A Review of Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology

ADMISSION BY THE EDITORS of Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology—that they are “two cricket-know nothings”—might tempt some people not to buy and/or read their book. But either option would be a mistake. For although Linda Deane and Robert Sandiford grew up outside the West Indies, in Britain and Canada, respectively, they had Barbadian (Bajan) parents, through whom, somehow, they seem to have imbibed an abiding love of West Indian cricket. Ms Deane, at any rate, confesses to being captivated by: “the historical and socio-political significance of the game and its supernaturalness.”

Shouts from the Outfield contains twenty-one essays from mainly Bajan contributors whose comments or shouts about West Indian cricket from the public outfield are organized into three sections, the first of which, “Silly at Mid-On: Commentaries,” consists of general essays on cricket, including light-hearted touches that create a humorous tone. Adonijah’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” for example, opens with an anecdote about a panic-stricken Bajan housewife whose urgent phone call to the Fire Service, reporting her house on fire, gets this response: “Sorry, lady, you got to call back later. Sobers batting now.”

Humour is one thing, but the Fire Service’s passion for cricket smacks of something else, which comes out more clearly in Philip Spooner’s “Laramania” in the form of a letter from C.L.R. James to Frank Worrell, after the latter was appointed captain of the West Indian team for their tour of Australia in 1960/61. At the time, the West Indies were still British colonies, and James urged Worrell to use his appointment as the first black captain of the team to show “that we [West Indians] are capable of managing our own affairs, and if you can demonstrate that, then we will go to 10 Downing Street [residence of the British Prime Minister] to discuss independence in this region.” Cricket, in other words, was a key to the West Indian political kingdom.

Ikael Tafari’s “The Drama of Cricket,” the last essay in Section One, delves further into this political link. Relying on insights from Orlando Patterson’s essay “The Ritual of Cricket,” Tafari analyses an incident in the Third Test match at Sabina Park in February, 1968, after West Indies had replied with 143 to an English first innings total of 376, and, having followed on, had reached 204 for five in their second innings. Basil Butcher was then given out, caught low down the leg side by the English wicketkeeper; and this decision by umpire Douglas Sang Hue, a Chinese-Jamaican, provoked a riot that stopped play for 75 minutes, with the angry crowd hurling bottles on the field. 

In Tafari’s words, “The masses of black Jamaicans” who regarded the English team as “symbols of their oppression,” and hoped they would be defeated by their local heroes, now saw their hopes frustrated by “a ‘Chineeman’ siding with ‘the enemy’ and ‘teefing out’ the Guyanese black man Butcher.” As largely urban shopkeepers, Chinese-Jamaicans were “seen by the black majority as collaborators with the ruling classes, heartlessly exploiting poor blacks.” This is the crux of Tafari’s argument—that cricket is “a gladiatorial drama of consciousness depicting the primordial struggle between Prospero and Caliban—between colonizer and colonized.” All this may seem old hat, nowadays, long after Independence, and after the 1980s and 90s, when the West Indian team achieved international cricket supremacy under Clive Lloyd. But Independence and cricket supremacy have so far done little to change continuing West Indian dependence in political, economic and cultural affairs.

Section Two—“Border Cricket: Legends”—offers comic relief consisting of five items, including an excerpt from Austin Clarke’s Giller Prize-winning novel The Polished Hoe, which mixes hilarity and historical reminiscence into a seductively revealing and entertaining blend. Best of all “Fete Match,” a long (eleven-page) poem by Paul Keens Douglas, is a masterpiece of joyous whimsy that captures the farcical extravaganza of a Selvonesque cricket match in which the coin tossed up before the start of the match “never came back down. Somebody teaf it.” 

Section Three—“Kensington Memories: Reminiscences”—then closes Shouts from the Outfield with reminiscences by five authors of Kensington Oval, the Test match ground in Barbados. The first, “Kensington Memories,” is by Tony Cozier, the most durable cricket journalist and broadcaster to have emerged in the West Indies during the past two or three decades. As a Bajan, Cozier knows everything about his home ground, and recalls special moments such as its founding in 1922 by the Pickwick Cricket Club, its hosting of the inaugural West Indies home Test, against England, in 1930, and in 1958 Hanif Mohammad’s exploit of the longest Test innings ever played—sixteen and a half hours.

In “A Partnership to Remember,” historian Professor Keith Sandiford re-creates the context of the match-saving, record-breaking seventh wicket partnership of 347 runs between the West Indian captain Denis Atkinson and the wicketkeeper Clairmonte Depeiza, in the Fourth Test against Australia at Kensington Oval in 1955. Atkinson scored 219 and became “the first cricketer to score a double century and capture five wickets in an innings in the same Test.” Depeiza, meanwhile, made 122.

Another historian, Professor Hilary Beckles, argues in “Tribute to Sir Gary Sobers” that Sobers’ achievement was part of an historic “cricket revolution” that began with early West Indian activists like J.J. Thomas and Paul Bogle, and continued with “radical cricketers” like Learie Constantine and George Headley, before inspiring a “wider democratic movement” through men like C.L.R. James, Frank Worrell and Garfield Sobers. If, as two cricket know-nothings, the editors of Shouts from the Outfield can serve up such a delicious dish of history, politics, reminiscence and thoughtful reflection, lavishly garnished with spicy humour, how much more delicious might their dish have been had they been cricket know-alls instead!

This review first appeared in Indo Caribbean World at http://www.indocaribbeanworld.com/archives/2009/january_7_2009/arts.htm.