Cricket in the Caribbean: Its Rise, Fall and Rise

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The influence of colonialists in the Caribbean can explain the existence of cricket in the region. Although their presence was signified by slavery, the British transported their culture, including playing cricket. Today, it’s the biggest game in the Caribbean and the team has won the biggest prizes in the sport. In this post, we trace how cricket started in the Caribbean.

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Cricket in Its Early Days

Although the exact dates when cricket started can’t be traced, it’s widely reported that the first games occurred in the 18th century. During this period, black West Indians weren’t allowed to play the game. Instead, their only role was to retrieve the ball from the cane fields.

Working in the cave fields made the slaves athletically built. They saw this as their opportunity to get into cricket.

“They would have imposed this on themselves. Trying to throw the ball as far and as accurately as possible to the wicketkeeper or fielder. As the game developed, they were called in to bowl to the white batsmen.” A Guyanese writer and historian of the Indo-Caribbean experience, and of West Indies cricket Clem Sheecharan told the BBC in a documentary Empire of Cricket. 

This laid the foundations for the years to come as more games began taking place. The St. Anne’s Cricket Club and the Trinidad Cricket Club were one of the entities also involved.

Its snowballing effect saw cricket played in schools and the formation of cricket clubs in Jamaica and Guiana. 

The Beginning of Inter-Colonial Cricket

1865 was a significant moment in Caribbean cricket as the first inter-colonial game was played. Barbados faced British Guiana referred to as Demerara, followed by a game between West Indies and Canada the following year. 

In 1887, the USA sent a team to the Caribbean to play a game.

By 1890, a total of 10 matches were played and these were described as first-class matches. The first such match was played in 1864. Barbados played against British Guiana and won by 138 runs. 

The following year, the two teams met again and British Guiana pipped them to win. They were 146 to win and did it with 2 wickets to spare.

In the following year, a couple of events took place involving Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad and Tobago. 

In 1891, the first inter-colonial tournament was played among British Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Barbados emerged victorious in the tournament. 

They beat Guiana by four wickets and defeated Trinidad by 93 runs. This led to a regular tournament among the three. Barbados won eight of these between 1891 and 1912.  British Guiana won one, and Trinidad and Tobago won four.

When England Toured West Indies

The game’s growth in the Caribbean caught the attention of their colonial masters, England who toured West Indies for the first time in 1895. England played 16 matches, eight of which qualified to be first-class matches. The following year, two teams from England made the trip to the Caribbean and this continued to happen.

In 1906, the first West Indian team toured England and had white and black players. However, the team was set up based on race. 

“The tradition of West Indies cricket was framed along the lines of race and class. The batsman role was taken by whites and the bowlers were seen as laborers,” Professor Hillary Beckles told the BBC.

Learie Constantine 

The arrival of all-rounder Learie Constantine changed the game. It set the template for how West Indies play cricket. He could play in all areas of the field and that separated him from English players. West Indians adopted his playing style and distinguished themselves from the English.

“He was a showman but represented the model for how West Indians would play cricket,” Beckles said. “We were going to play aggressive, creative, artistic and athletic. Our bowlers must have long runs and bowl quickly and the batsman must be different from the British batsman.”

Constantine was part of the West Indies team that toured England in 1928. However, the West Indies lost 3-0. This motivated him to rally for a black batsman. 

In 1933, Jamaica produced one of the finest batsmen in George Headly. He also defied the stereotype that black people couldn’t play that role.

In 1935, Headly scored an unbeaten 270 and helped West Indies beat England for the first time in the Caribbean.

Just as the game enjoyed increasing status, its momentum was curtailed during the Second World War.

Cricket Beyond the Second World War

In 1948, cricket in the Caribbean resumed. However, racial segregation still prevented black cricketers from fully participating in the game. Cricket clubs were only meant for white people. 

Further, blacks were barred from playing unless they had professional qualifications. This forced players like Sir Everton Weekes to join the British Army to play cricket.

He was outstanding in the batsman position and he was called up by the West Indian cricket team. In 1948, cricket returned and he went on a tour in India. There, he scored five consecutive centuries and set a record for a West Indies batsman.

In 1950, Weekes was part of the team that toured England. The team demonstrated the diversity of the Caribbean. Although they lost their first match, they bounced back in the second and recorded a historic win against England at Lord’s. West Indies won the series 3-1. 

Despite this, the team was still captained by a white player. In 1960, Frank Worrell became the first black captain of the West Indies cricket team. This allowed the team to be set up based on ability and not color. The newly established team’s first test match was against Australia and narrowly won.  

This was the beginning of the rise of the Caribbean in cricket. They retained their dominance through the 1980s. By the 1990s and 2000s, the West Indies lost their global dominance. 

Its cricket governing body failed to move with the times and transition the sport from a pastime to a professional endeavor. The introduction of Twenty20 cricket saw them rise from the ashes and regain their place in world cricket.  

Are you a cricket enthusiast? What do you make of the West Indies and its cricket story?

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