“Its beginnings in semi-organized form to its unfolding into a contemporary internationalised structure, W.I cricket has both marked and been marked by a tight affiliation with complex social processing in the islands and states which makes up the West Indies.” In this writer’s belief, the above quote perfectly sums up the journey of West Indies cricket from strictly leisure to professionalism and the bums met through the journey. It is often said, that the history of Caribbean cricket is the history of the Caribbean. The development of club cricket shows not only organization but the marginalization that not only blacks suffer but working class whites. In addition, the composition of the West Indies Cricket Team demonstrates how unity, contributed to the continued the powers structure in the West Indies. Britain’s influence in the game cannot be doubted, as she tried earnestly to keep up her grip on her colonies, whilst giving mix signals on blacks on the West Indies team. Therefore, this writer posits the view that the development of the West Indies Cricket Team by the 20th century, showed the supremacy of the plantocracy who pledged their allegiance to Britain; however blacks fought for their presence on the side. Due to this tug of war, issues of race, class, power and security, manifested.
Club cricket in the West Indies was one of the stepping-stones use to formulate the regional cricket side in the late 19th century. According to Christopher Nicole “club cricket is the backbone of all cricket, and this is perhaps more true in the West Indies.” The major sugar-producing colonies in the British West Indies, dominated in club cricket because they had a larger stable white population, warranting the garrison – the soldiers at the garrison played friendly matches with the planters. The islands were known as the Big Four – British Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica. Club cricket in the Big Four signalled the continued attempt of the whites to marginalize the blacks and keep up their supposedly cement grip on society. Eliminating blacks in the genesis of the club cricket from participating in club competition clearly, shows the whites’ social prejudice. Therefore, the blacks developed their own clubs such as, Spartan and Carrington Cricket Club in Barbados and Lucas in Jamaica. Furthermore, it is important to note, the denial of not only black membership but also working class whites. Cricket was known as a gentleman’s game and a gentleman supervised workers, he did not work. For this reason they averted their working class brothers from the same cricket class as themselves. The game could not stop blacks from playing cricket but they could be deterred from sharing the same cricket field and pavilion of the whites. As Hilary Beckles subtly puts it, the blacks and whites “watched each other but kept their distance.” The black man worked on the cane fields of the whites but this was the closest social or economic relationship that they share. Without a doubt one can firmly posit the view that in the genesis of the game in the West Indies, cricket became tainted with dots of race hatred and conflict. Furthermore, Beckles explain that blacks attracted little help, in the early days of the game. It is an affront to the blacks because at that time cricket was firmly rooted as leisure of the plantation society. In addition, schools for whites’ children such as Harrison College in Barbados, placed cricket as a mandatory part of the curriculum, yet little or no help went to include blacks in establishing the game.
Furthermore, the West Indies cricket team was a symbol of the slowly disintegrating racial and social prejudice to working class people in the British Caribbean. Picking players the regional teams, portrayed a belief that there was a move towards an integrated West Indies. According to Hilary Beckles, an organized game bringing together West Indians is a strategic historical fact because it meant that people came together to harness resources for the support of a regional tour. Furthermore, by the end of the 19th century cricket moved from being solely the leisure of the elitist whites, to a regional game which transformed into art because it expressed a popular culture of the masses. By then both the blacks, elitist whites and working class whites played cricket at a club level. Since cricket became part of the culture, there was a collaboration to form a West Indies team to represent the colonies both within and outside of the region. Before creating the first ‘West Indies Team’, the general consensus was that cricket should stirr up outside of the Big Four, where cricket was less popular. The idea was for regional teams to play each other, where knowledge of the players would be accumulated and to test the economy and culture of the colonies for the game of cricket played on a regional level. At that period cricket players paid for their training, gears and travelling arrangements. For this reason, the rich and famous dominated cricket.
The first regional match played in 1865 between British Guiana and Barbados and by the late 19th century the prospect of playing on the West Indies Team made regional competition a regular addition to the game. In 1892, Competition for a Cup came in Barbados and the following year introduced in Jamaica. In addition, also in 1982, there was a tournament between Trinidad, Barbados and Demerara for the Intercolonial Challenge Cup. It is worth pointing out that white élite players dominated the regional and local Challenge Cup. At that period, there was the reference to a West Indies team, however blacks exclusion from the game at that form, meant a debate would ensued on the reason that they were not. The role of race in cricket would be heard and signalled as clear as drums and not the whispers of before. In addition, the power that the planter class had over the West Indian economy and especially culture, affected the full mobilization of the game. They determined who played cricket, when and how. In the growing era of popular culture, such control was a nuisance that many working class West Indians were ready to dismantle. Therefore, at that time in the mid 1860’s, when talks of a West Indies team prevailed in the media, it was not until 1886 that an all white West Indies Team toured the United States and Canada.
The West Indies team touring the United States and Canada lacked proper representation of full ‘West Indianness.’ The team was primarily white, not reflecting the full ethnic diversity of the colonies. One can posit the view that the white team suggests that the black sector of the population, need not be represented or that the white team represents all form of the West Indian culture. Furthermore, it might be proper to consider that a white team cannot be a true representation of West Indian culture for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most of the West Indian population is black; an automatic pick of some of the members on the team as black players would be a better representation. Secondly, the white West Indian cricket players were elitist in characteristics, thus they limited the cultural values of the working class West Indian. The plantocracy who composed the team made it their uttermost duty to economically and socially alienate not only blacks but working class whites from any activity that they controlled. Therefore, they did not or could not represent any one else but their minority part of the population.
Furthermore, the West Indies Team by 1886 consisted of players from the Big Four. The smaller colonies were not considered when the players for the team because of mainly economic reasons. As mentioned before the Big Four were the sugar powers in the British Caribbean and this authority pass on over to cricket because they were the introducer of the game to the colonies. Although the smaller sugar colonies (economically) played cricket, the game was more dominant and centralized in the Big Four. Furthermore, Christopher Nicole posits the view that the quota system for selecting players stirred jealousy which existed between the colonies – each believed that their men played the best cricket. The team’s first oversees tour ended in humiliation, their game against Canada was average but the United States severed their cricket pride. Any West Indian cricket fan today or simply any cricket fan would murmur in unbelief at an American victory over the West Indies Team in cricket.
The West Indies Cricket Team or cricket in general, in the West Indies would favour highly, only when recognized by Britain, since she claimed ownership of the organized form of the game. In addition, Hilary Beckles posit the view that white West Indians were seeking approval of Britain for progress their arts. Cricket was part of the culture of the West Indies because the colonizers wanted all things English regardless of the fact that they were in the West Indies. Therefore, cricket was one of the ways of the colonizers staying faithful to ‘good ole England.’ For example, H.B.G Austin, white captain of the West Indies team, in 1923 on their tour of England at a dinner proudly announce his loyalty to the flag and promised to stay underneath the flag that he was born. There is Austin pledging the loyalty of his mixed race team to the English. Hence, this writer agrees firmly with Allen Guttmann viewpoint, that Britain had an integral role in the growth of modern sports in the Americas. Guttmann further explains that because Britain was the imperial power of the 19th century she was able to dictate the nature of sports whilst she enjoyed the spoils of her colonies. Furthermore, because of the attitude of players like Austin, Britain believed that cricket could be used for imperial unity, thereby preserving the existing hierarchy whites continued to dominate both socially and economically whilst the blacks served. Thus, even if six blacks were in the side which toured England under Austin, in that period a black captain was not possible because Britain exercised its control of cricket through the white captaincy. The white captaincy was a symbolic place of the continued control of the empire.
Blacks in cricket at all levels of the game signal the beginning of non-racial pattern in the choice policy; however including them on the West Indies Team affirmed the beginning of change in cricket. The success of Trinidad – known as the weakest of the Big Four – called for persons such as Pelham Warner to scrutinize the Trinidadian game for answers. Warner concluded that it was the two professional bowlers [Wood and Cumberbatch] who made the Trinidadian team successful. Furthermore, when Trinidad played against Barbados in 1897 without their black bowlers they were badly beaten. Hence, blacks on a team came as a must on all competitive terms in order for victory in the game. Warner advised that the only way the West Indies Team would be victorious to gain the world’s attention, was by black players. It is important to remember that before, blacks’ professionals absence from the island teams for friendly games.
In addition, one can agree that the call for blacks to the West Indies team was not because of the acceptance. It was simply because of their skill that they formed part of the team; the black professionals was an asset to gain the world’s recognition through cricket. Furthermore, according to Beckles, in the 1890’s, Britain said that they had no opposition to blacks playing in competitive cricket; it was the West Indian colonials who struggled to include the blacks on ‘their’ team. Furthermore, the first West Indian team to tour England in 1990 did not receive first class test status – the West Indies received this status in 1928 – because the English believed that West Indies were not ready to receive it. It is noteworthy to point out that, Britain declared that it had no opposition to blacks playing the game but the treatment the West Indies Team received in the media begs one to think differently. According to Hilary Beckles, the caricatures shown by the newspapers depicted African black primitives and the whites as their master because of the mix composition of the team – six of the players were blacks.
Moreover, in tracing the genesis of cricket in the West Indies to the West Indies Cricket Team, one can firmly say that influence of the money, power and race dictated how the cricket. Furthermore, because cricket was the sport of the empire it was “bounded up with white supremacy.” The whites believe since they were the carriers of the game to the colonies they could exercise their authority over the blacks in whatever way they pleased. However, blacks determined to play the game just as much as the whites a devised ways to enjoy it both for leisure and at the professional level. They created their own cricket clubs when the white clubs shut them out. Later, as their competence in the game grew, they formed part of the West Indies Cricket Team but not without a struggle in the cricket world of racial prejudice. Furthermore, Britain’s role in recognizing the West Indies Team was full of ambiguity. On the one hand she proclaimed that it was acceptable for blacks to play in international cricket but on the other hand, she belittled the blacks in the media and held off first class status as long as she could.
Beckles, Hilary. The development of West Indies Cricket Vol. 1: the Age of Nationalism. Barbados: The University Press, 1998.
Beckles, Hilary. “The making of the First West Indian Teams 1886-1906.” Stoddart, Hilary Beckles and Brain. Liberation Cricket. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995. 192-204.
Guttmann, Allen. Games and Empire. Columbia : Columbia University Press, 1996.
Manley, Michael. A History of West Indies Cricket. London: Andre Deutsch Limited, 2002.
Nicole, Christopher. West Indian Cricket. London: Phoenix Sports Books, 1957.
Stoddart, Brian. “West Indies.” Sandiford, Brian Stoddart and Keith AP. In The Imperial Game: Cricket, Culture, and Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. 79-92.
Williams, Jack. Cricket and Race. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001.