.
However, while several works of fiction and non-fiction emerged since the late 1960s highlighting these dimensions of cricket, this kind of attention to the game had attracted the interest of West Indian writers in earlier years. There are other works before James's publication that were beginning to explore these extended perimeters of that famous sport. These include the seminal calypso 'Cricket Lovely Cricket,' the novel A Morning at the Office and the play Moon on A Rainbow Shawl.
The calypso describes "Cricket lovely cricket/At Lords where I saw it" and does a number of things. It is a praise song for the game and its heroes, a historical account, a record of an important occasion of great significance to West Indians, and a celebration. In the heroic tradition, it pays tribute to "Those little pals of mine/Ramadhin and Valentine," the legendary spinners who helped the West Indies beat England in a series in 1950. The song records a famous victory at Lords, the very headquarters of cricket and the hallowed home of the English game. There is a pronounced sense of occasion, since it was the coming of age of West Indies cricket when they were able not only to beat the great colonial power, but to do it in their own backyard, and at Lords of all places, their most revered home ground. None of this is lost on the narrator who also captures the occasion and the event that make up an important part of going to see a match. It is a social event, and this contest in 1950 was a memorable moment in history.
The same period (around 1950) is also treated in a much more general way in Edgar Mittelholzer's fiction A Morning at the Office. The Guyanese Mittelholzer is interested in the social analysis of culture, class and ethnicity in Trinidad where the novel is set. The same elements of colour, race and social hierarchy had preoccupied him in Guyana, which he explores in other works. In A Morning he makes reference to cricket in relation to one of his characters who belongs to the coloured middle class and who is an accomplished batsman. Cricket is a part of the novelist's analysis of a society in which almost everything is measured and placed according to race and class, and this represents early treatment of the subject in West Indian fiction. Mittelholzer pays close attention to it, revealing his awareness of the sociology of cricket.
Much later in the decade of the fifties the topic was again visited in another major work, this time in the field of drama. Moon on A Rainbow Shawl by Errol John is a play belonging to the 'backyard' tradition. It is also set in Port of Spain, Trinidad, John's native city, in 1957 when the hierarchy of colour and class was still very prominently defined in West Indian cricket. One of the major characters studied in the drama is Charley Adams, who is a dreamer reduced to drink and failure, unemployed and unable to properly support his family. Yet, Charley was quite an athlete in his younger days, one of the best fast bowlers in the colony.
Ironically, his success at cricket was largely responsible for his failure. Whenever the team travelled to compete in other countries the white and coloured middle class members of the team (the "amateurs") were entertained in the better hotels while the darker working class members (the "professionals") were given separate accommodation in cheap, run-down places. Charley complained about this treatment and, as a result, was never selected on the team again, virtually ending his career as a cricketer. To earn some money, he takes in odd jobs repairing cricket bats and, as the theme of class continues, one of the bats he repairs belongs to a student at one of the top secondary schools whose father is a member of the middle class. The boy promises to get his father to use his influence to have Charley employed as coach to the school team.
The class conflict returns as an issue much later in the theatre when other dramatists take it up at the beginning of the 1970s. Among the leading plays on the subject is No Rain, No Play by St. Lucian playwright Stanley French who dramatises it in a cricket match set up between a team of valley boys and a group of civil servants. There is no play because at the very beginning the two captains fail to agree on the rules of the game. The dramatist works it out as an extension of the class struggle and the way it is carried through cricket. The urban civil servants want to follow the rules as written by the MCC, about which the country boys know nothing. They insist on their own loose, rustic practices and, unable to reach any common understanding, both teams decide to occupy the pitch, each refusing to give ground.
The play contains a mixture of socio-political commentary, much humour and pathos as it explores the clash between urban middle class and rural rustics. There is also portrayal of the tradition of the 'fete' or 'curry goat' match, since this game was a challenge in which prize money was to go to the winners. During the stalemate and pitch occupation, the civil servants brought out the rum while the rustics settled down to a feast.
While French's play does not present a flattering picture of a disunited middle class, Derek Walcott engages a serious study of the bourgeoise in In A Fine Castle. This drama was written in 1970 but revised and rewritten in 1983 with a new title, The Last Carnival. Walcott includes a sequence on cricket as played by the gentry as he studies the white French Creole De La Fontaines, one of the oldest families in Trinidad. He does this mainly through features of carnival, but also employs those of cricket as a tradition among the local coloured middle class. Elements of the class struggle are also there since radical black militants antagonistic to the de La Fontaines are also at work in the play. Interestingly, the cricket match and the social event/occasion that it creates are presented as the leisure-time tradition of the French Creoles.
Ken Corsbie in Theatre in the Caribbean stresses cricket as theatre, and surely the game as social event and as 'fete' exists across the class spectrum. It is an arena for conflict, camaraderie, debate, oratory, politics and rum as reflected in so many works. These include the best of the Caribbean cricket poems, Edward Baugh's A View from the George Headley Stand and Eddie Kamau Brathwaite's classic Rites. The great potential for humour, among many other factors, is exploited by those two, but laughter is the main focus as Paul Keens Douglas depicts the traditions in Tante Merle at the Oval and Barbara Gloudon anchors her plot on them in the 2006/2007 Jamaica Pantomime Howzatt!
This is also taken up by the many calypsos addressing the game since 'Cricket lovely cricket' at Lords in 1950. It informs the dramatic setting for Cricket in the Jungle by Dave Martins, who is very conscious of the theatrical. There is a chanting chorus in the stands functioning as both audience, participating actors and choric agents provocateurs. They represent the members of the heckling audience who intervene during a performance and call for action after the fashion of the blood-thirsty spectators in the Roman arena.
They are also praise singers, at least in the encouragement they shout to the batsman (which turns ironic with the plight of the hapless Donkey) and their reference to the prowess of Kallicharran. It is this heroic praise tradition that David Rudder draws on in a serious discourse in Rally Round the West Indies. Rudder treats cricket as serious business of concern to the unity and strength of the Caribbean. Other calypsonians take the heroic tradition into a pure appreciation of the game, paying tribute to the players who defied the West Indies as in the batsman who was
Just like a wall
The West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all.