Darcus Howe will make an arthritic stand against war

The English were out of time and out of place at cricket's World Cup

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? The late C L R James, that formidable Caribbean intellectual, poses the question in the finest book ever written on cricket, Beyond a Boundary. He insisted that cricket belongs to the family of high art. Whether played over five, four, three or one days, the game can incorporate all the elements of a staged dramatic spectacle.

Cricket also reflects the national personality. Australians always play with an attitude that has been shaped by their unrelenting fight in the Outback. The free spirit of Caribbeans was carved out of their desire for freedom from slavery and colonialism. The over-relaxed and easy movements of the English are born of a pastoral elegance.

The International Cricket Council, now free of the dominance of Lord's in London, handed to South Africa the opportunity to organise this year's World Cup tournament. And how the country has grasped it! Until now, the only bit of spectacle attached to cricket has been in the clothing, with one-day matches played in colourful tracksuits instead of whites. But the South Africans opened the tournament dramatically. Performance art relayed the history and social development of Africa in song and dance, choreographed to incorporate tribal dances, ballet and hip-hop. Every cultural practice down the centuries, from the hunter-gatherers of the desert to the urban youth of Soweto, reappeared in dance movements. In the cricketers' march past, even the English stepped jauntily to the roll of African drums.

But the English also struck a discordant note, out of time and out of place, on whether or not they should play a match in Zimbabwe. Nasser Hussain, the England captain, and his team, with no history of interest in Africa, tried to establish the white man's last stand on the black continent - egged on, I suspect, by the British Foreign Office. This is the very same Foreign Office that is in the midst of organising another spectacle: a theatre of war in which weapons of destruction will be used by the rich and developed nations to exterminate thousands of Iraqis.

What is taking place in South Africa is being organised in my name and in the names of millions around the world in the tradition of peaceful coexistence between nations. What threatens in Iraq is not in my name. On 15 February, I will drag my arthritic leg along the streets of London to say exactly that.

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 17 February 2003 issue of the New Statesman, As the world protests against war, we hear again the lies of old