Is CPL the Son or the Stepchild of The Caribbean’s Love Affair with Cricket?
It’s a love story that has lasted more than a century. The sport of cricket is to the Caribbean, what baseball is to the U.S.A. and what football is to South America – the region’s national pastime. It is woven deep in the fabric of West Indian culture and a distinct part of who we are, as a people. So how did this long and storied love affair even begin?
Like many aspects of West Indian culture, cricket is a British import. In its earliest days, the sport was exclusively played by the white colonialists on the island. It was particularly popular amongst the British Army soldiers who used it as a way to pass the time. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s, post-Emancipation, that non-whites, particularly the mostly black population, began actively playing the sport.
The first media reference to cricket in the Caribbean was by two separate local Barbados newspapers – The Barbados Mercury and The Bridgetown Gazette, in the early 1900’s. And by the mid-1920’s, Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica, all had local cricket associations. The sport continued to grow in popularity and relevance across the region, right up to what would be known as the Golden Age of West Indian cricket.
The 1950’s and particularly the 60’s, saw the emergence of a now unified West Indian Cricket Team, with players representing multiple islands across the region, as a dominant force on the world cricket stage. Names like Sir Gary Sobers, George Headley, and Frank Worrell emerged and would go on to become legends of the sport. The “Windies” would continue being a dominant force in the sport of cricket throughout the 80’s, all the way to the early 1990’s. In fact, throughout the 80’s and right up to 1995, the team never lost a single international test series.
Unfortunately, as any true cricket fan knows, the latter part of the 90’s and throughout the 2000’s, has been a tough road for the West Indies team and by that token, the West Indian cricket fans. But despite enduring many tough losses and seeing the team’s standing on the world cricket stage decline, the Caribbean people love and passion for the game has not dimmed.
You are still likely to see a spirited game of cricket on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in most local communities across the islands. And of course the regional Caribbean Premier League (CPL) T20 tournament has brought renewed excitement and fervor to the game across the region. So what is this magic element that the sport holds? What is the defining factor of this great and storied love affair that the Caribbean people have had with the sport?
R.M. Austin, in his study on the importance of cricket to the West Indian people, sums it up best, noting that, “Cricket in the West Indies is a binding social force and means of self-affirmation, which gives the Caribbean people a sense of purpose and a common identity.” That really is the crux of it all – the sport unifies the region into one common identity. The shared loved and passion for the sport, for the team, creates a collective identity across the Caribbean. West Indians love cricket because it is distinctly part of who we are as a people. Given CPL’s positive impact on the beloved game of glorious uncertainties in the Caribbean, the jury declares that CPL is in fact the prized son.
Featured Image Credit – CPL T20 LTD