There is no sporting figure who so impacted on my life, and, I dare say the lives of millions like me, as Sir Ivan Vivian Alexander Richards, the legendary batsman and West Indies cricket captain from the island of Antigua. It is not just his exploits with the bat, but the confidence he exuded, the challenge to unbridled authority that he represented.
To borrow the words of the immortal C.L.R. James, he seemed to go “beyond the boundary”, literally and figuratively. For centuries, British colonialism had lorded it over the Caribbean people. Nonentities in British society were sent out to the colonies, boosted by royal titles, to become rulers in the region, accountable only to the crown and the British Foreign Office. British institutions and even sporting traditions were cloned in our society. Significantly, the Caribbean became one of the few parts of the British Empire to adopt both cricket (men) and netball (women) as national sports.
In relation to cricket, which was the passion of Vivian Richards, the control of the colonial masters was exhibited not only in its dominance over the rules of the game but even on the field of play itself. The on-field judges of the game, the umpires, sometimes sought to ensure that the colonial masters got critical decisions on the field, and our insipid administrators were complicit in it. Even in the selection of teams on both the national and regional levels, there was discrimination against cricketers (as was in the case of netball) who came from a certain class. Not even the pre-eminence of the great George Headley from Jamaica or Frank Worrell from Barbados with his academic qualifications could force the West Indies cricketing authorities to place leadership of the regional team in the hands of a black man before the ushering in of the age of independence in 1960.
Just over two decades later, Viv Richards, was to surmount the long discrimination not just against “ordinary” black people from the Caribbean but the additional one in the Caribbean against “small-island people” to succeed the great Clive Lloyd at the helm of the champion West Indies cricket team. His challenge was one multiplied several times over. Yet he was able to take it in his stride to remain until today the only West Indies captain never to have lost a Test series.
Therein lies the significance and strategic importance in the choice of the ECCB to place the image of Viv Richards on the new banknote, the first one to be issued since the death of the late Queen of Great Britain and ECCB member states. The bank had indicated its intention and called for suggestions as replacement. While collectively the Eastern Caribbean states have over four decades of independence, there are still remnants of the old colonial thinking. Significant ones at that, of a lack of confidence in our ability to navigate our own future.
There is perhaps no greater manifestation of this than was exhibited right here in SVG during the ill-fated constitutional reform process during the first decade of this century. Those with no confidence in our collective abilities and reliant on external advisers raised a big furore, charging that removing the image of “the Queen” from our currency would cause all sorts of economic and social disasters, including Vincentians having difficulty to immigrate to Britain. It is incumbent on those political leaders who were associated with such anti-nationalist claims and untruths to now disassociate themselves from such backward thinking and endorse the ECCB’s choice.
That choice is rooted in the self-confidence of Vivian Richards, in his ability to demonstrate his worth both as an individual player and as a leader. He had to prove that so-called “small islanders” could be equal to any other Caribbean people and could navigate their way around and surmount the challenges before them. It was no wonder the famed Antiguan calypsonian Short Shirt was invited to laud Viv and the ECCB’s choice with his immortal tribute to Richards’ achievements. He sung “No bowler holds a terror for Vivian Richards”, what the Jamaicans would call “E na fraid”.
The ECCB is indicating to us and the world that we can take charge of our economic fortunes, are ready to face the world of finance just as Viv confidently confronted the Australian fast bowling “terror” of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and the others. It is not only an important economic and financial indicator, but also a statement of confidence in our collective ability to do so.
It is a statement of willingness and determination to complete the decolonization process, not apologetically, but because it is an historical imperative, a necessary step in our advancement. It provides a banner of self-confidence and self-assurance for our young people that ordinary people can provide leadership and positive direction.
I salute the courage of the ECCB leadership, Governor (what a term to have to live with!) Timothy Antoine, his Board and Chairman of the ECCB Council, our own Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves in making this bold choice and salute Viv Richards once again for the inspiration he has provided.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.