Darcus Howe - hails a Caribbean genius

We Caribbean folk play cricket with joy, not with the imperial hauteur of the English

Brian Charles Lara, my countryman and fellow Caribbean, has extended cricketing achievement to heights unscaled by any other. Now he has twice broken the record for the highest score in Test cricket, and on both occasions at the Antigua Recreation Ground. He has left challengers the almost impossible task of making 400 runs in an innings to displace him from the throne. Black Caribbeans in the UK gained a spring in their step at this news. But the question is posed more sharply than ever: why is cricket so important to the people of the English-speaking Caribbean?

The answer is that these tiny islands came to life at the heart of the modern world. Transported from Africa as slaves to produce sugar in the Caribbean, we were cleansed with unbridled brutality of our social past. Only frail deposits remained. But what we lost is less important than the rapidity and thoroughness with which we learned what was new. In cricket, we lifted ourselves to the pinnacle of achievement.

Lara's record says that we are as good as anyone else, and at times even better. We did it our way. Not with the imperial hauteur of the English, not with the aggressive social characteristics of Australians, formed and shaped in that relentless struggle against the outback, but with the joy and creative spontaneity of those who had rid themselves of the shackles of slavery and had everything to play for.

We are not gifted with any special physical attributes. In the early months of the year, each island is swamped by thousands of young boys with bat and ball, playing day in, day out. Our grandfathers, fathers, uncles, elder brothers and an auntie or two played with simple instruments hacked out of local materials. From this uncontrolled and untutored mass, the greats have sprung. At the end of the 20th century, Test cricketers and journalists voted for the five greatest cricketers of all time: the Caribbean islands, with a population far smaller than London's, won two places out of five. And it is acclaimed everywhere that the finest book written on cricket, Beyond a Boundary, was by the Caribbean author C L R James.

Sports writers try to detract from Lara's feat by pointing out that England had crushed his team in three preceding Tests. I say only this: even when the West Indies as a team occupy a lowly position, we can still produce a genius.