SATURDAY’S CHILD: Rabbit Redux
Everyone in the town of Siparia in the deep south of Trinidad knew “Rabby” or “Rabbit”, although only a few people knew that his real name was Ivan Marchand. Rabby was the undisputed leader of the little community of “Cassava Alley” which was later renamed “Peyton Place” (by both its inhabitants and the rest of the town it scandalised) when the Grace Metalious novel revealing the seamy and sexy underside of a New England town, and the subsequent movie based on the book, became instant hits.Fortunately for us, while Rabby was sometimes as drunk as a lord, he never was a drug lord. He was a Lord’s lord. He loved his liquor, ladies and cards, but was passionate about football, carnival, and most of all cricket. Rabby was able to take a wild bunch of ex-convicts, would-be bandits, petty thieves, unemployed young men, gamblers, drinkers, womanisers, no-hopers and sometimes dopers, and the occasional innocent like me, and weld us into a cricket team that won all the competitions in which we played. Rabby would wait outside the recreation clubs or the rum shops to collect the “ball fee” which every team member had to contribute to ensure their selection on the squad. We would roll the pitch ourselves and sometimes, when fate, the rum and the rummy decreed that there would be no ball fees available, we polished up an old ball with Nugget so you could see the smile on it. Since we could not afford cricket equipment, our wicket-keeper used a pair of ordinary workmen’s gloves, sometimes stuffed with newspapers. We eventually managed to field two football teams, a senior and a junior team, but even though both lacked the financial resources for sustainability we had what was necessary for success – the main ingredient of which was Rabby’s leadership. What he had, more than everyone I’ve ever worked for or with, including prime ministers, was leadership. Even though he boasted that “all his convictions were for wounding”, he did not need to resort to physical violence to assert his dominance – he was in charge and everyone knew it.I remembered Rabby last Sunday after the World Cup final. My son Zubin and I had both worn orange T-shirts to support the Dutch team. My daughter Jasmine was smarter. She put on an orange T-shirt with a red windbreaker over it, and on her head she had both an orange and a red cap. Zubin took the Netherlands loss really hard. Immediately after the game we played some cricket to get our minds off the defeat, but as I talked to him before he fell asleep I knew that he was still upset. I told him about Rabby and the one thing that he repeated like a mantra, “Thoroughbreds never bawl.” In football, whenever we whined or protested against an off-side goal, he would tell us, “You playing to a whistle.” In other words, let the referee or umpire do his thing, but you play on and don’t complain. My son and I saw it with the Dutch, especially the very talented Arjen Robben. He thought he should have got a penalty and kept on protesting during the rest of the match. His obsession earned him a yellow card, and his inability to go beyond the event may have cost his team the game. I saw it with Sanath Jayasuriya, the Sri Lankan batsman, during the ICC 20-20 final in England last year. He blamed the bat he was using for his inability to score, changed several bats, and eventually ended up with the one he had initially rejected. His behaviour caused his team to lose both motivation and momentum. They lost. You see the same behaviour sometimes with bowlers who are frustrated with not getting wickets and blame the ball. When the umpires refuse to change the ball, the bowlers lose their composure and their focus and, inevitably, their team suffers. Because of his many brushes with the law, Rabby was not too fond of the police so he would never have supported FIFA’s decision to allow a policeman to referee the final. “Dey too strict,” he would say. It is true that a policeman’s mental and intellectual spectrum comprises only two colours – black and white. In his sensory universe there are no shades of grey. This was perhaps the tragedy of the final. The result might not have been different but the football would have been much more attractive.My son, who can fall asleep in mid-sentence agreed that referees should not be policemen and had started to ask me about Rabby but fell asleep, no doubt dreaming about the next World Cup and whether the Dutchmen would become thoroughbreds by then. • Tony Deyal was last seen saying that this 2010 World Cup final was the only time in the entire tournament when the referee’s whistle was more annoying than the vuvuzelas.