SATURDAY’S CHILD: King cricket and other monarchs
I LOVE CRICKET jokes but seeing these days that a lot of them are getting selected to play for the West Indies, I decided to go back to my first love – calypso – and indulge in one particularly enticing voyage of discovery.
I am heading into some recently charted territory that combines my two favourite pursuits, cricket and calypso. My navigator is Nasser Khan, a cricket fan who can still be found in the Queen’s Park Cricket Club’s indoor nets on a Tuesday night, and on the weekends on some poorly lit country cricket ground with a motley crew taking on some team they are sure they will beat.
With support from the Nagico regional Insurance Group, Nasser has researched, written and published History Of West Indies Cricket Through Calypsoes, a book intended for distribution to high schools and libraries in the region.
The first cricket calypso I heard was Lord Beginner’s Victory Test Match which I knew as Cricket Lovely Cricket. It was written and performed by Egbert Moore (Lord Beginner) on June 29, 1950, when, as Martin Williamson of espncricinfo.com said, “West Indies completed an emphatic 326-run victory over England at Lord’s. It was a defining moment, not only in West Indies cricket, but in the history of the Caribbean.”
This was the day when the apprentices graduated. The opening verse put the feat in the context of the sport: “Cricket lovely cricket/ At Lord’s where I saw it./ Cricket lovely cricket/ At Lord’s where I saw it./ Yardley tried his best./ Goddard won the Test./ They gave the crowd plenty fun;/ The second Test and West Indies won.” The chorus singled out the spin twins who dominated the English batsmen, “With those little pals of mine/ Ramadhin and Valentine.” Even though I was five years old at the time, I remember my father and my uncle coming home high on victory and the spirits of the cane they grew and reaped, boasting about their friend, Ramadhin, who had worked in the cane fields with them.
Nasser found 215 original calypsoes written by West Indians on the game of cricket, generally, moments, episodes, players and landmarks in the history of the game. The moment he handed me a copy of the book I started going through the pages to find those that I remembered or had jumped up to at various locations in the Caribbean. One that I am extremely fond of but could not remember all the words, was Sparrow’s 1966 hit, Sir Garfield Sobers. It was the second calypso I searched for and found very quickly. There is a boastful lilt to, “Australia you loss/ The West Indies is boss/ The trophy belongs to us./…Australia stick you grind/ Australia don’t mind/ Better luck next time.” As I did for Beginner’s Cricket, I went on YouTube and listened to Sparrow’s Sir Garfield. Next thing I started to sing those and a few others for my wife. Just that brief period after Nasser gave me a copy of the book was, like the book, priceless.
So where did I go to from there. In a sense back to Australia. We had listened on the noise-riddled Pye radio to the advent of Vivian Richards on the cricket stage and were so impressed that my friend Orland and I took the bus from the deep South of Trinidad to the Queen’s Park Oval to watch Richards play for the Combined Islands. It is the kind of trip I have made several times in my life. Going to watch Brian Lara get a century at the Oval but failing in the nineties.
Back again to see Lara score a century at Guaracara Park in South Trinidad. This time he did. And predicting a century by Gus Logie against Barbados. He did not disappoint. But we all knew at that time that Richards was special and it was only a matter of time. That was not it. He got 6 and 0 in his two innings but we were not disappointed and later on, in 1976, two years after I returned to Trinidad, we got the song to celebrate the great Viv. King Short Shirt gave us what was our anthem until David Rudder brought out Rally Round The West Indies.
It was, “No bowler holds a terror/ For Vivian Richards/ Not Thompson, not Lillee – not Bedi nor Chandrashekar/ Perfect combination of body and mind/ That brother is really dynamite/ Pace or spin/ He doesn’t give a France what they bowling/ Fast or slowly/ You goin’ back to the boundary.” Lots of waters flowed under that particular musical bridge.
While Nasser’s book has really good statistics and team pictures, the calypsoes are the real treasures, gems, masterpieces and history. In those days, the calypsonians were the chroniclers of their times and so much of cricket history is contained in the book that whenever I go back to it, I find something to pursue. How may calypsoes are there on Brian Lara? Is there any greater irony than Jeff Stollmeyer, praised in 1950 in the Beginner calypso (The King was there well attire/ So they started with Rae and Stollmeyer/ Stolly was hitting balls round the boundary…) and then slammed by Sparrow in 1978 as “Cricket lord and its master” because “they went and sign for money with Kerry Packer/ And no one makes a fool of Stollmeyer.”
In the passing parade of hits, there is Relator’s timeless Gavaskar and its lesson that every day is a lovely day for cricket. The awesome collection tells us that cricket even in its present decline and seemingly bottomless pit that the West Indies Test team is descending into, is still lovely and there is hope. He might be Shai and part of a weak team but he springs eternal in the West Indian breast.
• Tony Deyal was last seen enjoying the chorus of Mighty Gabby’s “Malcolm Marshall” and the couplet, “His delivery so fast/ People does say a jet plane just passed.”