Ian Bishop has this uncanny ability of making prophetic comments. In April 2016 the world remembers Bishop, a real thoughtleader in our sport, saying his immortal words “Carlos Brathwaite - Remember the name….”
When I reminded him that it was at a function the day before the T-20 World Cup final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata that he had mentioned Brathwaite, he was excited. “Yes I remember”, he said before going on to add, “You asked me the question and because people in India knew of Gayle and Bravo I mentioned Carlos for I knew what he was capable of”.
He had opened the doors for me to ask the next question. In the context of what is happening in the world, something that can be traced back to Sir Frank Worrell and the 1950s black revolution in West Indies cricket so very eloquently articulated by the great CLR James, did he believe the West Indies will surprise England in the first Test - I had asked him just days before the Southampton conquest had begun. Bishop paused to answer: “The first Test is our best chance. There is a lot of extra motivation on offer and England is rusty not having played any cricket in the last 100 days. Each of our players will want to do something for a cause”, he concluded.
Yet again, he has been proved right. While we continue to celebrate the legendary Michael Holding for his emotional outburst, it is important to note that West Indies cricket has always stood up against injustice perpetrated in the larger world.
Before I go into a sociological analysis of West Indies cricket, let me put it bluntly that for me every life matters. There are Latinos, native Americans, South Asians and of course blacks who continue to be discriminated against in our world. Add women to this list in some parts of the world. And racism is the world’s longest continuing pandemic, far more deep-rooted and vicious than COVID-19. West Indian cricketers, like others across sport in the US and elsewhere has always raised a voice against such discrimination.
If it was Jesse Owens in 1936 and Jackie Robinson in 1947, it was Frank Worrell and his band of Caribbean greats that caught the world’s imagination in the 1950s. That Worrell was finally made captain in 1957 was a major triumph for what we now call “Black Lives Matter”. And to do well against the English has always been a motivation. Consider Sir Vivian Richards in the 1980s and Sir Clive Lloyd winning the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979. Not only did the West Indies win the World Cups, by doing so they lent a voice to the millions of oppressed in the UK and beyond.
If it was Tommy Smith and John Carlos in Mexico in 1968, it was Lloyd’s quartet of fast bowlers in the 1980s that helped assert black superiority in sport. “I take great pride in the fact that a generation of West Indians born between 1970 and 1980 grew up never seeing us lose”, said Clive Lloyd when I asked him what cricket meant for him and his generation. “For us, cricket is not simply a sport. It is something, which won us the respect we deserved in society”, argued the legendary West Indian captain.
Bishop concurred: “We are forced to say Black Lives Matter because it is an acceptable parameter that things can be said against men and women of a certain skin colour. This comes from a sense of entitlement”, says Bishop.
While Holder and Shannon Gabriel were battling it out against Stokes and company, the backdrop was that of a much bigger battle. They were fighting for their rights and more importantly a voice in the 21st century world. Southampton isn’t simply a victory. It is also a testament to what sport can do and how it can add to a movement, which has far larger ramifications.
As we wait for the second Test to start and the sporting world sport sits on one knee to raise a united voice against an unjust world, it is time to celebrate West Indian cricket. And this time, it is not for a cavalier calypso. Rather, it is for something much bigger.
Something that Holder and his mates were taught at the University of West Indies as students. To stand up for their rights. Just what they did at Southampton.
- The author is a cricket historian and sports scholar based in India