ARTICLES: GARY SOBERS AND THE BRISBANE REVOLUTION

III

A new quality of leadership is thus obviously part of the explanation of the recent success of West Indies cricket. But this can hardly be the full explanation of the recent conquest of heights which have often been tantalisingly missed in the past. Further questions must be asked and answered before the new situation becomes wholly comprehensible. How did the new leadership – the Worrell-Sobers axis – reach its position of leadership? Can it maintain its position? Why have the members of the team responded so quickly and whole-heartedly to the new policies of team selection and to the leadership of the captains? Is the new team unity wholly the creation of sane captaincy? If it is possible to offer an adequate answer to some of these questions then it will be possible both to talk rationally of a “revolution” and to expect the continued success of West Indian cricket. Some sort of answer is suggested by the presence and operation of certain socio-political factors.

Three interacting agencies of pressure might be isolated. In the first place, political events in the area during the last twenty years have affected the situation. The West Indies has been moving fitfully towards the appearance of democracy and this is reflected in trade union activity, universal adult suffrage, apparently mass-based political parties. The people – the underprivileged sector – are on the scene of politics even if they do not dominate it. It has become increasingly necessary for the social and political elite groups to offer the people the shadow if not the substance of power. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of symbols designed to damp down the frustrations of centuries. If politicians must appear to act for the people and to seem of the people, so too must the administrators of cricket which has a following perhaps larger and more devoted than any political party. In some ways, cricket has in the past anticipated social change in the West Indies; but since the recent political events seem to have outdistanced it, pressure is being applied on the administration of the game to reflect the changing political situation.

Secondly, there is the impressive and, to some extent, embarrassingly long list of achievements by numerous cricketers from the underprivileged sector of the community. These were (and are) the cricketers who did not possess a background in the plantation aristocracy or in the upper reaches of the mercantile community; they had their origins in the coloured and Negro lower-middle and lower classes. The contribution that cricketers like George John, Wilton St. Hill, Learie Constantine, George Headley, Herman Griffith, Derek Sealey, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell, Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine made to West Indian cricket during the last forty years needs no special emphasis. These men were West Indian cricket – both locally and internationally. At the present time, West Indies cricket rests mainly on the shoulders of the same class of individual – Sobers, Kanhai and Butcher, Griffith, Hall and Gibbs. Yet West Indian cricket administration and leadership positions have been (and, to some extent, still are) dominated by a small white and “high brown” oligarchy which rules at Kingston Cricket Club, Queen’s Park, Pickwick and G.C.C, and barely acknowledges the claims to leadership of the members of Melbourne, Maple, Spartan and D.C.C, and completely ignores those of the members of Boys’ Town, Shannon, the Barbados Cricket League and Transport. This does not by any means exhaust the intricate social complexities of cricket: there are black and lower class clubs, black and coloured professional middle class clubs, off-white and poor white clubs, wealthy white clubs. There is also a degree of social mobility: a black player from a lower status club can enjoy a limited climb up-wards as his success at cricket alters his social status. But this is the main outline of the reflection of the social situation in the game: the lower status clubs provide the bulk of players for the West Indian teams and most of the brilliant individual performers while the higher status clubs provide the captains and most of the personnel of the cricket Associations and Boards of Control. But, in the context of an apparently changing political scene, this situation would and did come in for open criticism.

The third agency of pressure then is the criticism which was mainly articulated by C. L. R. James. James has recognised the degree to which West Indian social history is involved with cricket and the great extent to which native cultural expression (particularly among West Indian males) exists only through participation in this game. He has recognised, too, that the administration and leadership of a game which is of such crucial social and cultural importance should reflect the existence of the immanent social forces which give it its importance. James has expressed all this and much more in his Beyond a Bounduy; and it was James again who, in many articles in the Nation during 1959 and 1960, argued powerfully for reform of cricket’s administration, for the reinstatement of Gilchrist and for the appointment of Worrell as West Indies captain. James was the first apostle or the revolution. Operating as he did simultaneously in a mass political party context, James articulated. and directed a popular resentment which was always likely to erupt in violence and which did erupt into violence at Bourda in 1954 and at Queen’s Park in 1960. He said publicly (and in a political party’s newspaper) what should have been said for more than a generation; he wrote what, because or an outworn Boy Scout and Public School morality, had only been muttered on verandahs and in bars. It was James principally who had caused popular pressure to be applied with some success to the oligarchic structure or West Indian cricket administration.

The result of this combined pressure has been a more complete social breakthrough in terms of fuller popular participation in cricket on the field. For a long time now it has been possible for any talented cricketer to win selection on West Indian teams, but now it would seem that all members of the West Indian communities as well as all the cricketers themselves can at last feel a sense of identification with the game because nearly all the socio-economic barriers to vertical mobility by players inside the game have been removed. One captain has been selected on the basis of his merit as a player: This innovation seems to have released the full energies and abilities of most of the cricketers; they are now performing for themselves as well as for the community because they have realised that a small narrow-minded, self-perpetuating social oligarchy no longer completely dominates their cricket world. All of them have equal opportunity to win selection on the Test team; anyone of them could become its captain.

This represents a complete break (one hopes) with a past in which West Indian cricket administrators and selectors, in an attempt to circumvent the considerable claims of George Headley to the captaincy of the West Indies. team in 1947, could create a farcical situation by appointing, before the series started, Goddard, Stollmeyer and Headley as the captains for the four matches! Similar examples abound: a mediocre cricketer like Denis Atkinson was appointed captain in 1955; an ageing John Goddard was resurrected after his failures in Australia in 1951¬∑52 to lead the team to England in 1957; a sadly inexperienced Cambridge Blue, F. C. Alexander, was predictably appointed captain between 1958 and 1960. In all these instances, the selectors ignored the considerable claims of Worrell and the lesser but still weighty claims or Walcott’ and Weekes: the traditional leadership and dominance of Kingston Cricket Club and Pickwick¬∑ Wanderers were maintained. In most of these instances, the remarkable potential possessed by the individual members of West Indian teams was frittered away by inept captaincy and by an absence of team spirit; and throughout the ‘fifties such a policy reaped its rewards in the embarrassment and deep humiliation of West Indian cricket – both at home and abroad.

West Indian achievement in cricket over the last five years reflect the existence of a new situation. This is not to suggest that the presence of certain social or political factors can ensure success in any game. A game is by its very nature non-deterministic. Chance and the individual temperament affect performance and outcome to a significant degree. But outside these imponderable there are areas which can be developed by the application of skill in leadership, by rationality in. team selection, and by self-conscious attempts to create team spirit. In these ways success in the game might not be ensured, but the chances of defeat and humiliation are reduced. What is new in West Indies cricket is that neither the team nor the West Indies cricket public expects defeat or frequent, total and inexplicable collapses – and, partly as a result, neither of these has occurred with any regularity in the last five years.