Nationalism in West Indies Cricket


The radical expressions of nationalism came in various forms on and off the cricket grounds. There were expressions that were non-speech such as gestures but there were the words and the gatherings that were not only heard but resonated. In this writer’s belief the non-speech action are radical because they were a departure from the norms and values adopted from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It is important to note that cricket goes beyond the boundary in the West Indies. When one leaves any cricket ground cricket does not stay there. In that situation, cricket ties  to nationalism because the social aspects that surround the game, encourages complete social and political reform. The use of newspapers, the role of the rum, barber and cake shops, all play an integral role in budding the radical expressions that propagates nationalistic fervour. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to use and look at the above mentioned locations [newspapers, shops etc.] from a cricket stand point to show how radical expressions existed and its link to nationalism.

One can posit the view that cricket aided in the development of a regional pride of being West Indian in the mid-20th century. According to Richard Burton, it was only when Trinidadians, Barbadians, Guyanese and Jamaicans saw the West Indies team played against their colonial masters – England, that they envisaged themselves as true West Indies. They shared an identity that was similar based on history, culture and politics in spite of  the desire to  solely focused on inter-colonial competition that digress from regional unity. Here one may ask, what is radical about the regional pride that the West Indians experienced? The answer lies in the atmosphere which existed in every cricket ground in the West Indies, which copulated  the feelings of fans at a match. For example Burton uses the analogy of the boundary rope in the West Indies and in England. At that time in England, spectators wouldn’t dream of crossing the boundary rope because of the repercussions. It is interesting to note that the rope was a representative of authority and order – the players stayed on the field and the spectators place was in the stands and pavilions. However, in the West Indies,  avid fans ignored the boundary rope  to express an emotion and few could keep him out. Whether it was to congratulate the players or share the secrets of the opponents or even show disgust at the empire. In this writer’s belief, it is a radical expression because it was opposite of the expected norm of order and conformity. Additionally, this radical expression becomes nationalistic because a large sector of the populations becomes involved.

In addition, the ability cricket has to unite West Indies like no other form of culture – religion and politics – at the same time clearly divulging the differences and hostility that existed contributed to nationalism.[1] The people firmly believed that cricket was a form of nationalism and anyone who acted contrary to any West Indian player was anti-nationalistic. For this reason, umpires, policemen, editors, selectors, local politicians and a host of others were closely scrutinized by the public when the belief is, it is a nationalistic remark.  As stated before, West Indians were very involved in any cricket match on and off the field. Demonstrations taking place within the cricket ground were classical in showcasing elements of nationalism. As CLR James puts it West Indians at test matches “bring with them past history and future hopes of the islands.”[2] Hence, at times riots occur at certain matches because the crowd believed that the umpire or a West Indian player made a wrong decision. Furthermore, there were times the choice and tone of certain words by  the people demonstrate that it was more than their favourite batsmen given out or their bowlers, being thrashed by the opponent’s batsman. Therefore, this writer agrees with Orlando Patterson, that cricket became the medium by which people channel their grievances that existed within the society.

Thus, Patterson brings out a very interesting point when he mentions that most of the riots occur in cricket matches between West Indies and England and hardly when Australians, Pakistanis or Indians played. It is a very important observation because it shows that West Indians used a cricket match – as mentioned before – to resist or protest against their colonizers. Thus, when West Indies lost to England in Guyana in 1954, the crowd pelted bottles unto the field.[3] Such actions demonstrates not just the ill feeling of losing a cricket match  but being defeated by their colonizer. England illustrated their “superordination over the subordinated”[4] in politics and economics, thus it infuriated West Indians that she won in cricket. Further evidence of West Indians radical expressions in the crowd in a cricket match shows in their words and gestures. According to Richard Barton, the people dance and pranced in the grounds on the bleachers whilst the powerful and respectful watched scornfully from the pavilion.[5] It was contrary to Victorian etiquette to jump at a function- well -mannered people sat and clapped. The West Indians were defiant they shouted and screamed in jubilation and in vexation. Their excitement could be seen when people shouted “You see dat shot….All over the ground fellas changing hands with each other, as if they were wheelin’ de willow, as if was dem had the power.”[6] When they were angry they melted bottles, inevitably the policemen began patrolling cricket matches. It is noteworthy to mention that the West Indian expressions of gaiety, similar to the carnival atmosphere at a cricket match, suggest a lack of recognition for the English way of behaviour for cricket. It is radical because it is different from the mode of conduct.

Additionally, in response to the peoples’ reaction in the bleachers, policemen were now part of the colonization struggle. The organizers of the game – who pledged their alliance to Britain or were wealthy middle class – wanted to intimidate the cricket fans and conform them to Victorian and Edwardian manners. However, the crowd were defiant and refuse to succumb to the officials. A further point worth noting is the fact that the sitting arrangements on the cricket grounds resembled the social structure of the West Indian society within the period. The upper echelon of society occupied the pavilions, the lower classes the stands and the bleachers. The powerful from the pavilion were looking down at the poor blacks in the bleachers. It is no surprise why the poor blacks in the bleachers refuse to sit still and mimic the whites and rich Coloureds; they decided to use their own vivid gestures and words. The blacks determined to enjoy the match as they saw fit, the authority was only a hindrance when they protested on the field. Thus, Neil Lazarus is correct when he says that “cricket is no longer Victorian.[7]” Blacks were ready to make their own rules for the game that they adopted.

One must be cognisant of the fact that the West Indians were so involved in the cricket matches that they formed opinions on who should play and what positions they should hold. The discussions that many had which sometimes turned into an argument about cricket or any issue revolving around cricket, gives an insight into the extent West Indians involved in the game [hence it became a national event]. Furthermore due to this participation of the West Indian in a cricket match, their decisions of the match are sometimes based on their player. For example, the crowd waits for a signal from the batsman to know if he is right, if he throws his bat or argues with the umpire, the crowd interprets this as the umpire being unfair – the results, bottles pelted on the field.[8] Furthermore, as Maurice St. Pierre points out, cricket establishes a sense of national pride because it gave West Indian boys, heroes that were indigenous to the West Indies. The boys  through cricket to identified with “stars”.[9] Therefore, cricketers became heroes and their avid fans went to great lengths to express their gratitude to their heroes. For example, the people of Jamaica felt that George Headley should return to international cricket, thus they raised £1,000 so that he could return home to play in the trials.[10] This clearly shows the extent to which cricket moulded part of the national pride, when the public is willing to pay a cricketer’s fare [in an economic depression state] to re-enter ‘big’ cricket.

Cricketers were now heroes who played not only for himself but also for the crowd who supported him earnestly. According to Maurice St. Pierre, the cricket bat became a symbol of violence when fierce hitters such as Learie Constantine, Walcott, Weekes, Headley and Sobers thrash the ball over and across the field.[11] Furthermore, some of the batters change their style of batting to entertain the crowd for example Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.[12] It is important to note here that the changing of batting for entertainment could be interpreted as much more. The West Indians determined to play cricket in their way and not be confined to the normal batting style of the English, however, in the batman’s quest to entertain, he gave away his wicket because of poise or style that exposed his wicket. In addition, according to Hilary Beckles in Age of Nationalism, the style of bowling was different with bowlers such as Hall whose pace subjected the opponent batsmen into subjection. The crowd went hectic because ‘they’ were thrashing ‘them’ – “the privileged, the oppressor, the alien and the dominant culture,” not just the batsman at the wicket.[13] However, the English would not sit back and accept defeat thus they formulated ways to deter the victory of the West Indian. The West Indian bowlers were attacking the batsmen, who now had to dress in gears and pads to protect his body. Thus, the English tried to lengthen the pitch in trying to slow down the pace of the ball.[14] Here one should note that the bowler acts as a representative of nationalism whose quest it was to thrash the colonizers – the batsmen – away.

The crowd outside of the cricket crowd also showed radical expressions of West Indian nationalism. The formation of groups in betting shops, cake shops, rum shops have according to Maurice St. Pierre, created a form for “anti-colonial collective activity.”[15] Lengthy time spent in the shops listening to radio commentary of cricket and discussing politics was not an activity that the colonizers approved. It is important to remember that in the decades immediately after slavery, to keep the ex-enslaved on the plantations, laws were passes against vagrancy. The Vagrancy Law was simply a move to control a man’s time and how he spent that time. Thus, by the men spending hours in the shops they were breaking away from the expected norm of how time should be spent in the colonizers eyes. Furthermore, it was a tool that the local politicians took advantage – cricket involving the masses in a cultural event. Politicians such as Eric Williams of Trinidad and Forbes Burnham of Guyana used the crowds gathered to talk cricket, to spread their message of political reform in the West Indies. One must remember that between 1930 and 1960, there existed a strong nationalistic fervour in the West Indies. The effect of the Great Depression of early 20th century changed negatively  the economies of the West Indies. The sugar industry lost its profitability for many of the islands and competition from the Dominican Republic and Cuba on the sugar market did not help. In addition, the technological improvements in the sugar industry resulted in the loss of jobs for many. Majority of West Indians were working for low wages and living in deplorable conditions. They were hungry and frustrated, thus when encouraged by leaders they protested in the 1930’s. From Jamaica to Trinidad, West Indians, looted shops, burnt building etc demanding attention from the local and imperial government.[16]

Another form of radical expression could be seen by the use of newspaper to influence  selection for cricket players and local reform. As a writer for the Nation Newspaper CLR James, used his articles to lament the view of many West Indians that Frank Worrell  role as captain of the West Indies side. According to James, his article Alexander Must Go sold out by the next day, simply because people interest, similar to James on the issue of the captaincy.[17] The structure of the West Indies was similar to the social structure of the West Indian society. The whites and lighter skins were always the authority and control and the dark skins were the subordinated hard workers. Overlooked many times was the  fight for a black captain based on competency – Constantine. The people were more adamant than ever that Worrell was able to pull the team together under his leadership. Eventually, the West Indies Cricket Board gave in to the idea in 1960.

Moreover the radical expressions of West Indian nationalism that transpired on and outside the cricket field, display the extent to which cricket influenced the masses. It was almost as if the fate of nationalism of the West Indies laid in the decisions made in and for cricket. Or was it the other way around – the changes in society became clear on the cricket field? It is important to recognize that as the changes for the social structure in cricket changed, the political and social spheres in the West Indian society began changing. There was the thirst for all things indigenous in the West Indies. Here one may ask, why did the West Indies cling on to cricket in their way of nationalism whilst in the USA and Ireland then, the game did not flourish. Some historians such as Patterson have posited the view that West Indies hung to cricket in attempt to beat the colonizer at what she created. The reasons for keeping the game of cricket is not important here but what is very interesting is the impact that cricket had on the social, political and economic spheres of the West Indian society.

[1] Richard Burton, “Cricket, Carnival and Street Culture in the Caribbean,” Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture, eds. Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995), 94

[2] CLR James, Beyond a Boundary (London: Stanley Paul, 1963), 233

[3] Maurice St.Pierre, “West Indian Cricket Part II: An aspect of Creolisation,” Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture, eds. Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995), 133

[4] Orlando Patterson, “The Ritual of Cricket,” Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture, eds. Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995), 142

[5] Richard Barton, Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 185

[6] Ibid., 184 Barton quoting Braithwaite poem Rites

[7] Neil Lazarus, Nationalism: Cultural Practice in the Post Colonial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 159

[8] Maurice St.Pierre, “West Indies Cricket As Cultural Resistance,” The Social Roles of Sports in Caribbean Studies, ed. Michael A. Malec ( Amsterdam: Gordon Breach, 1995), 61

[9] Maurice St.Pierre, “West Indian Cricket Part II: An aspect of Creolisation,” 131

[10] James, 229

[11] Maurice St.Pierre, “West Indian Cricket Part I: A Socio-historical appraisal,” Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture, eds. Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart (Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995), 113

[12] Maurice St.Pierre, West Indies Cricket As Cultural Resistance, 67

[13] Patterson, 144

[14] Maurice St.Pierre, West Indies Cricket As Cultural Resistance, 68

[15] Ibid., 70

[16] Michael Manley, A History of West Indies Cricket ( London: Andre Deutsch Limited, 2002),  55-158

[17] James, 340


Beckles, Hilary. “Nursing Colonial Wounds: Nita Barrow and Public health Reform after the 1930’s Workers’ Revolution.” Cobley, Eudine Barriteau and Alan. Stronger, Surer, Bolder: Ruth Nita Barrow, Social Change and International Development. Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2001. 26-45.

—. The development of West Indies Cricket Vol. 1: the Age of Nationalism. Barbados: The University Press, 1998.

Burton, Richard. Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition, and Play in the Caribbean. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Burton, Richard. “Cricket, Carnival and Street Culture in the Caribbean.” Stoddart, Hilary beckles and Brian. Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture. Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995. 89-106.

James, CLR. Beyond a Boundary. London: Stanley Paul, 1963.

Lazarus, Neil. Nationalism: Cultural Practice in the Post Colonial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Lewis, JK. The Growth of the Modern West Indies. Kingston: Ian Randle, 2004.

Manley, Michael. A History of West Indies Cricket. London: Andre Deutsch Limited, 2002.

Patterson, Orlando. “The Ritual of Cricket.” Culture, Liberation:West Indies Cricket. Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart. Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995. 142.

St.Pierre, Maurice. “West Indian Cricket as Cultural Resistance.” Malec, Michael A. The Social Roles of Sport in Caribbean Studies. Amsterdam: Gordon Breach, 1995. 53-84.

St.Pierre, Maurice. “West Indian Cricket Part I: A Socio-historical appraisal.” Stoddart, Hilary Beckles and Brian. Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture . Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995. 107-125.

St.Pierre, Maurice. “West Indian Cricket Part II: An aspect of Creolisation.” Stoddart, Hilary Beckles and Brian. Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture. Kingston: Ian Randle, 1995. 125-141.

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