The cricket rows could lead to a Caribbean rising

The West Indian masses have taken to the streets, boycotts are taking shape and governments are worried that the current movement may well destabilise the region. The issues are not bread-and-butter ones: these are not protests against the vile corruption in government, nor against the heavy-handed brutality of which the local police forces are capable. They are about cricket, plain and simple.

Thousands of Antiguans have been demonstrating against the West Indian Cricket Board, now housed in Antigua, because of its treatment of Sir Vivian Richards, the local hero and one of the greatest batsmen of all time.

Sir Viv accompanied the West Indian cricket team as coach on a recent tour to New Zealand (two Tests and five one-day games). The Windies were whitewashed, spanked and humiliated.

Yet somehow Viv and Brian Lara, the captain, had started shaping ideas for the future. Another illustrious cricketer, Joel Garner, officiated on the tour. Those three planned a rejuvenated West Indian team to face Zimbabwe and Pakistan before arriving in England for a Test series this summer. The West Indian Cricket Board had other ideas. It fired Viv and Garner, replacing them with Richard Skerritt (who?) and Roger Harper, a former West Indian Test player, but a minor one.

It is the manner of the sacking that counts. Richards was told in a telephone call from a receptionist. Lara, the greatest batsman of the age, sulks in his pink palace in the suburbs of Port of Spain. No Viv, no Lara is his slogan. He resigned the captaincy and has refused to play in the tours to Zimbabwe and Pakistan. The West Indian Cricket Board faces huge losses, because, without Lara, Trinidadians won't turn up to watch cricket and, in sympathy with Richards, Antiguans will also stay away.

The board is shaking in its boots. Once the Antiguan demonstrators were on their way, the board members locked the gates tightly and barricaded themselves in their newly acquired elegant headquarters. The demonstrators heaved the gates off the hinges and were about to treat the main door with some aggression when trembling officials let a delegation in and accepted the petition signed by senators, members of parliament, former great cricketers and plebeians en masse. Not satisfied, the demonstration marched up to the prime minister's office. Lester Bird interrupted a meeting of the National Security Council to meet the leaders.

All this puts Caribbean cricket unity under strain. Roger Harper, the newly appointed coach, is Guyanese. A press release from Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, later described the demonstrators as "insular fools, blind Barthemuses who could not see the wisdom of the most well-rounded coach in the region".

I couldn't understand why Richards had been sacked, since he was the first coach to strike a rapport with Lara. Then a birdie whispered to me that a member of the board had asked Viv: "Who was the female who spent the night in Lara's hotel room during a Test match in New Zealand?" Viv politely declined the news-carrying role, informing the official that, even if there had been such a woman, it was Brian Lara's personal and private matter.

To use an old West Indian proverb, "Mouth open, story jump out". We now know that when Richards was still a player and won the captaincy, in succession to Clive Lloyd, he did so only by a whisker. The vote was 6-5, and he was told not to wear a red, green and gold wristband. The colours were those of the Rastafarian movement. The Caribbean middle classes had always found Richards's black consciousness difficult to swallow. His social confidence, born out of a rising tide of working-class agitation in the 1970s and 1980s, did not go down well with the board.

Viv as coach can reclaim Lara from his isolation for the benefit of Caribbean peoples. To deny to the game and to the people those two majestic figures is to court trouble, even insurrection. Remember, you read it here first.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: yet again, they are lying to us