Beyond the Boundary: The Value of West Indian Cricket
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February 2, 2024
Beyond the Boundary: The Value of West Indian Cricket

by Dr Garrey Michael Dennie

Last week, for the first time since 1997, the West Indies cricket team defeated Australia in a test match in Australia. Big men cried. Cricket journalists all over the world trumpeted the news that the West Indian fast bowler, Shamar Joseph, had destroyed the Australian batting and led the West Indies to a momentous victory against the powerful Australian cricket team. And in this era of WhatsApp, the Caribbean cricket fan base shared text messages of such an unexpected and joyful story of Caribbean resilience and excellence on the field of play.

This explosion of Caribbean joy unleashed by our players’ victory over Australia calls to mind the deepest insights on cricket and society expressed by Trinidadian CLR James, perhaps the greatest Caribbean intellectual of all time. In his majestic work, BEYOND THE BOUNDARY, CLR James demonstrated that on the cricket field, Caribbean players fought for a recognition of our own genius, a respect for our dignity as a Caribbean people, a commitment to the principles of fair play, and a belief in the racial equality of all people. And in his most critical insight, CLR noted that in the colonial Caribbean, our players’ battles and successes on the field of play both inspired and paralleled our battles and success within the broader society.

Nowhere was this symbiosis between Caribbean cricket and Caribbean society more evident than in the 35-year period from 1960 to 1995.

Within that time, almost everywhere, the Caribbean countries broke colonial rule, re-claimed their place as sovereign independent societies, and on the international stage emerged as powerful and articulate voices for the equality of all people.

Simultaneously, on the cricket pitches around the world, the West Indies cricketers defeated every cricketing nation everywhere, produced some of the greatest players ever in the history of the game, experienced tremendous success in One Day Cricket – winning two World Cups and reaching a third World Cup Final – and climbed to the pinnacle of the cricketing world as the greatest cricketing nation in the world.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the remarkable captaincies of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards were the very epitome of the global triumph of Caribbean cricket. They revolutionized cricket by creating the fearsome foursome pace attack that shattered batsmen all over the world. Malcolm Marshal, Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose, Andy Roberts – their names will never be forgotten as part of the bowlers’ fraternity that transformed Caribbean cricket.

The Caribbean production of dominant batsmen matched our production of dominant bowlers. Viv Richards was simply incomparable.

But other batting legends emerged – Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara sat on the pedestal of cricketing greatness.

World cricket had never seen such dominance. And Caribbean pride in our players and our confidence in our civilization was immeasurable.

And then came the fall. In the early 1990’s, as our world beating players retired, our countries struggled to replace them with players equal in skill, courage, or commitment to the Caribbean cause. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the heroics of Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, and Courtney Walsh masked the loss of competitive quality. But then they too retired. And the flood gates of terrible results flowed.

In a prolonged nightmare of cricketing mediocrity, weeks of poor play turned into years. Years turned into decades. And by 2024 an entire generation of Caribbean cricket had passed by with politicians, cricket administrators, and the broader public fumbling in the darkness to discern why the greatest cricketing nation in the world had collapsed into a pit of futility and become the scorn of the cricketing world.

Hope, however, springs eternal. The excitement generated by the surprising victory over Australia opens the possibility that the
long nightmare of cricketing failure needs not be eternal. It is true, of course, that one victory does not in and of itself mean that a new cricketing day has arrived. But it is also true that the skills, courage, and resilience that enabled this team to battle through very tough situations to win this test match are precisely the very same virtues needed to restore and sustain West Indian glory in cricket.

But above all, the drive for success, the drive for excellence gains its momentum from the passion of the Caribbean people themselves. Our response to the victory over Australia demonstrates that our passion remains alive, our cricket retains its magic. For as CLR James understood, Caribbean glories on the cricket field can touch and transform Caribbean lives beyond the boundary.